A Week in Rome with Dad (+ a recipe)

It's that time of year again -- my dad is back in town! My dad makes a trip to the the Eternal City twice a year, every year, his visits so very anticipated that they give Christmas a run for its money.  He's no stranger to Rome by now, so his visits here are relaxed, uncluttered, so to speak, without any running around or obligatory trips to the Colosseum or Spanish Steps. He does lots of relaxing, museum and art exhibit hopping, and of course, we do lots of eating (what do you expect from the father of a food blogger?)!

Here's my dad, Anthony Bruzzese, radiologist, wine enthusiast, opera lover, and all-around know-er of all things (he's the smartest person I've ever met, no exaggeration). He also happens to be the best dad anyone could ever ask for (also not an exaggeration).
So, with no further ado, here are the highlights of his trip, which I am sharing partly because he'll get a kick out of sending a post about himself to his friends, but also because it includes suggestions for anyone in Rome/travelling to Rome soon. Note that I've focused quite a bit on the food because this is a food blog, after all!

RESTAURANTS
Meals out in Rome with my dad are taken very, very seriously, often planned out in advance, and are seen as a great opportunity to eat at that restaurant we've-been-meaning-to-try-for-a-while or revisit some of our old favorites. Below are some of the standout restaurants for us this past week. For anyone visiting Rome soon -- consider the below restaurants as tested, approved, and highly, highly recommendable! 

Da Enzo 29 is a tiny whole-in-the-wall restaurant in Trastevere, and my dad's #1 favorite place to eat in Rome. Da Enzo serves classic Roman cuisine (amatriciana, cacio e pepe, carbonara, coda alla vaccinara, that sort of thing) with the addition of a few specials that change often (I highly recommend the panzanella or the burrata, tomato, and basil appetizer if its on the menu). This time around we ordered ricotta with honey and various jams, plus the rigatoni all'amatriciana, pasta con sugo di coda, or rather pasta with an oxtail ragu', plus polpette, aka meatballs, a side of bittery, spicy cicoria, and mascarpone with  baby strawberries to finish the meal. Yummm.
 
Cuoco e Camicia had been on my To-Try List for a while (my friend Emily C. is a die-hard fan who has waxed poetic about many a meal there) and how I regret not having had dinner here sooner! C&C serves Italian food that is elevated, a bit more on the creative side, with a menu that changes often depending on seasonality of ingredients and whatever the chefs have thought up that day (it was nice to open the menu and be surprised -- no super typical Roman fare here). We ordered beef tartare with berries and a slow cooked egg with asparagus and mushrooms to start, and were also treated to a tuna tartare and chickpea fritters with lime on the house (I love free, surprise appetizers!) For our mains, we opted for bollito con gelato di senape (slow-cooked beef with mustard ice cream -- sounds weird but it was fantastic) plus caramelle alla carbonara al contrario, or rather little pastas filled with carbonara sauce that then dressed itself as you cut into the pasta, amatriciana with smoked guanciale, beer ice cream, and a black pepper creme brulee served with strawberries. It was all excellent (my dad is still talking about the caramelle alla carbonara he got here). If you're in Rome and looking to do some fancy dining, this is the place to go. 
We had read about Trattoria Da Cesare al Casaletto in an issue of Bon Appetit Magazine (the #1 food magazine in the U.S, and my reading material of choice growing up) not too long ago. If Bon Appetit said it was good, we knew we wouldn't be disappointed. The menu was classic Roman fare with a few little surprises -- our favorites here were polpette di bollito (braised beef meatballs) crochette di melanzane (eggplant fritters with a spicy tomato sauce) and pasta alla gricia con carciofi (pasta with guanciale, pecorino, and artichokes). Is it time for lunch yet?!
A few other food highlights -- a trip to Zia Rosetta (also mentioned in this post) in Monti, for sandwiches. My sandwich with pomodori gratinatistracciatella, and basil (front and center in the photo) was fantastic. We also made a stop at Grezzo (also in Monti) a chocolate shop whose chocolates that are curiously dairy-free and gluten-free but delicious, with an intensely pure chocolate flavor. Yummm.

RECIPE - COLOMBA FRENCH TOAST!
I made time for a little cooking too, of course! My sister and I had purchased a colomba -- a sweet, sugary, almond studded cake eaten in Italy around Easter in Italy -- the week prior, overlooking the fact that we are only two people and we had purchased a colomba weighing 1 kilo. This is what it looked like when we bought it: 
A week later, the leftover colomba was a bit on the stale side, making it perfect for french toast and a nice, leisurely brunch the three of us. So! If you too have leftover colomba to use (or any not quite fresh cinnamon, challah, or other bread laying around the house) you too can make this colomba french toast
Whisk together 2/3 cup of milk (158 ml) with two eggs and a dash of cinnamon; dip the stale bread (we used about 10 of the little slices above) briefly in the resulting cinnamon-y custard, and fry in butter over medium low heat on the stove -- if you use a fairly large skillet you can fry 2-3 pieces at a time. When the french toast is a deep golden brown on both sides, its ready -- serve hot with maple syrup, fruit, and blood orange juice. 

ANDREA CHENIER + VIVIAN MAIER
We didn't just eat the whole trip, I promise! We got our fill of culture, too. On Sunday we went to see the opera Andrea Chenier at Teatro Costanzi. My dad is a huge opera fan -- he has been since he was a little kid, following in the footsteps of his uncle who got him started early -- and every time he visits we try and go see whatever is on that month. Andrea Chenier is an opera whose plot is loosely based on the life of the French poet by the same name, who was executed during the French Revolution -- as you can imagine, it didn't have a happy ending (not too many operas do!) but it was beautifully done. 
 
 
 
We also went to the Museo di Trastevere to see the exhibit showcasing the photographs of Vivian Maier, an American photographer whose photographs were discovered by chance after she passed away in 2009 (Maier was a nanny and care-giver by profession, and photography was simply her hobby). Her photos beautifully capture life in New York and Chicago through the 1950s, 60s, and 70s, and if you're in Rome, do go see the exhibit -- its beautiful. You can read more about Vivian Maier here. 
And to finish off this post -- here are some more photos of our week with our dad, mostly taken by him during our visits to the Monti and Trastevere neighborhoods, and in the case of the first two photos below, from the terrace of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN, where he visited me at work. As always his week here has gone by far too quickly, but he'll be back soon (the restaurant list making as already commenced!) Love you dad!
 
 
 
 
 



Mimosa (Orange and Prosecco) Cake

When baking or cooking, there are two main paths one can take: 1.) following a recipe or 2.) creating your own recipe. The first path is safer, more straightforward, and if it were an actual path, would have clearly marked signs, very green grass, and a few flowers planted along the way. It is a nice path, one that gets you to your end destination safely, with delicious results. But what about that second one, the choose-your-own-adventure, create-your-own-recipe-path? This path is a bit less secure (winding, with weeds, filled with slightly wild and overgrown trees) but one that's worth going down to see if that idea you've had sitting in your head works or not. There is a bit of a risk involved for path #2 -- if the recipe shouldn't work out, you have lost some time and ingredients -- but I rarely see it this way. After all, a recipe that doesn't come out quite as you imagined still teaches you something, gives you the knowledge you need to make a few changes the next time and eventually bring you to your ultimate recipe goal. As Thomas Edison once said: I have not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work. Nicely said, Tom.

This blog has a combination of already tested recipes, taken from cookbooks, blogs, or websites, plus original recipes that I've developed myself. On the "Recipe Developing" list at the moment: A coffee and pistachio cake (the coffee and pistachio flavor combination speaks to me; see how it goes); savory castagnole, which, when made with Parmesan cheese, would become little cheese fritters; pear, prosciutto, and Pecorino scones, ingredients that already play well together and could only be improved with the addition of a buttery, crumbly scone; and up until recently, this Mimosa Cake, or rather, my favorite creation to date, perfected on the fourth try. After making a few cakes with wine, and reading recipes for cakes made with bourbon, rum, and other kinds of alcohol, I wondered why Prosecco hadn't been getting more attention, and, more importantly: what effect would all the happy, vibrant, bubbles have on a cake?! 

The answer is this: just when you thought a brunch-time mimosa couldn’t get any better, here it is, in dessert form. So, first things first! The additions of yogurt and oil give this cake just about the loveliest texture of any I've ever baked, making for an incredibly moist (I hate that word too, but sometimes there is no way around it) cake that stays that way long after the first day you've baked it. The Prosecco bubbles -- from my very favorite Maschio brand Prosecco -- did as I expected they would, leaving the cake superbly fluffy and light in their effervescent wake. Texture aside, the flavor of the cake was just as I wanted it, barely sweet and very bright, refreshing and citrus-y thanks to a generous amount of orange zest, incorporated first in to the sugar to release all the orange-y oil. And since I know you were wondering -- yes, there is an underlying yet undeniably festive hint of Prosecco flavor here, helped along by the mimosa bath and glaze that cake gets post baking. I'd say this cake is pretty much perfect for brunch, tea, dessert, snack, or any other time of the day, which gives you an excuse to open more bottles of Prosecco than you need, just to keep a little for this dessert. Nope, there's nothing to not like here, my friends.

A couple of notes: No Prosecco on hand but still want to make this cake? Substitute some of the juice from the oranges in the cake instead -- you won't have all the lightness from the Prosecco bubbles, but it will still be good. Remember to reserve the oranges you have zested to use in the glaze, syrup, and to put in the cake. Feel free to make this cake without the syrup or the glaze, or with one or the other if you want to keep things a bit simpler and not as prosecco-y. You can use Prosecco that has been opened and is sitting in the fridge for a few days here, no problem -- it still turned out quite fluffy compared to the cake made with Prosecco from the evening before. If you're buying Prosecco just to make this cake, I recommend buying one of the single serving Maschio brand Proseccos so you don't have to open a fresh bottle. You could also bake this batter in muffin tins to make Mimosa muffins/cupcakes. Finally, blood oranges are out of season now, but if you are making this cake in the Winter, feel free to use them here

Looking for other citrus-y sweets? Check out these Lemon Squares, this Triple Orange Pound Cake, this Lemon Poppy seed Cake, this Lemon, Ricotta, and Olive Oil Cake, and these Orange Poppy seed Muffins. Want some other brunch-appropriate cakes? I thought so! I've also got this Ricotta Pound cake, this Chocolate Loaf Cake, and this Chocolate Chunk Banana Bread

MIMOSA (ORANGE AND PROSECCO) CAKE

Ingredients:
2 1/3 cups (300 grams) flour 315
2 teaspoons (7 grams) baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
Zest of 4 large oranges 
3/4 cup sugar (150 grams)
3 eggs
1 cup (220 grams) vegetable oil
1 cup (185 grams) plain full-fat yogurt
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract 
1/2 cup (80ml) Prosecco

To finish:
4 tablespons tablespoons Prosecco
4 tablespoons orange juice, from your zested oranges

Glaze (optional, depending on how much Prosecco you have left and how Prosecco-y you want the cake):
3/4 cup powdered sugar
1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon Prosecco
1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon orange juice


Directions:
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 9 inch loaf pan, or a tube pan, or a bundt pan -- whatever you have on hand. Set your pan of choice aside. 

In a medium bowl, combine the sugar and the orange zest, and then use your fingers to rub the zest into the sugar, to release the orange oils and all its citrus flavor. The sugar will turn slightly orange -- this is okay. Add the flour, baking powder, and salt to the sugar and whisk together. 

In a large bowl, whisk together the oil, eggs, yogurt, vanilla, and Prosecco. Add the dry ingredients to this mixture and whisk briefly, just to combine. Pour the batter in to the prepared pan and bake for about 35-40 minutes, or until the top is slightly cracked and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out with moist crumbs attached. Let cool slightly then turn out on to a wire rack to let it cool completely.

Once the cake has been out of the oven for a few minutes, whisk together four tablespoons of the Prosecco and 4 tablespoons of orange juice. Poke some holes in the top of the cake with a knife, and brush the mimosa mixture on to the cake while it is still warm, allowing it to seep in to the cake through the holes you've made with the knife. When the cake has cooled completely, turn out on to a wire rack. 
If making the glaze: whisk together the glaze ingredients in a separate bowl and pour over the cake after it has cooled completely. If you're doing the glazing its helpful to put the wire rack over something (newspaper, for example) to catch an drips from the glaze. Note that this will not be a super thick, powder sugary glaze, but a much lighter, thinner one, which doesn't overwhelm the cake. Serves 10.