Sunny Sunday in Monti

A couple of months back I wrote about the Prati neighborhood where I live, and more recently about the Testaccio neighborhood, and I know I said that both of these were my favorite quartieri in Rome, but actually, the list wouldn't be complete without a post on Monti, another one of my very favorite places in the Eternal City. If you're not familiar, Monti is a neighborhood not far from the Colosseum (you can reach it easily by taking the subway to the Cavour stop, Line B). It has a bohemian, artsy, hipster vibe, and is downright picturesque, postcard-like (ivy covered buildings! quaint alleyways! motorini parked everywhere you look!) Good looks aside, it's also packed with great places to eat, shop, and just hang out (ex: Piazza della Madonna dei Monti, more specifically its fountain, the perfect place to spend a summer evening, with a beer/prosecco/glass of wine from the tiny shop nearby). I took advantage of a very sunny Sunday not so long ago to spend the day in Monti and visit some of my favorite places -- all can be considered highly recommended for anyone paying a visit to the Eternal City anytime soon.


ZIA ROSETTA

First things first: lunch! Every time I find myself in Monti, I make sure to stop at Zia Rosetta, and I advise you to do the same. Zia Rosetta makes all their sandwiches on rosetta bread (a kind of chewy white bread with a segments resembling a rose and a hollow interior) that is typical of Rome, and also notoriously hard to make (I've tried). This (finicky) rosetta bread is filled to make a variety of creative sandwiches, from smoked salmon, arugula, and ricotta, to chicken salad with curry almonds and apples to one with stracciatella, roasted tomatoes, and basil (my choice, pictured below). If you don't want to have to choose just one sandwich (and why should you have to?!) you can also order a variety of mini sandwiches from their menu, made with mini rosette. In addition to sandwiches, Zia Rosetta also makes salads and centrifughe, or rather drinks made with all different fruit and vegetable juices (kind of like a smoothie) plus offers full plates (polpette di melanzane or eggplant meatballs, rice, and cicoria, to name just one of many). As Zia Rosetta is super tiny and seating is never a guarantee we often take our sandwiches up  the nearby Piazza degli Zingari to eat in the sunshine.

MERCATO MONTI

In the midst of a busy and stressful couple of weeks I figured I'd reward myself with a trip to the Mercato Monti, another must in the neighborhood. In keeping with Monti's already artsy-hipster-vibe, the market is full of artisans and vendors selling everything from jewelry to scarves to dresses to jackets, not to mention bags, T-shirts, and vintage sunglasses, plus my favorite, the book lamp, a lamp with a crazy  looking light bulb made out of a secondhand book. I opted for a necklace from the store Colibri' and had to stop myself there, as I could have very well left the market with (at least) ten other purchases and my wallet a whole lot lighter. Note: Forgive me for the sort of vague/general photos below -- artists are pretty funny about having their work photographed, in case someone ends up copying it. You have to pay the market a visit yourself to see what they offer!
 

FATAMORGANA

Perhaps one of the most well known gelaterie in Rome, Fatamorgana is the place to go if you want to get out of your gelato comfort zone, i.e, go beyond the more classic chocolate and pistachio; its known for its eclectic flavor combinations, such as black cherry and beer, banana and sesame, and even chocolate and tabacco. Having said that, I kept it fairly simple this time around and opted for fragola (strawberry) and yogurt (um, yogurt) gelato, enjoyed on a marble bench in Piazza degli Zingari. Note that if you want your Fatamorgana fix, there are a few other locations (one in the Trastevere neighborhood and another in Prati, for example). Never fear though! More locations just means more business for Fatamorgana -- the quality is still ever-so-high.


TINA SONDERGAARD

So, the bad news is that the store Tina Sondergaard -- named after the lovely owner -- is closed on Sundays (see my photo below of the very clearly closed shop). I had completely forgotten about this when I stopped by (my disappointment was immense) but I wanted to include it here anyways, as a trip to Monti is not quite a trip to Monti without stopping by this shop. So! Tina is Danish, but has lived in Italy for over 30 years; she designs and sews all of the dresses, pants, skirts, and blouses in the store, and does a beautiful job. If you're looking for something a little different, one-of-a-kind, and spectacularly made, look no further.  Bonus: Tina is one of the loveliest, nicest, most accommodating people you'll ever meet, and my sister and I often stop by the shop just to chat with her. FYI: She recently opened up another store, in the Campo dei Fiori area. Thanks to Yelp for the two photos below!
Image result for tina sondergaard locationsPhoto of Tina Sondergaard - Roma, Italy

CUOCO E CAMICIA

Ahh, Cuoco e Camicia! Hands down one of my favorite places to eat in the capital, C&C serves Italian food that is elevated, a bit more on the creative side (here you open the menu and are surprised -- no super typical Roman fare here). It's sort of hidden away, tucked into a quiet alleyway across the street from the metro, so keep an eye out for it. Dinner here is the perfect way to cap off an evening in one of my favorite neighborhoods, and this time around we opted for the following: a cheese plate with honey, jam, and spice bread; a slow cooked egg with Parmesan and mushrooms; tortelloni filled with saffron, green apple, and barbecue pork; green pasta alla gricia; beef filet with raspberries and roasted carrots; cherry cream tarts for dessert. It was all stellar, from start to finish. Swoon.
Having eaten and shopped my way through the neighborhood for the better part of the day, I headed home, tummy full and wallet slightly less so. To tie up the post I'll leave you with some more photos from marvelous Monti; I'll be back soon with another recipe and/or a post on my trip to London. In the meantime, have a good week everyone!
 
 
 






























Crema di Caffè

I’m back! The aforementioned Spanish test is over (más dificil than I expected, to be honest) but I won’t know the results for a bit, meaning I can sit back and relax for now. I have an exciting week ahead of me – I’m headed to the beach Saturday, meeting up with two of my fellow Cucina Conversations bloggers Sunday, and then headed to London next week (post to follow). And as if this weren't all exciting enough -- I have crema di caffè for you, too. 

So! You might be familiar with crema di caffè if you've spent some time in Italy, but if not I'd guess it's pretty much off your radar. Let me explain: crema di caffè (translated: coffee cream) can sort of be described as (extra soft) soft serve coffee ice cream, which is served swirled into little cups and eaten with a spoon. You'll find it at almost every bar here -- it'll be the one being churned about hypnotically in it's transparent machine -- and it is a true life-saver on a hot summer day. I was late to the crema di caffè game, never even noticing it on my stops for coffee (I'm a cappuccino girl myself) until a friend of mine ordered it from our workplace bar a few years ago. From then on, I was hooked; it was icy cold, not too sweet, a perfect afternoon snack or finish to lunch, and I only regretted not having paid it more attention sooner.

But just as quickly as I fell for crema di caffè, I learned something else: crema di caffè could be disappointing. Oh sure, there were a few good bars where I found it was everything it set out to be -- rich, ice cream-y, deeply coffee flavored -- but more often than not, it was an after thought, heavy on the ice and light on the flavor, with a grainy texture. I became a bit disillusioned; crema di caffè was as likely to be spot on as it was to be below-average, a bit of a hit-or-miss kind as far as afternoon pick-me-ups go. After a particularly disappointing one last week (non sa di niente! declared my friend Irene i.e, this tastes like nothing) I began to wonder if this wasn't a matter (or recipe) best taken into my own hands. I'm no stranger to making the usually-store-bought in my own kitchen  -- bagels, pizza, pie crust-- and figured crema di caffè might be better off made at home, from scratch, by yours truly. 

And, well, not to brag here or anything, but I was 100% right. This was crema di caffè at its very best, the best crema di caffè I've ever had, a crema di caffè good enough to make up for all the other lousy ones. It was smooth (no ice or sugar grains here!) and rich (I <3 Heavy Cream) intensely coffee-flavored, made even more special with the addition of a little hazelnutty Nutella. It was downright refreshing, and a little fancier than you average crema di caffè when dusted with a cocoa powder and garnished with a few coffee beans. Bonus: as someone who has not yet managed to bring her hefty ice cream maker (attachment and corresponding Kitchen Aid) from the U.S to Rome, this dessert is a true consolation, a frozen treat (like these popsicles and this semifreddo, too) that requires no fancy equipment and comes together with minimal effort and time. Really, I can't think of one reason why you shouldn't make this. 

A couple of notes: This is not exactly something you can make in advance, as the longer the crema is in the fridge, the more frozen it becomes, naturally. It’s pretty good frozen – kind of like ice cream! – but not exactly what you’re going here, so think of it as a quick and easy (and oh-so-delicious) dessert that should be eaten within an hour or two of freezing -- it should be pourable, not scoopable.  This is also a great use for any leftover coffee you have hanging around from the morning. 

Looking for more sweet frozen treats this Summer? I've got this Pistachio Semifreddo, these Butterscotch Pudding Pops, these Raspberry Yogurt Popsicles, these Nutella Banana Fudge Pops, and this Chocolate Gelato. For more coffee flavored treats, I've got this Cappuccino Cake. 

CREMA DI CAFFE'
Recipe barely adapted from www.misya.com

Ingredients:
1/3 cup (79ml) room temperature or cold coffee
1/4 cup (4 tablespoons) sugar
2 tablespoons Nutella
1 1/4 cups (300ml) heavy cream 
Coffee beans (ideally chocolate covered) or cocoa powder for serving

Directions:
In a medium bowl, whisk together the coffee, sugar, and Nutella. Put in the fridge until cold. 
 
Next, in a large bowl, beat the heavy cream with electric beaters until it stars to thicken. As you beat the cream, pour in the coffee mixture in a slow and steady stream, and beat until the cream holds very soft peaks and everything is well combined.
 
 Scrape the coffee/cream mixture into a tupperware container, cover, and put in the freezer for an hour. Once the hour is up, divide up your crema di caffe' into four individual serving glasses and enjoy, dusted with some cocoa powder and garnished with some cocoa beans. 





















Spaghetti with zucchine, egg, Parmesan, and basil

I admit it -- I've been neglecting this blog a bit lately. Blogging, my weekly ritual, has recently become an if-I-find-time activity, and for a couple of reasons. For starters, it's been competing with the Spanish language, as I need to pass a UN Spanish test according to the new hiring rules of my workplace (note: I haven't given Spanish much thought since I graduated college in 2011, and fervently wish they'd test my Italian instead). Much of my time has been occupied by a combination of private lessons and copious amounts of homework (tarea) and while I'm happy to dust off (desempolvar -- okay, I'll stop now) my Spanish, it's time-consuming. Work in my new division is intensely busy, visitors, as welcome as they are, have been non-stop (a post on that later, when I find the time!) and the weather has been so spot on lately that any free time I have is spent outside in cool places like this one. PHEW.

With such little time to cook and write, I knew I'd have to use my precious free time very wisely, and I was certain that this pasta recipe -- from expat blogger and cookbook author Rachel Roddy -- would never in a million years disappoint. If you're not familiar: every Roddy recipe is spot on, perfectly seasoned, positively delicious, and if I was going to write about one recipe in the next week, I knew this one would be a very, very safe bet. (Spoiler, I was right).

So! This recipe is reminiscent of the beloved and well-known Roman classic, pasta alla carbonara, but with a few serious distinctions; think of this as carbonara's distant, vegetarian cousin. Still present is the ever-classic spaghetti, lots of freshly ground black pepper, and the addition of a beaten egg that is cooked quickly with the heat of the pasta to form a sauce -- from there, however, we swerve off the beaten path into a different sort of pasta dish, one where vegetables take the place of traditional guanciale, the more approachable, familiar Parmesan nudges the classic Pecorino out of the race, and there's the addition of a little bright basil. The resulting dish manages to be luxurious yet still strangely light -- think of this as comfort food, summer edition -- with a silky, luscious sauce, sweet summer-y onions and zucchine, and a sunny sprinkle of synonymous-with-summer-basil. A dish of this is downright perfect with a little extra Parmesan grated over the top, eaten forkful by twirly forkful as you review the subjunctive, or speak to yourself out loud in Spanish, or whatever it is you choose to do. Bonus: this is a great use of all that mind-bogglingly abundant zucchine (or zucchini as we Americans call it) that will be taking over your garden this season. Just saying.

A couple of notes: You could very easily substitute another vegetable for the zucchine here -- peas or asparagus might also be nice. The addition of pancetta or guanciale to make this a little more carbonara-y would be delish, and I have a feeling you could easily swap the Parmesan for Pecorino if you'd like. I used spaghetti here but Rachel's recipe actually uses linguine; any long pasta would probably work here. Grate the cheese with the smallest grate of your cheese grater. Lastly, be sure to cook the zucchine and onion over low heat, slowly, so they soften and cook but don't turn brown. 

Looking for other recipes with zucchine? I've got this Zucchini, Corn, and Tomato Pie, this Three Cheese Zucchini Tart, and these Stuffed Zucchini. Looking for more summer pastas? I've got this Spaghetti with Cherry Tomatoes and Basil, this Sundried Tomato Pesto, this Classic Basil Pesto, this Pasta with Swordfish and Eggplant, and this Pasta with Eggplant, Tomatoes, Basil, and Mozzarella.

SPAGHETTI WITH ZUCCHINE, EGG, PARMESAN, BASIL
Recipe courtesy of Rachel Roddy

Ingredients:
A little less than a pound (400 grams) spaghetti or linguine
4 tablespoons olive oil
2 yellow onions
About 3 (300 grams) zucchine   
3/4 cup (70 grams) freshly grated Parmesan
2 large eggs + 2 large egg yolks
8 basil leaves
Salt freshly ground black pepper
Extra Parmesan for serving

Directions:
Put a large pot of water on to boil. Next, start with the veggies -- peel and then thinly slice the onions, then cut the zucchine in to strips (about 5cm long and 2mm thick, to be precise). In a large frying pan, heat the olive oil (medium-low heat) and then cook the onion and zucchine with a pinch of salt, being sure that they don't brown; you want them to be softened and cooked but without much color. This will take about 10 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and set aside.

Once the water is boiling, add some salt and then add the linguine. Cook until al dente (about 7-9 minutes usually, check the package instructions). 

As the pasta cooks, whisk together the eggs, egg yolks, cheese, a pinch of salt, and some black pepper, and set aside. As you approach the end of your pasta cooking time, heat up the pan with the zucchine, onion, and olive oil again, until they're thoroughly warmed throughout. 
Once your pasta has achieved al dente status, drain it, being sure to reserve a bit of the cooking water beforehand. Add the pasta to the frying pan and toss and stir it to mix it with the vegetables. Turn off the heat and, working quickly, add the egg mixture and a bit of pasta cooking water, then stir and swirl the pan vigorously until each strand is coated with a nice Parmesan-y egg sauce. 
Add a little more pasta cooking water if needed and stir again. Rip the basil up, toss it into the pan, and stir again. Serve immediately with some freshly grated Parmesan on top, if you'd like. Serves 4. 

































Strawberry Cream Biscuits

One of my quirkier quirks -- besides a passion for list making and the tendency to stop to pet every dog I meet -- is that I read cookbooks the way some people read best-selling novels. My nightstand, for example, usually has a cookbook or two stacked on it for pre-bedtime reading, and I have even been known to haul cookbooks with me to the beach for summer reading, too. Following a particularly tough break up, I remember finding solace and calm in reading through the main course section of Smitten Kitchen's first cookbook, my version of what for the average person is the requisite box of post break-up chocolates. I have a vast collection that I love dearly, with a few stand outs; either of the aforementioned Smitten Kitchen books, for starters, not to mention American Cake, Dolce Italiano, and my new favorite, The Fearless Baker.

I've mentioned this book before; it was one of my most anticipated Christmas presents, a cookbook centered completely on baking -- cookies, cakes, breads, you name it -- written by Erin Jean McDowell. Erin is a pastry chef, author, and food stylist, plus the official baking consultant for my favorite website, Food52, and I've admired her work for a while (a giant, genius, pull-apart croissant loaf, published last year, what was actually initially got my attention). As the title suggests, her book makes baking -- which, unlike cooking, seems to be more intimidating to the home cook, with all its precision and rules and science -- approachable and clear, carefully explaining each and every recipe and therefore demystifying the art of baking. I've been baking my way through her book these past few months (highlights: an extra vanilla-y pound cake, spot on oatmeal cookies, and an intensely chocolate-y, flourless cocoa cookies) and I can safely say that this is one of those cookbooks where every.single.recipe is solid, trustworthy in a way -- you can choose an E. McDowell recipe for a dinner party, for example, and know that it is going to be a winner, no need to test run it beforehand. Everything in her book, from the photos to the "pro tips" to the explanations of why the recipe works, is pure cookbook-gold. 

Before I go on and tell you all about these Strawberry Cream Biscuits, let me clear up any potential biscuit-confusion: the American biscuit is completely different from the English biscuit, which for us Americans, would be called a cookie. The American biscuit is buttery and flaky, made with buttermilk or cream and a good amount of baking powder. They can be sweet (shortcake!) or savory (served with soups and stews, smothered in gravy for breakfast in the South). Out of all the classic American dishes, biscuits are the trickiest to explain, and when trying to describe them to my many non-American friends here, I usually settle for "the first cousin of the scone" which isn't so far off, as far as comparisons go. That being said, you would be doing yourself a disservice to not bake (and eat) a batch of biscuits yourself to fully understand the beauty of the American biscuit, which is where this recipe comes in.

So! These biscuits naturally, come from the Fearless Baker, and no surprise here, they're spectacular. Erin's recipe produces biscuits that are buttery and lightly sweet and delicately crumbly, with pockets of strawberries -- which have become soft and melty and delightfully jammy in the oven -- sandwiched in between the layers of aforementioned divine biscuit. Each one perfectly encapsulates the flavor of a bowl of sweet strawberries and freshly whipped cream -- a dessert my mom would make for us in the summer growing up -- and a bite of these took me back to June evenings on our porch in Rhode Island, when the weather was warm and balmy, the sun was setting, and there was dessert. These biscuits for me were therefore not only spectacularly delicious but also highly nostalgic, and when it comes to food, I'm not sure it gets much better than that. Grazie mille, Erin, for this recipe.  

A couple of notes from Erin herself: laying the strawberry slices on the dough as described below, and folding it over them, is a great way to incorporate the fruit without overmixing, which would add more liquid (from the juices) to the dough while simultaneously making it tough. Instead of mixing the berries in to the dough, you could also sandwich them inside the individual biscuits: divide the dough in to 12 equal pieces. Pat each piece out to a rectangle about 1/2 inch thick, arrange a few strawberry slices over one half of the dough, and fold the other half over itself. Press the edges to seal, transfer to the prepared baking sheet, and proceed with the recipe. The biscuits can be made ahead of time; you can cut them out, put them on the baking sheet, and refrigerate them for up to 12 hours before baking. As is the rule for most biscuits and scones however, they should be eaten asap.

My notes: These would be perfect with a dollop of clotted cream if you have it (unfortunately I can't find it here in Italy) and would be lovely at breakfast or for tea. If you wanted to take this recipe in a different direction, blueberries or raspberries in place of the strawberries would also work well here (or even peaches, I'd guess). Feel free to brush the tops of the biscuits with egg wash instead of cream if you'd like, and if you have turbinado sugar sprinkle that on top (this is actually Erin's suggestion in the recipe as written, I just didn't have any in my kitchen). To see more of Erin's work, click here: www.instagram.com/emcdowell.


Looking for other biscuit or scone recipes? I've got these savory Cacio e Pepe Biscuits, these Double Cheese Biscuits, and these Raspberry Ricotta Scones. Looking for other strawberry recipes? I've got this Salmon with Strawberry Avocado Salsa, these Chocolate Strawberry Shortcakes, this Strawberry Cake with cream cheese frosting, and this Ricotta pound cake with strawberries


STRAWBERRIES AND CREAM BISCUITS
Recipe from Erin McDowell via "The Fearless Baker"

Ingredients:
5 cups (601 grams) all-purpose flour
1/2 cup (99 grams) sugar
2 tablespoons (24 grams) baking powder
1/2 teaspoon (2 grams) salt
12 tablespoons (170 grams or six ounces) unsalted butter, cold, cut in to 1/2 inch cubes
1 1/4 cups cold heavy cream (302 grams) heavy cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups sliced strawberries (302 grams)

Heavy cream or a beaten egg for brushing
Turbinado or coarse sugar for sprinkling (or normal sugar in a pinch)

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit (205 degrees Celsius) with the oven rack in the middle of the oven. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, granulated sugar, baking powder, and salt. Add the butter and toss to coat the cubes with flour. Cut the butter into the flour by rubbing it between your forefingers and thumbs until the pieces are between the size of peas and walnut halves.

Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and pour in the cream and vanilla. Toss the mixture with our fingers to begin to combine, then knead gently to ensure everything is evenly incorporated.

Turn the dough out on to a lightly floured surface, and press it into a rectangle about 1 inch thick (no need to be precise). Scatter the strawberries evenly over the dough, then fold the dough over onto itself a few times.
Reflour your work surface and press the dough out to about 1 1/4 inches thick. Using a 2 1/2 inch ring or biscuit cutter, cut out biscuits, pressing the cutter straight down (so you will get tall, straight-sided biscuits) rather than twisting it (which can pinch the edges of the dough together and prevent a good rise). Transfer the biscuits to the prepared baking sheet, leaving 1 1/2 inches between them. Gently bunch up the scraps and repeat the process. 
Transfer the baking sheet tray to the freezer for 5-7 minutes or to the refrigerator for 15-17 minutes to chill the dough, which helps ensure a higher rise. Brush the edges of the chilled biscuits with the egg wash or heavy cream and sprinkle generously with the sugar.
Bake the biscuits for 22-26 minutes until the biscuits are tall and the tops are very golden. Serve warm. Makes 12 biscuits, but can also be halved to make 6 biscuits if you're feeding a smaller crowd (as I was).