Roaming around Rome

I've been living the good life lately -- believe it or not, I have been enjoying a one month break from my far-from-dream job, and I couldn't be more pleased. Due to HR rules (I won't bore you with the details) I've had full four weeks of not having to be in an office at 8:30, and of not spending 10+ hours a day doing a job I am less than enthusiastic about (hoping to work this one out in the New Year). This break has been greatly appreciated, very welcome, and much needed, and I have been resting, relaxing, and taking time to enjoy the city -- not always easy when one is working. The (mostly foodie) highlights are below and should be considered recommendations for any of you traveling to Rome soon or living here yourself. Enjoy!

FARO - LUMINARI DEL CAFFE' 
Address: Via Piave 55
Hours: Monday-Friday, 7am-5pm. Saturday: 8am-5pm. Sunday: 9am-5pm.
Recovering from the six hour time difference between Italy and the East Coast is always tough -- no matter how many flights I've taken over the years, I still find myself still awake at 3am and rising at 11am, if I'm lucky. To help get me back on track, I rely on a (persistent) alarm clock and my trusty cappuccino. Shortly after coming back from the U.S I had breakfast at Faro - Luminari del Caffè, which makes some of the best coffee in the capital. Faro uses only coffee beans that have been toasted to perfection (no stray burnt beans allowed,) the highest quality milk, and a coffee machine that is cleaned hourly, instead of the usual daily you find in most bars. The barista at Faro advised against adding sugar to their coffee, as the flavor is so good, it doesn't need any improving upon. She was right. Photo credit goes to my sister Alexandra (for more of her photos and foodie suggestions, check out her Instagram at www.instagram.com/foodaroundrome).

RINASCENTE
Address: Via del Tritone 61
Hours: Monday-Sunday, 9:30am to 11pm
Having time off meant finally being able to visit Rome's newest department store, the famed Rinascente, which was founded all the way back in the 1800s (there are currently a total 11 of them in Italy). The most recent Rinascente in Via Tritone is perhaps the most impressive, boasting eight floors filled with stores selling top brand clothing, make up, accessories, and home decor items, plus a variety of restaurants, and a gorgeous rooftop terrace bar offering a view of the whole city. And that's not all! This Rinascente also houses an ancient Roman aqueduct, discovered when builders were renovating the antique palazzo that was to become the department store (typical Rome!) The aqueduct was part of the Aqueduct Aqua Virgo, which was completed in the year 19 BC, under Emperor Augustus, and was one of the eleven aqueducts that brought water in to the Eternal City. Thanks to my sister Alexandra for the shopping day turned history lesson -- you can read more about Rinascente in her article for Lonely Planet here. In the meantime, have a look at this Dolce & Gabbana toaster as well as this enviable and colorful collection of Le Creuset cookware (sigh!) Photo credit for the third photo goes to my lovely friend Gabriele Dellisanti, in town from Denmark, who also joined us in our trip to Rinascente.
 

FENDI STUDIOS 
Address: Quadrato della Concordia 3 (Palazzo della Civilita')
Hours: Monday-Sunday, 10am-8pm, through March 25, 2018. Located at the Palazzo della Civilita' Italiana (also known as the "square Colosseum" -- photo below says it all) Fendi Studios is an exhibition set up to showcase the relationship between the famed fashion line and the cinema. On display are costumes and accessories designed by Fendi and used in films like The Royal Tenenbaums, Titus, Sex and the City, Catwoman, The Devil Wears Prada, and Blue Jasmine, among many others. The exhibition is also interactive -- get your Polaroid snapped behind the wheel of an Alfa Romeo, or be projected on to a movie screen, or on front of the Palazza della Civilita' itself. The exhibition even houses a small movie theatre, which shows films featuring Fendi clothing and accessories. The films are shown at 9pm every day (in Italian, with English subtitles) and tickets are free, but must be booked in advance on the Fendi Studio's website. You can get the movie schedule and booking page here.  

FLAVIA & PETER
During my break I was lucky enough to spend time with Flavia, a fellow blogger (also a member of my monthly Cucina Conversations group!) who was in town for the week with her husband Peter. Like me, Flavia is of Italian descent, but raised in the U.S (Maryland) with relatives still in Italy, mostly in the Veneto region. Flavia and Peter live in Houston, Texas, where she works on her Italian food blog, Flavia's Flavors, and offers Italian cooking classes at Houston's Italian Center. Long story short, we hit it off immediately -- hanging out with Flavia and Peter was like catching up with old friends instead of meeting new ones -- and I had so much fun taking them to some of my favorite foodie spots. We had lunch at Trapizzino, always a favorite; dinner at Flavio a Ve l'avevo detto, in Testaccio, where we arrived at opening and left right as the restaurant was closing; and aperitivo at Cul-de-Sac, not far from Piazza Navona. A big Thank You to them both for bringing me a bag of pecans from Texas (!!!) It was so lovely to meet them and we already have a running list of places to visit the next time they come to Rome. Alla prossima ragazzi!
 
 

TRATTORIA DA CESARE AL CASALETTO  
Address: Via del Casaletto 45 
Hours: Monday-Tuesday, Thursday-Sunday. 12:45-3pm, 7:45-11pm. Closed on Wednesdays. 
Any meal at Trattoria da Cesare al Casaletto is a treat -- it has some of the best food in Rome, as far as I'm concerned -- and during my break we enjoyed a long, leisurely, and spectacular lunch there, quite a contrast with my usual tight-on-time lunches in the workplace cafeteria. To start, we ordered croquette di melanzane all'arrabbiata, or eggplant croquettes with spicy tomato sauce, and polpette di bollito con pesto, or meatballs made with slow-cooked beef, then fried and served with pesto, which were both delicious, not to be missed if you make a visit there yourself. We also selected three Pecorino-laden pastas -- tonnarelli cacio e pepe, bucatini all'amatriciana, and tonnarelli cozze e pecorino (cozze=mussels) which were divine. To finish, we shared a panna cotta with Nutella (can you ever go wrong with Nutella?!)
  
BARRED
Address: Via Cesena 30 
Hours: Monday-Saturday 10am to 12am. Closed Sundays. 
Barred is new to the restaurant scene, having opened just barely a year ago, but it has certainly hit the ground running -- it recently received a Puntarelle d'Oro prize from the famed Puntarella Rossa, and was given a spot in the famed Cento guidebook for Italy this year. And with good reason. Run by brothers Mirko and Tiziano Palucci (a sommelier and chef, respectively) Barred offers everything from breakfast items, to tapas, to meat and cheese boards, plus larger plates at dinner, and craft beers and cocktails to wash it all down -- and it is good. We sampled the tapas, which come in three options -- 3, 5, or 7 tapas -- and are chosen not by the diner but by the chef, adding an element of surprise to the meal. We went with the "3" option and were served shrimp over a broccoletti puree with ginger and red onion; gnocchetti, or little gnocchi with leeks, orange, and Isot Biber; and veal tongue with shallots and green apples. It was all incredible -- inventive, thoughtful, creative, and so darn delicious -- and I'd highly recommend it to anyone looking to shake up the usual pasta/pizza routine.
 
 

BAKING, LOTS AND LOTS OF BAKING 
More free time=more baking, of course. Having the whole day to do as I pleased meant time to try out recipes on my "To Make List," including a classic sweet from Mantova, Torta delle Rose -- poor thing has been on my list for months -- as well as Oatmeal Cookies and Flourless Cocoa Cookies from The Fearless Baker. Here's a sneak preview of the latest desserts to come out of my kitchen, plus a shot or two of nice, relaxing strolls around Rome. I'll be back later in the week with a new recipe, and wish me luck -- by the time this post is live on its scheduled time of Monday, January 15, I'll be back in the office, sorting through a month's worth of unread emails *sob*. Here's hoping your week is a little better than mine will be...!
 
 











Tomato Lentil Soup with Swiss Chard

I'm back in Rome, and just in time! A mere day after my return to the Eternal City, my home state of Rhode Island, plus the surrounding East Coast was hit by a bomb cyclone -- really, can you think of a more intimidating name?! -- or a major snowstorm, described as (shudder) a "winter hurricane." Temperatures were below freezing, snowfall was as much as 18 inches in some states, flights all over the country were cancelled, workplaces and schools were closed, pipes froze and burst, power lines fell. Here's my backyard in Rhode Island, just an hour or two in the storm, picture sent to me by my father: 
And over here in Rome? How is January treating us, you might ask? Well, let's just say the temperatures here are Springlike -- we're talking light jacket weather, with lots of sunshine -- and as I write this the temperature is 66 degrees Fahrenheit (19 degrees Celsius for the rest of you). Pictured below: a recent Saturday afternoon spent on the rooftop terrace at the newly opened Rinascente; noticeably absent, any winter gear, noticeably present, lots of blue sky.  



But wait! *ducks* I don't mean to be insensitive! *ducks again* Or smug! While its true we've been experiencing some pretty dreamy winter weather here in the Eternal City, I did spend the first 22 years of my life on the East Coast. Not so much time has passed that I've forgotten the face-numbing cold of winters in Rhode Island, nor the ritual of pulling on puffy snow pants and clunky snow boots just to be able to, Michelin-Man style, leave the house. I've not forgotten the icy sidewalks nor the freezing wind as I made my way through my Massachusetts college-campus-turned-winter-wonderland to get to class, especially painful if the class in question was the dreaded Computer Science 101 (just when I thought that course couldn't get any worse)! The point is, I get it guys!

I'm still thinking of my fellow East Coasters back home, which brings me to this recipe -- if there's anything that can quickly offset the effects of a raging, icy snowstorm it's a bowl of comforting, cozy, soup. This Tomato Lentil Soup with Swiss Chard is filling and flavorful and downright nurturing, a wholesome, virtuous mix of lentils and greens balanced by a bit of pancetta to keeps things (mildly) indulgent, ideal with a flurry (get it?!) of Parmesan or Pecorino cheese. It comes together fairly quickly, allowing you more time for snow day activities like playing board games, eating hot chocolate, and watching movies, and that's not all! It fits conveniently in to any potential "eat better" resolutions you may have made for the year, while still managing to be incredibly delicious, a win-win. Watch out bomb cyclone and outrageously cold East Coast weather -- you've met your match.
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A couple of notes: This soup is fairly flexible. If you're making this for vegetarians, you can leave out the pancetta. Feel free to substitute another kind of green for the swiss chard (spinach or kale would work well too). You could also substitute chickpeas or white beans or another kind of legume for the lentils; keep in mind that dried beans or legumes usually require soaking overnight or for a couple of hours before using, though (lentils are the exception to the rule, I learned). You could use canned lentils to cut down on the cooking time, but dried ones have a nice starchiness that they release when cooking and have a nicer, cleaner taste overall. I'm not a fan of garlic, so I always sautĂ© the cloves for flavor and then remove them at the end -- if you like garlic, feel free to add more or to finely chop the cloves to release more flavor. Finally, for the tomato in this soup, you can use either: 1 (28) ounce can crushed tomatoes, or a smaller can (400 grams) of crushed tomatoes (passata, for those of you in Italy) and a smaller can of whole plum tomatoes (400 grams) with the tomatoes broken up with a wooden spoon as they cook. Both work equally well, with the latter option giving you some pieces of tomato in the soup. 

Looking for other soup recipes? I've got this Chickpea, Kale, and Sausage Soup, this Pasta e Ceci, this Turkey, White Bean, and Spinach Soup, and this quicker Pasta e Fagioli.

TOMATO LENTIL SOUP WITH SWISS CHARD

Ingredients:
3 tablespoons olive oil 
4 ounces (112 grams) pancetta
1 carrot, peeled and chopped
1 onion, chopped
1 large stick celery, chopped
Pinch of red pepper flakes
2 cloves garlic
1 cup (200 grams) dried brown lentils
1 (28 ounce, 780 grams) can crushed tomatoes) - or - 1 (400 gram) can whole peeled tomatoes and 1 (400 gram) can crushed tomatoes (see note above)
6 cups (1500ml)  water 
2 bay leaves
1 Parmesan cheese rind (optional, but recommended)
4 cups Swiss chard

Extra freshly grated Parmesan, for serving

Directions:
In a large pot over medium heat, heat the olive oil and add the pancetta. Cook until the pancetta renders some of its fat and starts to sizzle and brown, then add the garlic, carrot, onion, celery, and a little bit of red pepper flakes if you wish. Season with a little salt and let cook until the vegetables are softened, about 5-7 minutes.
Next, add the lentils, bay leaves, and stir around in the pancetta and vegetables for a minute or two, and then add the Parmesan cheese rind, the crushed tomatoes and the water, plus a bit more salt and pepper to taste. Raise the heat on the stove and bring the soup to a nice lively bubble, then lower the heat and let the soup simmer for about 40 minutes, or until the lentils are cooked.
Being very careful (as one should always be when handling hot liquids) take about 3-4 ladle-fuls of the soup and puree it in a blender (or with an immersion blender) and then add it back into the soup. Taste everything and season with salt and pepper if needed. Add the chopped chard to the soup and let cook for a few minutes longer, or until the greens are wilted and cooked. Serve with extra Parmesan on top. Serves 4-6.