Risotto al finocchio e limone

When I first started learning to cook and bake all the way back in middle school, I found risotto -- much like Isabel S. and Amanda M., the reigning popular girls of my 8th grade class -- a bit intimidating (though in hindsight if it was only a few spoiled pre-teens and arborio rice scaring me, I wasn't doing so badly)My 13 year old self did lots of culinary self-teaching and cookbook reading back then, and from what I had gathered, risotto -- not unlike algebra -- was notoriously tricky. It required lots of continuous stirring, and if you didn't stir it as you should, your risotto would end up a gluey, stuck-to-the-pan mess; broth needed to be added in specific quantities, and added only when the previous ladle-ful had been absorbed, and not a moment sooner; and if you got that far, the risotto needed to be eaten immediately, or else (I wasn't sure what the else was). For a while, I stuck to what I had already learned to do well -- brownie pie, banana pancakes, any type of pasta -- which, similar to sitting in the last row during Math class, seemed a bit safer. 

As time went on, I grew more confident in my kitchen skills, and although I felt painfully out of place in gym class and overly self-conscious at lunchtime, I learned to be pretty cool in my own kitchen at least, conquering things like Baked Alaska and Cheesecake and homemade gnocchi. I eventually decided to give risotto a shot, and, to my great surprise -- pause for dramatic effect --  found it wasn't so difficult as I had expected it to be, not in the least. Sure, it required a bit of stirring and attention, but it was nothing I couldn't handle, and when it was all said and done, the rice's transformation from crunchy little grains to velvety risotto was kind of magical, up there with the rising of bread dough or the disappearing act of sauteed greens, one of those things that to this day makes cooking and baking so fascinating to me. Around the time I conquered risotto, I came to the conclusion that the Popular Girls were also harboring insecurities (so that's what made them so mean!) most everyone in the class were sporting braces, not just me, and anyways, high school was right around the corner. Moral of the story: both middle school and my risotto were both eventually overcome, conquered, brought down to size. Who knew grades 7-8 and risotto had so much in common?!

But you came here for recipes, not reminiscing -- on to today's recipe. You don't find much risotto here in Rome; it's a dish that is more common up in the north of Italy, especially in Milan, the home of risotto alla milanese (risotto with saffron). It's something then that I make for myself at home, most usually on Sunday afternoons, or after a long day at my less than dream-job, where lots of repetitive, methodical stirring does the mind good. This fennel risotto with lemon is one of my new favorites, one of those make-eat-and-repeat dishes. It's buttery and rich and creamy and comforting (butter + Parmesan cheese have this down pat) the richness of the finished dish tempered by the bright sunny hit of lemon, and the fennel! The fennel here is sauteed in said butter, then left to almost braise in wine and broth along with the rice, where it becomes sweet, almost caramelized, its telltale licorice flavor present but softened around the edges. Topped with a few extra fennel fronds, a dash more of cheese, and a grate or two of lemon zest, it's heavenly. Conquer any lingering risotto fears you might have and make this, asap, I mean it.

A couple of notes: This is another spot-on Rachel Roddy recipe from the Guardian. I found that the rice took a bit longer to cook than the 16 minutes Rachel mentions in her reicpe and also that I did not to use all 2 liters of broth -- see how things go for you. I used arborio rice here instead of the recommended carnaroli, which worked wonderfully. Risotto is most certainly best eaten right off the stove, and I've read more than once that it shouldn't be reheated or eaten the next day (if anything, any leftovers should be used to make suppli'). However, I found this reheated pretty well the next day -- I heated up a little broth in the pan, stirred in the risotto and let it absorb the broth and heat up again, and it was good as new. The next day, the fennel flavor is stronger, which was also delicious. Last thing: I doubled the lemon zest, because I like an extra hit of citrus, but I leave the choice up to you.

Looking for more rice recipes? I've got this Butternut Squash Risotto and this Risotto with Peas and Pancetta, these Rice-stuffed Tomatoes with Potatoes, and this Insalata di Riso. Looking for more recipes with fennel? I've got this salad with Fennel, Orange, and Olives. Looking for more Italian comfort food? I've got this Butternut Squash Lasagne, this Pici pasta with sausage ragu', these Canederli, this Polpettone, and this Polenta con funghi

(Fennel and lemon risotto - recipe from Rachel Roddy)

1 large fennel bulb
2 litres (2000 grams) vegetable or light chicken stock
5 tablespoons (75 grams) cold unsalted butter
1 small yellow onion
1 1/2 cups (320 grams) carnaroli, arborio, or vialone nano rice
1/2 cup (125ml) dry white wine
Zest of a lemon
1/2 cup (60 grams) freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Extra cheese and lemon zest, for serving

Start by preparing your fennel. Cut off the fennel fronds (the feathery greens at the end of the stalks) and set aside for garnish. Using a sharp knife, cut off the tough bottom stem, the stalks of the fennel and any of the tough outer layer. Slice the resulting trimmed fennel bulb in to thinnish slices. Peel and finely chop the onion. Melt half the butter in a large deep frying pan/saucepan over medium heat, and sauté the chopped onion and the fennel with a pinch of salt, or until soft and translucent.
Add the rice to the fennel and onion mixture, stirring for 2-3 minutes, to toast the grains and coat them with the butter. Add the wine to the pan and stir until it has been absorbed. As the rice is absorbing the wine, place your stock in a medium pan on another burner on the stove and bring it to a simmer over low heat. When the wine is absorbed, begin to add the stock to the rice a ladleful at a time, stirring constantly and allowing it to be absorbed before adding the next. Rachel says this process will take about 16 minutes, but I found it took a little longer. Taste the rice: it is cooked when it is tender, but still with bite.
Turn off the heat on the pan, and add the rest of the butter, the cheese and the lemon zest. Cover the pan. Let it sit for 1 minute, then beat the risotto vigorously with a wooden spoon until the risotto is creamy and glossy. 
Taste the risotto and add a little salt, if you think it needs it. Divide the fennel up between 4 plates, decorating with fennel fronds, some extra Parmesan, and a little lemon zest if you wish. Servse 4.

Wellesley Fudge Cake

So: I have officially been 29 years old now for 3 weeks. My birthday (which, of course, I share with my twin sister) was on January 27th, and we celebrated by going to the famed Babington's Tea Room for high tea, followed later by an aperitivo at our new favorite restaurant, Secondo Tradizione, followed still by an evening at the ballet (more than one person asked us if we were turning 29 or 79 -- we know, we know, it was a relaxed sort of birthday, and we wouldn't have had it any other way)! 

My birthday has always been a highly anticipated day for me, with lots of good food and cake and friends and well-wishes, because after all, you're celebrating the day you arrived on the planet, which is a pretty big deal. I've done quite well in the birthday department in my 20s -- we rang in 21 in London, one of my favorite cities, welcomed 23 with a party in Bologna, and turned 28 in Rome with a homemade cake and a birthday brunch, to name just a few. My recent 29th birthday, however, felt different than my previous birthdays, celebratory but also a tiny bit melancholic, and I've realized I don't particularly like the idea of being in the last year of my 20s. After all, this is the decade in which I studied abroad, really learned Italian, graduated college, moved to Rome, fell in love, experienced a broken heart, translated a book, opened a blog, met some of my dearest friends, and learned more or less how to be an adult (emphasis on the more or less) in the world. It's been a good and important 10 years, and I'm not sure how I feel about leaving them behind. Being thisclose to 30, to entering a new phase, has left me feeling a little wobbly, and I'm finding myself taking stock of things and considering what changes I might want to make, what I might want to tackle next (first up: a job I'm happier in, ideally one related to food and writing). I wonder what the last year in my 20s will look like, and what my 30s will be like, what I'll eventually do, and where I'll go, which is exciting but also overwhelming and a little scary at the same time. Its been a reflective, pensive couple of weeks for me following my birthday, and lately I've been feeling a little out of sorts. 

In the midst of all this uncertainty however, cooking and baking, as always, is a constant, and from my kitchen recently, another source of comfort: chocolate cake. Think about it: whatever ups and downs you may encounter, however unsure or unsteady you're feeling, you can be sure that by mixing together flour, sugar, butter, eggs, and cocoa in the prescribed quantities, and baking the resulting mixture for a set amount of time (give or take a few minutes) you will end up with a chocolate cake. Chocolate cake, I realized, is a sure thing, the cure to whatever may be ailing you, reassuring, a guarantee even when nothing else is, always a good thing. I may not have a very clear idea of what this next year will hold, nor where I'll be as I enter my 30s, but I celebrated my slightly shaky birthday with a slice of steady, unwavering, chocolate cake. Which, by the way, was an exceptional chocolate cake.

The chocolate cake in question comes from the cookbook American Cake, written by the lovely and talented Anne Byrn (you may remember her from this post here). This is Wellesley Fudge Cake, a cake that was first baked at the Wellesley Inn on Wellesley Square in Massachusetts, not far from my home state of Rhode Island. It is a quintessential New England cake, the "fudge" frosting an ode to the fudge that college girls at Wellesley college would famously whip up in their dorm rooms back in the day, with a little butter, chocolate, and a borrowed Bunsen burner. The cake is light and fluffy yet deeply chocolate-y, dressed up with one of the best frostings I've ever eaten, EVER, thick and truffle-y and glossy and downright addictive, just barely sweet. I topped the whole thing off with a snowfall of sprinkles, which are optional, but make the finished cake so festive and pretty they might as well be mandatory. Birthday or not, ups and downs or not: no matter where you are in life at the moment, you owe it to yourself to make this cake.

A couple of notes: The recipe as Anne wrote it uses buttermilk; buttermilk is one of those ingredients I've never been able to find in Italy, so I substituted plain full fat yogurt (not Greek, the thinner kind) whisked together with a tablespoon or two of milk, and it worked perfectly.  If you'd like a two layer cake, make the cake as described below, using either two 8-inch rectangular cake pans, or two 8-inch round cake pans. Or, do as I did -- as you can see in the photos -- and halve the recipe for both the cake and the frosting to make a one-layer cake, baked in a rectangular 9x13 inch pan. Frost the cake right when the frosting has come together -- it hardens as it cools and makes for difficult frosting. Finally, I loved this cake as is but also would be tempted to add a nice dose of mini chocolate chips to the cake next time, to up the chocolate-factor even further.


Ingredients for the cake:
4 ounces (112 grams) unsweetened chocolate, chopped
1/2 cup (120mL) water
2 cups (200 grams) granulated sugar, divided use
2 cups (260 grams) all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks, 168 grams) unsalted butter, softened
2 large eggs
1 cup buttermilk (240mL), at room temperature (see notes above)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Ingredients for the frosting:
1/2 cup (1 stick, 125 grams) unsalted butter
4 heaping tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
1/3 cup (80 mL) whole milk
3 1/2 cups (435 grams) powdered sugar, sifted
1 teaspoon vanilla extract  

Rainbow sprinkles for decorating (optional) 

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit (180 degrees Celsius). Lightly butter and flour the bottom of two 8 inch square baking pans, or if you're making just one layer cake like I did, grease just one pan. Shake out the excess flour, and set the pans aside. 
Place the flour, baking soda, an salt in a medium sized bowl, and stir to combine well. Set aside. Place the chocolate and water in a small saucepan over low heat. Stir and heat until the chocolate is nearly melted, about 1 minutes. Take the pan off the heat, stir in 1/2 cup (50 grams) sugar, and set the chocolate aside to cool.
Place the butter and the remaining 1 1/2 cups (150 grams) sugar in a large bowl, and beat with an electric mixture until the mixture is fluffy, 1-2 minutes. Add the eggs, one at a time, then add the chocolate mixture to the batter, and blend on low for 15-20 seconds. 
Add the flour mixture alternately with the buttermilk, beginning and ending with the flour mixture, and blending on low until just combined. Scrape down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula, and stir in the vanilla. Divide the batter between the prepared pans, smoothing the tops, and place the pans in the oven.
Bake the cakes until the tops spring back when lightly pressed with a finger, about 25-30 minutes. The cakes should just begin to pull away from the sides of the pans. Remove the cakes from the oven, and place on a wire rack to cool for 1 minutes. Run a knife around the edges of the cakes and give them a gentle shake. Invert the cakes once and then again to cool on the racks, right side up. Let cool completely, 30-35 minutes.

While the cake is cooling, make your frosting! Place the butter in a medium-size saucepan over low heat. When the butter melts, stir in the cocoa and milk. Let the mixture come just to a boil, stirring, and then remove the pan from the heat. Stir in the powdered sugar and vanilla until the frosting is thickened and smooth.
When the cake layers are cooled, and when the frosting is smooth and still a little warm, place 1 layer on a cake plate or platter and spoon a generous 3/4 cup frosting over the top, smoothing it to let it cover the layer and let it trickle down the sides. Place the second layer on top (if you have decided to make both layers) and ladle more frosting over the top, smoothing everything out. For a casual look, let the frosting drip down the sides of the cake. Decorate with rainbow sprinkles if using.
For a more finished look, run the frosting around the edges of the cake using a metal spatula, just to seal in the crumbs. Repeat spreading the frosting around the edges of the cake. Let the cake rest for 1 hour before slicing and serving.  Serves 8-12.  

Zeppole sarde (zippulas)

It's Monday -- everyone's least favorite day of the week, mine included -- but if it makes you feel any better, it's already time for the February round of Cucina Conversations! (Feeling a little better? Thought so.) This month's theme is Carnevale (Carnival) the period leading up to martedi' grasso (Fat Tuesday) which is then followed by Ash Wednesday and then Lent. Since Fat Tuesday falls early this year -- tomorrow, February 13th -- my fellow bloggers and I are sharing our recipes mid-month.

Lent is a 40 day period of fasting and more modest eating (ex: no meat on Fridays) and in anticipation of this, the traditional dishes eaten in Italy pre-Lent are pretty indulgent, as everyone gets their fill of the foods they will soon theoretically be without. You'll find recipes like lasagne alla napoletana from Naples, or lasagna taken over the top with the addition of sausage and hard-boiled eggs; fagioli grassi from the Piedmont region, or beans cooked with pork; or migliaccio, again from Naples, or polenta baked with pork and lots of cheese. Desserts to celebrate Carnevale in Italy are fried, because really, if you're going to be skipping dessert for 40 days, you might as well go all out and deep-fry the end to your meal, no? Italy's repertoire of fried Carnevale sweets is incredibly vast, with dolci that vary from region to region; there is schiacciata alla fiorentina from Tuscany, arancini dolci from Le Marche, krapfen up north in the Alto-Adige region, as well as chiacchiere (which also go by the names frappe, crostoli, or bugie, depending on where you are in Italy) and castagnole, plus countless more. Phew! Still with me?

Never one to shy away from a little sugar, I opted for a dolce this month, more specifically zeppole sarde (zeppole from Sardinia) which also go by the name zippulas in Sardinian dialect. There are many different variations on zeppole in Italy; the zeppola eaten in Naples around Carnevale is shaped like a doughnut, and rolled in sugar; zeppole pugliesi are made with rice and fried; different still are the zeppole eaten on St Joseph's day on March 19th, which are baked and filled with pastry cream; there are also savory zeppole, which go by the name pasta cresciuta. The zeppole that come from Sardinia are my favorite, though; much like the island itself, they are extra special, made with orange zest, potato, and saffron, a seemingly odd array of ingredients that come together to make a truly fantastic sweet.

This recipe comes from one of my culinary idols, Gina DePalma (the mind behind this magnificent ricotta pound cake, these addictive taralli, and this spectacular honey pinenut tart) and, as I've come to expect from any DePalma creation, were oh-so-perfect. These zeppole were deep golden brown and crisp on the outside, delightfully fluffy and cloud-like on the inside, extra fragrant, redolent of orange with a hint of earthy saffron, pure bliss when eaten warm and rolled in a flurry of sugar. The saffron gives the zippulas a flavor that is a bit more complex and nuanced than that of your typical dolce carnevalesco, making them a bit more elegant and refined, exactly what you would expect from an ingredient as precious as saffron. Swooooon.

With no further ado, here are the recipes from my fellow bloggers:

Marialuisa over at Marmellata di Cipolle has made ciambelle al profumo di arancia, or sugar dusted, orange scented doughnuts; 

Rosemarie over at Turin Mamma has prepared chiacchiere ripiene, another fried sweet; 

Daniela of La Dani Gourmet has shared her recipe for risotto di seppie e bieta, or risotto with cuttlefish and chard;

Carmen at The Heirloom Chronicles has decided to go savory in the midst of all our fried desserts, and prepare parmigiana di zucchine;

Flavia from Flavia's Flavors is sharing her recipe for frappe, another popular dolce carnavalesco.

Last but not least, Lisa from Italian Kiwi will be making strauben, from the Alto-Adige region of Italy.

A couple of notes: You can find some helpful tips on frying towards the end of this post here. If you don't have any grappa laying around, you could substitute brandy or even cognac, or substitute 2 or so tablespoons milk if you want to leave it out all together (I have done this before with good results). The recipe as written recommends 1 teaspoon of saffron, which makes for a very saffron-y zeppola -- I reduced the quantity to 1/4 of a teaspoon while testing this and was happier with the more subtle saffron flavor, but I leave the choice to you. Gina suggests frying these in olive oil, but I used peanut oil because it is what I had around, with good results. Feel free to roll the zeppole in powdered sugar instead of granulated sugar if you prefer. Finally, note that these, like all things fried, are best eaten as soon as possible and do not keep well.

(Potato and saffron doughnuts from Sardinia)

1 large baking potato
2 oranges
1 cup (240 mL) whole milk
1/4 teaspoon saffron threads (see notes above)
3 teaspoons (7 grams) active dry yeast
4 cups (520 grams) all-purpose flour (Farina 0 if you're in Italy)
2 teaspoons salt
1 large egg
3/4 cup (150 grams) sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 cup (60 mL) grappa (see notes)

6 cups olive oil or any other frying oil, for frying
Sugar for rolling 

Boil the potato in salted water until it is tender when pierced with a knife. Drains the water and allow the potato to cool slightly, then peel off the skin. While the potato is still warm, pass it through a potato ricer and spread the riced potato out on to a place to cool completely.
In the meantime, zest the oranges and squeeze the juice into a small bowl, straining out any seeds, until you have 1/2 cup juice. Scald the milk in a small saucepan over medium heat and add the saffron threads. Remove the pan from the heat and allow the saffron to infuse and color the milk, whisking occasionally, until the milk has cooked to lukewarm, or 105 degrees Fahrenheit if you have a cooking thermometer around. 
Strain the milk to remove any bits of saffron if you don't want them in your zeppole (otherwise, feel free to leave them) and whisk the yeast in to the milk mixture to dissolve it and allow the mixture to proof (i.e: get bubbly) for about 5 minutes. 
Place the flour in a large bowl and combine it with the salt. Add the potato to the bowl. In a medium bowl, whisk together the egg with the sugar, orange juice, orange zest, and grappa, then add this mixture to the flour and potato, along with the warm milk and yeast mixture. Work the ingredients together with a fork, then by hand, forming a ball of dough. Transfer the dough to a lightly floured work surface and knead it, adding more flour if necessary, until the dough is smooth and elastic, about 2 minutes.
Place the dough in a greased bowl, turn it once to coat it, and cover the bowl with plastic wrap or a damp towel. Place the bowl in a warm place to rise until the dough has doubled in bulk, about two hours.
In a heavy bottomed stockpot, heat the oil to 360 degrees Fahrenheit or 180 degrees Celsius -- it is best to use a thermometer when frying, as oil that is too cold will result in a soggy, greasy result, and oil that is too hot will cook whatever you're frying on the outside but not on the inside. Using your fingers, break off 1-inch pieces of dough, and roll them in to balls with your palms. If you'd like, you can also do as I do an break off a larger piece of dough and form it in to a doughnut shape -- roll the dough in to a ball, pinch the middle of the dough ball with your thumb and pointer finger, and then stretch the dough to make a whole in the middle. Fry the zeppole in batches, 3 or 4 at a time, until they are golden brown and crisp, turning them with a slotted spoon until they are deep brown on both sides, about 3-4 minutes.
Drain the doughnuts on paper towels, let them cool slightly, then dust them with confectioner's sugar or granulated sugar (your choice) and serve warm. Makes 25-30 zippulas

My Neighborhood in Rome

As you may or may not have noticed, I have posted a total of three non-recipe posts in the past month, those posts that in the past have been on the rarer side, popping up on the blog every so often when I've been traveling or have found the time to compile a rare Best Of list. Sharing more non-recipe posts was one of my blogging goals for this year (*pats self on the back*) as I'd like to give the blog a bit of variety, include more posts about Rome, and allow you to feel like you're traveling a bit with me wherever I go (New York! Naples! New Orleans!) The recipes will always be a mainstay on here -- this is, after all, a food blog -- but I think posts like this make the blog more well-rounded, and on a more practical note, make it easier on me during the weeks where I haven't had time to cook or photograph. Expect many more this year!

So! I'd been wanting to write a post on my neighborhood in Rome for a few months now, but hadn't managed to get around to it (blame Thanksgiving, holiday travel, and most recently, the revelation of this miraculous One-pan farro). It's a wonderful place to live -- in fact, I've lived nowhere else since arriving in Rome in 2011 --
and goes by the name Prati. Within Prati, I live in a little neighborhood a few minutes walk from the Cipro subway stop on the A line, not too far from St. Peter's (I often joke that Pope Francis is my neighbor, usually making no one but myself chuckle). Where I live is nowhere near as picturesque as neighborhoods like Trastevere or Monti, nor as lively as Testaccio, but its very convenient -- everything from the supermarket to my hairdresser to the dry cleaner is a 5 minute walk away, something not lost on a person who comes from a country where you must have a car -- and, most importantly, is full of places that make this neighborhood paradise for a food blogger. I feel incredibly lucky to have the following restaurants, shops, and markets nearby, and do consider them worth a visit if you're in the Eternal City. Read on! 

Address: Via Giorgio Scalia 18/20
Hours: Monday-Saturday, 7:30am-1:30pm, 4:30pm-7:00pm. 
You guys, it doesn't get much better than this. This tiny pasta shop churns out fresh pasta on a daily basis -- everything from tagliatelle to tortellini to my personal favorite, ravioli cacio e pepe, with a Pecorino cheese filling and lots of black pepper -- and is ridiculously close to my apartment, one of the best answers to the question "What's for dinner?" A nice portion or two of pasta here will cost you about 4 euros, and it makes for a superb meal (does it get any better than fresh pasta?!) especially when the above-mentioned ravioli is tossed with a brown butter and sage. As it only takes me a few minutes to go down and pick up some pasta, and then to cook it (fresh pasta cooks in no time at all) I like to think of this as fast-food in its finest, done the Italian way. Bonus: if you're lucky you can look behind the scenes (like I said, this is a tiny shop) and see the pasta dough being mixed and rolled out live. Video here, for those of you who have Instagram.

Address: Via Marcantonio Bragadin 51
Hours: Monday-Saturday, 7:30am-8:00pm.
I mentioned Paciotti not long ago in this post here and I'm writing about it again because Paciotti is so very special that I'd go as far as to say its worth looking for apartments in this neighborhood, just to have it near by. Paciotti is a small family run store that sells sort of Italian cheese you could ever dream of, from sharp ultra-aged Parmesan to fresh mild mozzarella di bufala; balsamic vinegar of all ages, and the very best olive oil you could hope to ever taste; all sorts of wine, limoncello, salumi, bread, olives, and biscotti, to name just a few. It's one of my very favorite places in Rome (Colosseum who?!) and I feel incredibly lucky to have such easy access to it. Whether you're living in Italy's capital full-time or are here on vacation, its worth a visit -- especially if you're hoping to stock up on edible gifts for your friends and family back home (or just for yourself, quite frankly). Bonus: you'll not find a friendlier or more knowledgeable staff anywhere. 

Address: Via Rialto 39
Hours: Tuesday-Saturday, 12:30pm-2:30pm, 7:30pm-10:30pm. Sunday, 12:30pm-2:30pm.
Secondo Tradizione is new-ish to the neighborhood -- it opened about a year and a half ago -- but one meal there was sufficient to rank it among my personal Best Restaurants in Rome list. Its menu offers all the classic Roman dishes (trippa alla romana, pasta all'amatriciana, and cacio e pepe, among others) done to perfection, plus other dishes that vary weekly, like fettuccine with artichokes and lamb or pork with shallots and apricots. The star at Secondo Tradizione for me however are their magnificent taglieri (rough translation: meat and cheese boards) which are, simply put, masterpieces. Each tagliere is created with incredible by the chef (the talented Giampaolo) and contains a wide variety of top quality meats and cheeses, with jams, vegetables or fruits mixed in, depending on what pairs best with what's being served. Each tagliere is then presented with a detailed explanation of each ingredient, its history, and why it was chosen, courtesy of Giampaolo, who, if you're not an Italian speaker, will also do your explanation in English. This is a must-visit, whether you're a tourist or a local -- bottom line, eating out, at its very very best.

Address: Viale degli Ammiragli 10
Hours: Monday-Saturday, 9:30am-1:30pm, 4:00pm-7:30pm.
Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Kitchen! A short walk from my house you'll find not one but two stores dedicated to everything you could ever want or hope for for your kitchen, pure paradise for a food blogger like myself. Kitchen is divided in to two stores, with one being meant for the baker, stocked with every imaginable type of cake, tart, or pie pan, plus fondant, sprinkles, pastry bags, and spatulas for decorating, as well as rolling pins, whisks, chocolate molds, standing mixers and cookbooks, to name just a few. Down the street you'll find Kitchen's savory counterpart, dedicated to cooking more than baking, complete with kitchen gadgets of every sort, Le Creuset pots and pans, baking dishes, coffee machines, cutting boards, food processors, pasta machines, cheese graters, aprons, and quite nearly everything else you could ever want or need. I'd say I'm living in the right part of town, don't you think?!

Address: Via Marcantonio Bragadin 91
Hours: Monday-Saturday, 6:30am-2:30pm.
Not so long ago, the one place I knew of in Rome that sold pecans -- the main ingredient in my very favorite dessert, Pecan Pie -- closed with little warning. Just when I thought I'd have to start stocking up on pecans on my trips home to the U.S (or, more likely, having my poor father schlep me a pound or so of them when he visited) Isola delle spezie, opened up across the street from my house -- and they had pecans (!!!) Apart from saving my Thanksgiving dessert selection this year, Isola delle spezie also offers a vast selection of rice, grains, and beans -- even black eyed peas, which I'd never seen before in Italy -- plus a huge selection of dried fruits, every imaginable spice, dried peppers, olives, and every kind of nut you could ever want for snacking or baking, from the more common walnut to the more exotic macadamia nut. Check check and check.
Address: Via della Meloria 23
Hours: Monday-Saturday, 11:00am-10:00pm. Sunday, 12:00pm-4:00pm, 6:00pm-10:00pm.
Ahh, Pizzarium! This tiny pizzeria is where you’ll hands down find the very best pizza-by-the slice in all of the Eternal City and the consistently long line out the door – made up of tourists and locals alike – attests to this. Under the leadership chef and owner Gabriele Bonci, Pizzarium takes your typical slice of pizza and makes it something really special, dishing out pizza with creative toppings that change daily and are decided each morning by Bonci and his team. Here you’ll find pizza topped with zucchini, ricotta, and pink pepper; pumpkin cream, pancetta, and smoked provolone; gorgonzola and grapes, tomatoes and tripe; broccoli, sausage, and caciocavallo cheese, to name just a few of many (but never fear: Pizzarium has pizza rossa and pizza Margherita on hand for the less adventurous eater, too). If you want an antipasto to accompany your pizza, Pizzarium also offers delicious and creative supplithat change daily (example: suppli' with gorgonzola and figs, or suppli' with ragu’!) and are just as much works of art as the pizza. On a more practical note, there is no seating inside Pizzarium -- you can either take your pizza to go, or try and grab one of the small tables outside. Be prepared as well to spend a bit more than you normally would for pizza by the slice – given the high quality ingredients used, the prices at Pizzarium are slightly higher than average, but it’s well worth it.   

Address: Via Andrea Doria 3
Hours: 7:00am-2:00pm, Monday-Saturday
There's no better weekend ritual than doing your shopping for the week at Mercato Trionfale, an enormous covered market a short walk from my apartment, packed with stands selling fresh vegetables, fresh fruit, cheeses, meats, fish, bread, pasta, and pizza, rice, among many many other things. The market organizes its main stalls by color, to keep you on track - green stalls are for vegetables and fruit, red stalls are for meat, and blue stalls are for fish. On Saturdays, when I go, its a sight to behold, filled with busy shoppers and even busier vendors skillfully slicing prosciutto, trimming artichokes, weighing pizza by the slice, and doling out portions of freshly roasted porchetta (drool) among. The market also has a café where you can get your morning coffee and pastry, as well as a small hair salon, proving the market truly is a one-stop-shop. Bonus points to Mercato Trionfale as well for being a place where I can find those ingredients us Americans tend to crave here in Italy, like sweet potatoes, (ripe) avocados, and, in the summer, corn on the cob.

Address: Via Rialto 24
Hours: Monday-Saturday, 7:00am-8:00pm. Sunday, 7:00am-12:00pm.
There's perhaps nothing more quintessentially Italian than il bar, the place where Italians partake in their morning coffee ritual in which a cappuccino or caffe' is consumed fairly quickly, at the bar's counter, accompanied by a cornetto, costing you on average just a euro. The bar has great cultural significance in Italy, acting not only as the source of your caffeine fix but also a meeting place of sorts for the neighborhood regulars, or a punto di ritrovo. Every neighborhood has a handful, mine included. The bar I frequent on a daily basis is Bar dei Garbati, about a two minute walk from my apartment. It is, all things considered, a bar like any other, but it wouldn't be a post about my neighborhood without Garbati. The coffee here is excellent, the baristi (two brothers) know me and my sister by name and know our orders by heart (due cappuccini bollenti, un cornetto integrale da condividere) and its the usual meeting place for me, my sister, and our friend Kathryn, a fellow American and Garbati regular who has become one of our closest friends in the city. Photos of my neighborhood hang out + our beloved Kathryn below! 

Phew! Those are my top favorite places in my little neighborhood -- I had to edit this post down to keep it from turning it into a chapter rather than a post, but wanted to add as well that there is  Sora Lia on Via Anastasio II for A++ burgers, Kailia on Via Cipro for a wide selection of taralli, and other products from Puglia, and pizzeria Alice on Viale degli Ammiragli for super pizza by the slice (which is a bit more wallet-friendly than Pizzeriarium). I'll be back on Friday with a recipe! Have a good week everyone!