Naples + Sperlonga

The cooking, baking, and recipe testing I usually reserve at least some of the weekend for has been replaced with a little traveling this Summer. There are the weddings, first of all -- I've been invited to 8 (!!!) this year, most of them in the Summer, requiring a bit of travel -- plus the fact that my oven, already faulty on the best of days, has finally given out, more specifically in a cloud of eye-stinging black smoke that came out of the top of the stove (yikes). While I wait for my landlords to find a solution, I've put my baking and some of my cooking on hold, spending my past two weekends outside the Eternal City -- a weekend in Naples, this past one in Sperlonga, and this upcoming one in Venice (more on that next week) because its not Summer without a little vacation, right? 

Translation: I haven't had much time to cook for you lately, but here are some photos of my days off, take these instead!

NAPLES
My sister and I traveled to Naples, Italy, two weeks ago to meet up with Anna Larkin, a friend from college who you might remember from this post on NYC and also this one. Anna also chose Bologna, Italy, as her study abroad destination for one magical year back in 2009, which we hands-down all agree was the best year of our lives so far (you really can't beat study abroad). She's the most optimistic and infectiously sunny person I know, as well as the funniest -- its nearly impossible to be in a bad mood when Anna is around. Anna is also an awesome baker, even appearing on Food Network's Bakers vs Fakers where she won the show with her Chocolate Halzenut Pretzel Cupcake recipe (!!!) She's one of my very favorite people and I was so happy to see her in Naples. Here's us back in our college days:
Anna works in New York City, now, and while we usually meet up there, we were able to meet up in Naples this time (much easier from Rome) where Anna was spending the weekend on her way back from visiting her family in Ischia. Anna being a fellow foodie, she was thankfully on the same page regarding the purpose of the visit, which was, of course: Pizza (what else could be top priority in Naples?!) Anna came prepared, sending us ahead of time a list of possible pizzerie for Neapolitan pizza (feel free to use these as suggestions):
We ended up opting for Pizzeria di Matteo in Via dei Tribunali for dinner, arriving at 7:30 to avoid any lines (this was a good idea -- when we left around 9:30, there was a line of people waiting outside). All three of us went for the classic Margherita con la bufala, or tomato sauce, basil, and mozzarella di bufala, on a thick crust, something worth mentioning as Neapolitan pizza distinguishes itself from Roman pizza primarily in its crust. Roman pizza has a super thin crust, while Neapolitan pizza has a thicker crust. Here it is below -- have you ever seen anything so gorgeous?! 
Like any good expats who have spent extended amounts of time in Italy, we polished off all of our individual (but very large) pizzas as we had learned to do, no problem. We also shared a fritti misti platter as an appetizer, with all sorts of fried goods (fried dough! fried potato croquettes!) which are also typical of Naples. Just a light Summer meal, really.
The next day, my sister and I explored the city a bit as Anna had left for New York on an early flight (see you at Christmas, Anna!) It wasn't my first time in Naples -- I had been there in 2012, shortly after moving to Rome -- and hadn't gotten a great impression of the city the first time around. I found it too chaotic, too dirty, and overall a bit intimidating. This time, however (after nearly 6 years of living in Rome, a city that is not exactly the picture of tidiness and order) I found the city to be charming, honest, with a "take-it-or-leave-it" or "what you see is what you get" sort of way. On my second trip to Naples I could see that the city is quite beautiful, the people are kind, and the food is spectacular -- I won't wait another 5 years before traveling there again. 
 
Before getting our afternoon train, we finished our short stay in Naples off with lunch, spaghetti con cozze e pecorino, or rather, spaghetti with mussels and Pecorino cheese. While seafood and cheese don't usually mix in Italian cooking, they do make some exceptions, sometimes, with cozze e pecorino being one of them. It was delicious and the perfect send-off to a weekend in Naples -- special thanks to our friend Mari for the excellent restaurant suggestion!


SPERLONGA
After a weekend near the sea in Naples and a long week in a new job at FAO that I am not having the easiest time adjusting to, I felt like a weekend by the beach was in order, so we booked a bed and breakfast in Sperlonga, a little town about an hour and a half outside Rome by train, right by the sea. Since food is always a priority -- the restaurant on the beach had not only spaghetti alle vongole and other seafood but also prosciutto e melone and caprese, two of my heat-less Summer standbys, plus a specialty of the region, tiella, which is a savory pie with either a scarola (escarole) or polpo (octopus) filling. Delish. 
To finish off the post, here are a few photos of the beach, mostly so you can see how blue the water is (after years of going to the beach in Rhode Island, with the not-so-calm, not-so-clean water of the Atlantic Ocean, this always impresses me). We had our own umbrella and lounge chairs, the water was the perfect temperature, and there was even a little breeze so it wasn't even so hot out. I read an entire book, got somewhat of a tan, and slept late. What more could you want in a weekend?!




That's all for now! I'll be back next week with hopefully an (oven-less) recipe and another post on a trip to Venice. Have a good week everyone!

































Rice-Stuffed Tomatoes with Potatoes

In a city where even the simplest things become difficult -- going to the bank to pay rent or the post office to send a package is always an adventure, public transportation is touch-and-go, and customer service is non-existent -- I've learned to appreciate the little things in Rome that make life just a tiny bit easier. There are the incredibly convenient negozi cinesi, small, crowded shops where you can buy literally everything you could ever need -- cleaning products, office supplies, light bulbs, headphones, make up, nail polish, Christmas decorations, baking supplies, toiletries, luggage, to name just a few -- making one-stop shopping a breeze. There's the fact that traveling out of the city, when you've had enough of it, is easily done, too -- thanks to Trenitalia you can hop on a train from Termini station and be out of the city to somewhere quieter and calmer in just an hour or two, with tickets purchased easily online. There is also the tavola calda.

If you're not familiar -- the tavola calda is fast food, done the Italian way, a magical place that sells prepared food to-go -- pastas, veggies, meat, fish, pizza by the slice, you name it -- that makes for a delicious, fresh, home-cooked meal, all without ever lifting a finger. The tavola calda is a lifesaver for anyone who 1.) has no time to cook or 2.) doesn't want to cook, but 3.) still wants to eat well. The tavola calda is also perfect for lunch on-the-go, when you have to bring something to a dinner party but don't know how to cook, or if you're feeding a big group. I happen to love a good tavola calda -- my favorite one is La Molisana, right near my apartment -- and my favorite tavola calda offering is pomodori ripieni di riso alla romana, or rather, rice-stuffed tomatoes served with roast potatoes, a Roman classic. They are typical of tavole calde -- they're in every one I've ever come across in Rome -- but if you're not living in or traveling to the Eternal City any time soon, here's how to make them at home. 

So! These rice-stuffed tomatoes are one of the few vegan recipes I have on the blog, and its lack of pancetta or Parmesan or cream allows each individual ingredient to shine its brightest, with none of the flavor lost. This dish is simple and straight-forward, no nonsense -- the rice is intensely tomato-y, allowing the Summer tomato to show off a little, the basil is bright and flowery, and the potatoes are seasoned with nothing more than a little olive oil and salt, which is all they ever really need. Of course if you really wanted to, you could dress things up with some cheese -- cheese is always tempting -- but I don't think you much need to here. Bonus: these are excellent served room temperature on those Summer days where the idea of eating anything more than tepid is overwhelming. PLUS, each tomato has its own little tomato hat-lid, which I find pretty adorable. 

A couple of notes: I'm not a huge fan of garlic, so I just let a clove or two marinate in the tomato/rice mixture for half an hour, then removed it. If you like garlic, feel free to very finely chop the clove, add it to the rice/tomato mixture, and leave it there. Feel free to also double the recipe if you are serving a bigger crowd. You can also use bell peppers instead of tomatoes if you want, or a combination of both, and I think zucchine would actually work here too. Finally, these are great served at room temperature or warm. 

Looking for other tomato-y recipes? I've got this Spaghetti with Tomatoes and Basil, this Tomato Cobbler, these Tomato Basil Shortcakes, this Cherry Tomato Crostata, this Fettuccine with Brie, Tomatoes, and Basil, Roasted Tomato Basil Soup, and Sun-dried Tomato Pesto. For more stuffed veggies -- I have these Zucchine Ripiene.

RICE-STUFFED TOMATOES WITH POTATOES (AKA POMODORI RIPIENI DI RISO ALLA ROMANA)

Ingredients:
4 large tomatoes (pomodori da riso if you're shopping in Italy)
10 tablespoons (100 grams) Arborio rice, rinsed under water
6 basil leaves, thinly sliced
1/2 teaspoon salt and then a little more to taste
Pepper
2 garlic cloves, cut in to large pieces
1 teaspoon olive oil

4 potatoes
Olive oil

Directions:
Start with your tomatoes. Using a sharp knife, cut the "lid" off the tomato (the part with the green leaves) and set it aside. Use a spoon to hollow out the tomato, putting the juices and pulp in a bowl. Be careful not to break the tomato when you do this. When the tomato is completely hollowed out, turn it over on a paper towel lined plate or cutting board to let them drain. Repeat with all the tomatoes.
Next, blend the tomato pulp and juice in a blender or food processor until everything is pureed. Don't worry if there are seeds in the tomato mixture -- they blend in just fine. Once you have a tomato puree, put it in a bowl along with the rice, 1/2 teaspoon salt, pepper, garlic basil leaves, and 1 teaspoon of olive oil. Let the rice sit there for half an hour to absorb all the flavors and soften up a little. Taste the tomato mixture and add more salt to taste, if you'd like (I think I ended up using 1/2 a teaspoon and a tiny bit more).
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit (180 degrees Celsius). While the rice is doing its thing and the oven is heating up, start with the potatoes. Peel four potatoes (I used Russet) and cut them in to chunks, putting them in the baking pan as you go. Toss them with a little olive oil to coat and salt to taste and toss everything together directly in the baking pan. Once the half an hour is up, take your tomatoes that have been draining, place them among the potatoes in the baking pan, and fill them with the tomato/rice mixture, being sure to include some juice in each tomato so the rice has liquid to cook in.
Place the reserved tomato lids on their respective tomatoes, drizzle everything with a little olive oil and a sprinkle of salt and pepper, and place in the oven to bake.
 
Bake the tomatoes and potatoes for about 45 minutes, or until the potatoes and rice are cooked through, and the tomatoes are soft. Serve warm or room temperature with some potatoes alongside. Serves 4.