Copenhagen and Aarhus, Denmark




Last week my sister and I were lucky enough to spend 4 days exploring the two largest cities in Denmark, Copenhagen and Aarhus. We decided on Denmark for our first trip of 2015 to visit our friend Gabriele, who is studying journalism there this semester (you might remember him from his guest post last summer!) Below is a round up of the highlights and my overall impressions of Denmark:

We landed in Copenhagen on early Thursday, which gave us more than enough time to see the city before taking our train to Aarhus that night. My favorite part of our day in Copenhagen was hands down the Torverhallern Market, a large covered market that sells fruits, vegetables, cheese, bread, and flowers, and houses all different sorts of restaurants, cafes, and bakeries (not surprising that this was the best part of the day for me). 









We stopped at Hallernes in the market for lunch, where we ate a Danish specialty, smørrebrød (open faced sandwiches). These sandwiches are a huge part of Danish cuisine, and can be prepared with a variety of different toppings, which can be fish, meat, pate, cheese, or hard boiled eggs. We opted for smoked salmon and fried cod with a typical Danish mustard sauce – a fantastic introduction to Danish food!


After lunch, we took a walk around the city and went to see Rosenborg Castle, a renaissance castle once used as a summer residence for the Danish royal family.


That night we took a train to Aarhus, where Gabriele met us at the station and showed us where our apartment (which we had found on airbnb) was. The owner, Lis, was lovely, as was her cat, who we found hiding under the blankets in our room a few times during our stay:


Småkage Huset may have very well been the best part of the whole trip – this magical place was recommended to us by Elys, who has lived in Aarhus her whole life (always trust the locals). Småkage Huset, which means “little cookie house” in Danish, is a small bakery owned by a husband and wife team – he takes care of the baking and she takes care of the business. Right from the moment we stepped in the door we could tell we were in for a treat – the bakery was cozy and warm, smelled amazing, and was a haven after the cold rainy weather outside. And the pastries here were AMAZING. All three of us agreed they were some of the best we had ever tried, and felt it was only right to sample as much as possible – chocolate cinnamon rolls, coconut cookies, iced strawberry jam bars, vanilla cookie rings (vanillekranse). 



Our favorite however, were the fastelavnsboller, which are traditionally eaten for Carnival in Denmark. Fastelavnsboller are buns filled with vanilla custard and topped with chocolate or vanilla icing – insanely good! My sister and I are still going through withdrawal from these, and I think I’m going to attempt to make them at home this weekend – if it goes well I’ll post the recipe on the blog soon.

 

We went to this bakery every day we were in Aarhus, and got to know the owners, who were extremely friendly (apparently the stereotype that people are cold in Scandinavia is not true!) On our last morning in Aarhus they presented us with a strawberry and pistachio cream cake meant for a bride to be who had cancelled her tasting appointment at the last minute that day. So nice of them! It was delicious!

On Saturday the weather was rainy and cold, so we decided to spend the afternoon at Aarhus’s modern art museum, ARoS. Before exploring the exhibits we had lunch at the museum café – we ordered smoked salmon salads and Danish "tapas,” which consisted in little tastes of Danish specialties like smoked tuna, Havarti cheese and almonds, and then a little brownie to finish. All were fantastic and super elegant. 


The art museum itself was incredible – our favorite exhibit was a sort of room filled with all different colored mist that felt almost surreal and looked so cool. We also saw the famous sculpture, Boy, by Ron Mueck, which stands 4.5 meters and weighs 500kg.  Overall it was a great way to spend a rainy afternoon!



 

We learned that one of the most important aspects of Danish culture is hygge, which is a sort of abstract concept that I guess could be translated to “coziness” in English. Hygge is basically the idea of being in front of a fireplace eating and drinking with friends and family, and overall being cozy and having a good time. Nice idea, right? Allie, Gabriele and I got coffee and pastries at La Cabra near the city center which seemed pretty hygge to us (even without the fireplace!)




Our last night in Aarhus, we went to Café Smagløs, the oldest café in the city. The café was small but cozy, and offered all sorts of different beers as well as open faced sandwiches, soups, and burgers. I opted for a chicken salad with curry which was delicious (it’s always nice to have a change of pace from the usual Italian fare). I unfortunately didn't get any pictures of what we ate -- it was too dark inside to get  good shot!



Before I left, I made sure to pick up a cookbook so I could recreate some of what I had tasted in Denmark at home:






A few things about Denmark to finish off this post:

  • The buses in Copenhagen and Aarhus pass exactly when they say they will, and frequently, a total luxury compared to Rome!
  • Both cities reminded me a little bit of Newport, Rhode Island – very small with a lot of different shops and a cozy feel to them.
  • Danish people are probably the best looking people on the planet. The majority of Danes we came across during our visit looked like supermodels – tall, blonde, blue eyed, perfect features.
  • Danish people are probably the nicest people I’ve come across traveling – everyone was so incredibly friendly, accommodating, and eager to answer any questions we had. Karen, who we met on the train heading back to the airport offered to email me her fastelavnsboller recipe and further explained hygge to us – thanks Karen!!! 
  • You can pay for everything in Denmark with a credit or debit card – even the smallest of purchases.
  • The only downside we found is that Denmark is extremely expensive – for example, we spent the equivalent of six dollars on a small smoothie at one cafe. However, salaries are quite high here, so Danish people don’t struggle with this too much.
Overall, it was a great trip – I think Denmark is quite possibly my favorite country in Europe I’ve visited so far. I try not to repeat countries after visiting them (there are already so many to see!) but I think I will make an exception for Denmark – it’s supposed to be beautiful in the Summer and Spring. Plus I can stay away from Småkage Huset for only so long! Thank you so much to Gabriele for showing us around your city and for giving us the idea to come and visit -- tak!!!! 





Bucatini all'amatriciana



One of the best things about moving from Bologna to Rome was discovering a completely new cuisine. After all, Italian cuisine tends to be very loyal to regional tradition: for example, you’ll find lasagna in the North but are hard pressed to find it in the South. Each province’s culinary repertoire is dictated by the climate, seasonal produce, and history of the region among other things. Rome’s cuisine tends to be rustic, hearty, and simple in its ingredients. The use of offal or undesirable cuts of meat is thanks to Rome’s former abattoir, once the biggest in all of Europe, while pecorino or sheep’s milk cheese is favored over parmesan thanks to Lazio’s stable sheep population. Many Roman dishes like  spaghetti alla carbonara and saltimbocca are already well-known in the States, but there are also a few dishes that are less familiar that I’ll introduce you to, like coda alla vaccinara, cacio e pepe, and the subject of today’s post, bucatini all’amatriciana. 

If you’re not familiar, bucatini* all’amatriciana is a dish consisting of a tomato sauce made with guanciale* and sometimes onion that is traditionally served over bucatini (or rigatoni) and then topped with a healthy dose of freshly grated pecorino cheese. As the name suggests, this dish actually originated in the town of Amatrice, in the Lazio region of Italy. It gradually made its way over to Rome in the early 20th century, where it was well received and quickly became part of Roman cuisine despite being invented elsewhere. Amatriciana was what I ate for my first ever dinner in Rome, and it was love at first bite. Forget the Coliseum and the Trevi Fountain -- Rome’s real treasure was pasta. During my first months in Rome, I found there was often no need for me to look at the menu, as I already knew what I was ordering; I thought carefully about the different amatriciane I sampled in various restaurants in order to figure out who had the best recipe in Rome (answer: Da Bucatino in Testaccio). I developed my own recipe at home so I could enjoy this dish whenever I wanted and for less money. My sister joked that it was only a matter of time before I woke up one day to discover that I had turned into a bucatino noodle. 

I have since branched out from amatriciana and explored more of the Eternal City’s cuisine, but it still remains my favorite of all Roman dishes. Thankfully it is extremely easy to make at home, requiring only a few ingredients that can be thrown together and cooked in no time at all. Don’t let the simplicity of the recipe fool you, however -- it packs a flavor punch (how can you go wrong with cheese and guanciale?), and there’s nothing like a nice bowl of this when the weather gets cold and you want something cozy. Be sure to have some good bread handy to get every last bit of the sauce when you’re done. 

Note that in a pinch you can use pancetta instead of guanciale here, as it is more readily available in the U.S. You can also use another pasta shape besides rigatoni or bucatini, just make sure it is substantial enough to hold the pieces of guanciale in the sauce.

BUCATINI ALL'AMATRICIANA

Ingredients:
1 lb bucatini  
Olive oil 
1 small onion, chopped 
4 ounces of guanciale, chopped in to small pieces 
1 (28-32 oz can) crushed tomatoes 
Freshly grated Pecorino romano cheese 

Directions:

Heat some olive oil in a large skillet over medium low heat. Sauté the onion and guanciale in the olive oil until the guanciale is crispy and the onion is soft and translucent. Next, add the crushed tomatoes to the skillet and stir everything around. Bring the sauce to a bubble and let it cook for a few minutes. Then lower the heat and bring it down to a simmer. While the sauce simmers, put your water on to boil for the bucatini. Salt the water when it comes to a boil, and then cook the bucatini until al dente (follow the package instructions on the pasta). Season the amatriciana sauce to taste with salt and pepper (you probably won’t need much salt, as the guanciale and cheese are salty). After straining the pasta, add it to back to the pot it was cooking in and add the sauce to the pot. Toss the pasta around in the sauce and add as much Pecorino romano as you want to taste. Serve with lots of crusty bread to not lot any of the sauce go to waste.




*Bucatini is a pasta similar to very thick spaghetti.

*Guanciale is cured pork cheek (guancia is cheek in Italian). If you are not able to find guanciale, you can substitute pancetta, which is more readily available in the U.S. The flavor is slightly different, but it’s good in a pinch.