Nectarine and Blueberry Crumble

Of all of summer's Greatest Hits -- corn on the cob! basil pesto! burgers on the grill! etc -- I have a special place in my (culinary) heart this time of year for the cobbler, the crumble, and the crisp, aka summer-with-a-scoop-of-ice cream on a top. **gazes off dreamily in to the distance**  

But first things first! For anyone who may have been up until this very moment sadly unaware of the existence of the above -- they're quite common in America and the UK, but you'd never find them on any menu in Italy, for example -- allow me to explain. Cobblers, crumbles, and crisps belong to the same dessert family, with all three consisting of fruit covered with a butter/sugar/flour based topping that is then baked in the oven. They can be differentiated from one another by way of their aforementioned toppings -- the cobbler has a thicker, biscuit-like topping, the crisp more of a pebbly, sprinkle-friendly topping, and the crumble, well, a topping that is crumbled over the fruit in larger, more substantial pieces. They're incredibly versatile -- use any fruit you'd like -- but are especially lovely in the summer when berries, cherries, and stone fruit are at their best. If you turn on your oven but once this (sweltering, sweltering) season, use it to make one of the three, or if you want my advice, go ahead and make this Nectarine and Blueberry Crumble.

This dessert is truly spectacular, so much so that most of it disappeared in record time after coming out of the oven and was declared perfect as it was, no recipe-tweaking needed (hurray!) And with good reason: the topping here is reminiscent of an oatmeal cookie, crisp and crunchy and spiced with cinnamon, with a good dose of buttery pecans throughout, all heaped a top a pile of at-their-peak super-sweet and very juicy nectarines and blueberries that emerge from the oven bubbling cheerfully. This crumble is sublime served warm with a scoop of vanilla ice cream -- I actually think the ice cream should be required here -- and there is probably no better way to end a summer-y dinner or barbecue. Having said this, whatever potential leftovers you may end up with are also deliciously refreshing eaten cold out of the fridge the next day, when you're sitting in your very hot apartment watching Netflix and trying to catch a breeze from your very feeble fan. Ehem. 

A few notes: You can substitute other types of stone fruit for the nectarines (apricots, peaches, plums!) and other berries for the blueberries (blackberries! raspberries! strawberries! also cherries would be nice) You can also substitute other kinds of nuts for the pecans (walnuts or almonds, for example). As you can see from the photos I chose to make this crumble very blueberry-centric, hence it's purple-y hue (about 2 cups or 200 grams blueberries) but if you want the emphasis to be more on the nectarines, feel free to reduce the quantity of berries (to 1 or 1 1/2 cups, or about 100-150 grams). Finally, the cinnamon quantities below are good to start with but I ended up adding a little more in the filling and topping because I like my desserts cinnamon-y -- feel free to reduce or up the amount depending on your tastes.

Looking for other cobbler/crisps? I've got this Peach Cobbler, this Plum Cobbler with Cinnamon Biscuits, and this Apple Pecan-Crisp. Looking for other summer fruit recipes? I've got this Blueberry Pie, these Blueberry Pie Bars, these Raspberry and Blueberry Shortcakes, this Watermelon Granita, this Peach and Raspberry Buckle, these Honey-Cinnamon Roasted Peaches, and this Blackberry Cheesecake Galette.

NECTARINE AND BLUEBERRY CRUMBLE

Ingredients for the crumble topping:
3/4 cup (90 grams) all-purpose flour
3/4 cup (60 grams) old fashioned oats
1/2 cup (100 grams) golden brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (112 grams) chilled unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1 cup (125 grams) pecans, chopped 

Ingredients for the filling:
10 tablespoons (about 125 grams) granulated sugar
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
Pinch of salt
5 nectarines, cut into slices
Scant 1 1/2 cups (150 grams) blueberries or so (see note)

Directions:
Start with your topping. In a medium sized bowl, mix together the flour, oats, brown sugar, cinnamon, and salt. Add the butter and rub in with your fingertips until the mixture comes together and forms clumps of dough. Stir in the pecans and set aside.
 
For the filling, preheat your oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit (170 degrees Celsius). Mix together the nectarines and blueberries in a large bowl, and then toss with the sugar, cornstarch, cinnamon, and salt. Transfer the fruit mixture to a lightly buttered 11x7x2 inch glass baking dish. Sprinkle the topping over.
 
 

Bake the crumble until the filling is bubbling and the topping is golden, about 45-60 minutes. Cover the crumble if the topping appears to be browning too quickly (mine did). 
 
Cool the cobbler for at least 30 minutes and then serve warm with vanilla ice cream. Serves 6-8. 















































Pomodori gratinati

Following a bit of a hiatus -- our last post was all the way back in April, I believe --  my fellow Cucina Conversations bloggers and I are back with another round of recipes (!!!) After some deliberation, we've decided to post on a quarterly instead of monthly basis, which is a lot easier for all of us -- after all, blogging is a pretty time-consuming activity in itself, and if you add work, a family, and travel to that it can sometimes seem nearly impossible. Our topic for this month is stuffed, a theme that in Italian cooking can cover anything from stuffed pasta like ravioli or tortellini to involtini to braciole to any sort of stuffed seasonal veggie. With no further ado, here's our July line-up:

Daniela of La Dani Gourmet will be sharing her recipe for pomodori ripieni al forno con patate, or tomatoes stuffed with rice and served with roasted potatoes;


Carmen of The Heirloom Chronicles will be making a timballo di riso or a savory rice cake; 


Flavia of Flavia's Flavors will be making olive all'ascolana or stuffed fried olives;

Marialuisa of Marmellata di Cipolle will be making zucchine ripiene or stuffed zucchini;

Last but not least, Rosemarie over at Turin Mamma will be preparing melanzane ripiene, or stuffed eggplant.

My selection for this round is pomodori gratinati, aka stuffed tomatoes, a dish with a short and sweet recipe list -- just some tomatoes, a few slices of leftover bread, a smidge of garlic, and some herbs. It is the very definition of the "Less is More" approach that you find so often in Italian cooking, where a handful of humble ingredients + a simple preparation = a truly stellar dish. (See also: bruschetta al pomodoro; spaghetti aglio e olio; pasta e fagioli; etc etc)

But the recipe! Here the overall tomato-ness of our tomatoes is intensified and concentrated with a little roasting, the perfect vehicle for the filling, or rather: a delightful mix of sharp-salty Parmesan, spicy assertive garlic, and summery basil, all held together with a little bread and a good bit of tomato for an extra tomato punch. But wait, there's more! -- each tomato half is topped off with a scattering of breadcrumbs and a drizzle of olive oil for  little crunch, texture, and toasty golden brown color (swoon). It will probably not surprise you in the least then to know that these made for a divine lunch paired with some oh-so-heavenly burrata and an extra sprinkling of basil, but don't let me tell you what to do! These would also be great eaten alongside mozzarella di bufala or even ricotta or goat cheese, or just enjoyed as a starter on their own, if you want to keep things simple. Downside: I know, I know, you need to turn on your oven to make these but Upside: you probably have air conditioning in your house, unlike us living in Roman apartments, so this shouldn't be a problem for most of you. That being said -- whatever the temperature in your kitchen might be, these are worth making, promise.

A couple of notes: If you don't have stale bread on hand, no problem! Mine was fairly fresh and I just toasted it for a bit and it worked fine. Note that if the filling is a little dark it's because I used a darker whole wheat bread. Feel free to experiment with the cheese and herbs here (Pecorino instead of Parmesan, oregano and thyme instead of basil, etc). If you don't have a food processor, you could always chop the ingredients by hand very finely; the filling won't be as smooth but it will still work just fine. I don't love garlic so I used just half a clove, but feel free to use a full clove if you like. I ended up using 1/4 teaspoon of salt in my filling but start slowly and taste as you go, as the saltiness of your cheese/the salt content in you bread etc might be different than what I used (remember: when it comes to salt, you can always add but it is more difficult to subtract). Finally, this filling would also be good in summer zucchine or as a filling for other veg. 

Looking for other Tomato-centric recipes? I've got these Rice-Stuffed Tomatoes with Potatoes, this Spaghetti with Cherry Tomatoes and Basil, this Cherry Tomato Cobbler, these Tomato Basil and Goat Cheese Shortcakes, this Tomato Corn and Zucchini Pie, and this Cherry Tomato Crostata.

POMODORI GRATINATI

Ingredients:
4 large (about 550 grams) tomatoes 
3 ounces (80 grams, more or less) stale bread
3 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 a garlic clove
10 basil leaves
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon breadcrumbs
Olive oil

Directions:
Cut the tomatoes in half (lengthwise or crosswise is fine, as you prefer) and using a spoon and the help of a knife if necessary, remove the pulp from the tomatoes. Put the pulp and juices in a small bowl and set aside. Let the tomatoes drain on to a few paper towels for about 15 minutes. 
In the meantime, put the garlic, basil, bread, salt, and 2 tablespoons of the Parmesan in a food processor and process until fine. Add the tomato pulp -- not the juices, just the pulp! -- to the food processor and process again.
Line up the drained tomato halves in a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Fill each tomato half with the stuffing mixture. Next, mix together the 1 tablespoon of breadcrumbs and remaining 1 tablespoon of Parmesan and sprinkle them over the tomatoes. 

Drizzle the tomatoes with some olive oil, and bake in a 350 degree oven for 45 minutes to an hour, or until the filling is golden brown and the tomatoes are softened. Let cool and serve, accompanied by some mozzarella di bufala or burrata if you'd like. Serves 3-4.  




















Butterscotch Sauce

When I was younger – from when I was 7 years old up until around the age of 22 – my family would rent a beach house in Narragansett, Rhode Island, for two weeks every summer. Our stay at The Beach House was highly anticipated every year, hands down the highlight of everyone's summer. The house itself wasn't too fancy -- one floor, small, worn down wooden shingles -- but boasted an impressive view of the ocean, best enjoyed from the porch at the back, which brought you so close to the water that if you looked straight ahead, you could easily imagine you were on a boat. 
 
 
Some of my best childhood memories center around The Beach House; for me, it is the very definition of nostalgia. I went to the beach every day, devoured many a Harry Potter book on the aforementioned porch, made summer-y things like pesto and burgers and s'mores, and woke up to the sound of the ocean right outside every morning. And then, one of the very best beach house traditions: not far from the beach house there was a Ben & Jerry's ice cream store, selling ice cream in their signature over-the-top flavors; my favorite flavor of the bunch was Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookie, or cinnamon ice cream with chunks of cookie and chocolate, which was best topped with butterscotch sauce (Smucker's brand, sold in a glass jar). My brother, sister, and I enjoyed many an ice cream on the porch of the beach house after dinner (though they both opted for Mint Chocolate Chip + hot fudge sauce, leaving the butterscotch to me). A little dessert accompanied by a sunset view of the ocean and the sound of crickets remains one of my best memories growing up.

But things change, of course; I'm almost 30 now, and working full-time means my vacations look a little different. Our beloved Beach House has been sold, the Ben & Jerry's store has been replaced by a convenience store (was there anything more convenient than an ice cream store down the street, though?!), and Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookie is no longer part of Ben & Jerry's line up. Most drastic of all, I live in Italy, a country where butterscotch sauce is completely unknown, that has no replace atop the rather refined, less-is-more gelato here in Italy. Hmm.

And yet! I may not be able to turn back the clock to my carefree, blissful Beach House days, but last weekend I was able to recreate the butterscotch of my beach house youth here in my kitchen in Rome (to be eaten over vanilla ice cream, though; I'm not a miracle worker). And: it was spectacularly delicious and incredibly easy. Homemade butterscotch sauce, I learned, requires no fancy candy thermometer or finicky cooking times; actually, it is made in a matter of mere minutes, a question of simply whisking and stirring a few ingredients together in a pan. The resulting sauce is addictive, buttery and brown sugar-y with a warm toasty-ness to it, the whole thing woken up with a hit of salt and rounded out with a dab of vanilla. This was perhaps even more delicious than the Smucker's butterscotch sauce I remember (homemade is always best, isn't it?) and served warm over ice cream, it is dreamy, heavenly, summer dessert at its finest. Bottom line: there was something special and comforting about bringing a bit of my nostalgic Narragansett evenings to Italy, at least briefly, fleetingly, as a jar of this did not last very long around here (duh). Do yourself a favor and make a batch-of-butterscotch asap.

A couple of notes: I used dark brown sugar here because I think it tends to give a deeper, more complex flavor, but light brown sugar would work well too. If you're living in Rome, zucchero di canna is not quite the brown sugar you need here; you'll need the stickier variety with molasses, which I buy at Castroni. This can be kept in an air tight container in the fridge for up to 3 days, and can be heated up either in a microwave or on the stove over low heat if you want to eat it warm.

An additional note: This is butterscotch sauce, not to be confused with caramel sauce. The two are very similar, but there are some distinctions; as the ever-so-knowledgeable Deb Perelman explains: both are cooked sugars, but regular caramel is made with melted granulated sugar and butterscotch with brown sugar. Butter and cream are usually added to make a caramel or butterscotch sauce, the pourable format most people with a pulse enjoy over vanilla ice cream. Both benefit from a pinch or two of sea salt, but butterscotch tastes especially lost without it. Vanilla extract is another magical ingredient in the butterscotch realm, one that lifts its excellent flavor into the exceptional. But I think the biggest confusion comes from “scotch” part of butterscotch, as there’s actually no Scotch in it and it has nothing to do with Scotland. That should about cover it!

Looking for other butterscotch-y or caramel-y recipes? I've got this Sticky Toffee Pudding and these Butterscotch Pudding Pops, these Dulce de Leche Brownies, and this Vanilla Salted Caramel ice cream. More of a hot fudge fan than a butterscotch fan? Don't worry - I've got Best Ever Hot Fudge Sauce on the blog too.

BUTTERSCOTCH SAUCE
Recipe from Smitten Kitchen, who adapted it from The Washington Post.


Ingredients:
4 tablespoons (56 grams) butter
1/2 cup (118ml) heavy cream
1/2 cup (109 grams) dark brown sugar 
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Directions: 
In a medium saucepan over medium low heat, melt the butter. Add the cream, salt and sugar and whisk to combine, then bring to a gentle boil and let cook for five minutes, whisking occasionally.
Remove the pan from the heat and add the vanilla extract.


Let the sauce cool and enjoy warm or room temperature over ice cream. 













Pasta al pesto di mandorle, basilico, e limone

For the first time in the four + years in which I've been blogging, Pancakes & Biscotti is experiencing a bit of a lull. Working on this blog -- usually one of my favorite activities! -- has become an effort lately. My brain and time have been overly occupied the past 2ish months, leaving my energy and creativity levels low as a result. My workload in my new team has been intense (lots of big meetings as part of the 24th Committee on Forestry, complete with a whole meeting on poplars, which I personally find endearing, but also demanding, damn those adorable poplars) not to mention some tumult in a few areas of my personal life, plus some traveling. All of this has kept writing and cooking low on the priority list, and I've seemingly lost sight of the blog-centric mentality I'd always possessed up until recently. Uff.   

That being said, I found myself with a little rare free time and energy this past Saturday, enough to get back to my usual cookbook-reading and recipe-hunting over-breakfast-ritual for a minute, and it was so nice. My brain, which had been running pretty low on ideas and inspiration -- who has time to think about Summer-y recipes when you're already filled to the brim?! -- was suddenly running again, occupied with something other than the latest distractions, and I ended up with a hefty list of summer recipes, which looks more or less like this:

Coffee semifreddo? Hazelnut semifreddo? Coffee/hazelnut semifreddo?
Non-traditional pesto?
Tiella (eggplant filling?)
Butterscotch sauce, over vanilla ice cream
Something with corn -- fritters? Too hot for frying?
Apricot/cherry/pecan crisp? Crumble?
Burger, bacon/caramelized onion jam
Cucina Conversations -- pomodori gratinati?!
Cherries -- clafoutis? Tart? Pie recipe from Federica?
Pasta with pecorino/mussels
Spaghetti alle vongole

And just like that, or at least for this weekend, I'm feeling more like myself again, back in the game, with angles for posts accompanying the many recipes that suddenly came to me, or rather, that just needed a little bit of space to make it on to my piece of paper. 

But let's focus on that second recipe on my brainstorming list -- pesto (much like gelato, anything with tomatoes, and more garden-grown zucchini than you can handle) is a food that is synonymous with summer. It's no-cook, perfect for when the temperatures are high and turning on the oven of stove seems impossible, and (traditionally) makes excellent use of the emerald green bunches of basil that are so abundant this time of year. Today's pesto is a riff on the classic basil, pine nut, and Parmesan pesto, one where we keep the summer-y basil, but swap the pine nuts for almonds and exclude the Parmesan all together, leaving it to the citrus to pack the flavor punch; interestingly enough, a little hot water is whisked into the pesto to give it a smoother, richer consistency. The result is an intensely sunshine-y, lemon-y pesto balanced by a bunch of floral basil and mild, nutty almonds -- peeled and unpeeled, to shake up the texture and flavor -- which perfectly, dreamily, coats every piece of pasta. Like most pasta dishes, this one is excellent with some freshly grated Parmesan over the top; that being said, if you leave out the cheese this pasta can be completely vegan, a category in to which very few recipes on this blog fall, but are useful when you have a newly-vegan bff (this is for you, Gabriele). In any case, getting back in the kitchen this past weekend proved to be calming, fulfilling, just what I needed, and not even the smoke that began to seep out of my trusty mini food processor, RIP, could mess with that (no food processor, no problem -- I chopped the almonds by hand!) No matter where you find yourself lately -- whether you're preoccupied like me, or feeling pretty zen -- this pasta is guaranteed to do you some good, in the way that only a delicious bowl of carbohydrates can. Yum.

A couple of notes: I used a very large lemon from the Amalfi coast in this recipe and the lemony flavor was spot on for me; if the lemons you have are smaller I suggest you use two of them for the zest, but taste the pesto as you go and see what your taste buds tell you. If you don't have a food processor feel free to use a knife to cut up the almonds until they're very fine -- it requires a bit of elbow grease but it works well. If you have a traditional mortar and pestle, you can also use that. Note that the pesto here will seem a bit thick at first, but that's because you'll be adding in lemon juice, hot water, and then probably a little pasta water at the end, so don't fret. Finally, feel free to use any cut of pasta you want here.

Looking for other pesto recipes? I've got this Basil Pesto, this Sun-dried Tomato Pesto, and this Pistachio Parsley Pesto. Looking for other summer-y pasta recipes? I've got this Spaghetti with Basil and Cherry Tomatoes, this Pasta with Swordfish and Eggplant, this Pasta with Eggplant, Tomatoes, and Mozzarella, and this Spaghetti with Zucchine.

PASTA AL PESTO DI BASILICO, MANDORLE E LIMONE
Recipe adapted from Giallo Zafferano.

Ingredients:
A heaping 1/3 cup (50 grams) unskinned whole almonds
3/4 cup (100 grams) skinned whole almonds
7 large basil leaves
About 6 tablespoons (40 grams) olive oil
Zest of 1 and a half large lemosn (see notes)
Juice of one of the above-mentioned lemons

300 grams pasta of your choosing
Salt and pepper
Freshly grated Parmesan for serving 

Directions:
Put a pot of water on to boil for your pasta, and then start on the pesto. In a food processor, blitz the almonds (peeled and unpeeled) a few times until finely chopped. Add the basil and olive oil and blitz a few more times, then add the lemon zest. lemon juice and a bit of salt and pepper and process until smooth. The pesto will seem to be on the thicker side -- don't worry about this. Place the pesto in a large bowl.
When the water has come to a boil, salt the water, and add the pasta, being sure to take note of the package directions for the cooking time. In the meantime, add a few tablespoons of hot water to the pesto and whisk until it thins out a bit. When the pasta is done, reserve a ladle-ful of the pasta water and taste again for seasoning. Set aside. Drain the pasta and add it to the bowl with the pesto and toss together, adding a little bit of the pasta water until the pesto coats the pasta nicely. Eat immediately with some freshly grated Parmesan on top, if you want. Serves 2 with left overs.
















London

 
I'm back from a glorious couple of days in London and going through my usual London-withdrawal (this was my third trip there, so I'm familiar with the feeling by now). While I love Rome London is the one city that always makes me feel like I should drop everything and move their immediately, cost of living and Brexit be damned. It's alive and exciting (Rome seems a bit sleepy in comparison) and it's packed with insane amounts of culture and history; everything from the British accent to the names of the subway --tube -- stops are downright charming (Piccadilly Circus! Elephant & Castle! Seven Sisters!) London aside, England in itself is a special place, the country that gave us Harry Potter, the Beatles, sticky toffee pudding, and Adele, and therefore you can only expect great things from it.

The main purpose of our trip was to visit our friend Rachel, who was performing the role of Don Anna in the Royal Opera's production of Don Giovanni (if you're having deja vu it's because I've mentioned Rachel on the blog before, most recently here and before that here). Rachel is a soprano -- she has one of the most beautiful voices I've ever heard, ever -- and is incredibly talented, having sung in quite a few of the world's top opera houses, all at the ripe old age of 34. Gorgeous voice aside, she is one of the funniest, kindest people you'll ever meet, and as she graciously hosted us during our stay, we got to spend time not only with her but also with her lovely husband and 3 adorable children. Proof Rachel is not only an excellent singer but also an excellent host: raisin scones with lemon curd, jam, and Devonshire cream for breakfast. Yummm. 

A few photos below, plus the main (mostly foodie) highlights of our stay -- consider all highly recommended if you too find yourself in London anytime soon.

 

THE GOOD EGG + CLARE

Upon arriving in London and without a moment to waste (we were only there four days, after all) we met up with our friend Clare, a native Londoner. Rome is quite a transient place, and you tend to meet lots of people (like Clare!) who stay for a bit before moving on. This may seem sad, and it is, a little, but it also means you inevitably have friends in various countries, which ensures many a reunion when you travel. Clare, a fellow foodie -- I knew we'd be friends after a conversation on the trickiness of making sourdough bread not long after we met -- took us to dinner at The Good Egg, a restaurant in the Oxford Circus neighborhood of the city. The Good Egg specializes in all sorts of shareable small plates with very, very un-Italian food. We ordered pita and feta whipped with mint and topped with crispy chickpeas, eggplant (I mean, aubergine) shawarma, roasted cauliflower with tahini, orange and juniper grilled octopus with potatoes, fried chicken with slaw and spicy honey, and steak served medium-rare with pomegranate chimichurri. For dessert, pretzel pecan pie and a babka s'more, or rather, two slices of toasted babka sandwiched around chocolate and marshmallows. Needless to say, the trip got off on the right foot (thank you Clare!) Pictures of the food (and a blurry selfie of us all) below.

 

DOMINIQUE ANSEL BAKERY

I'd been intrigued by the "cronut" -- a seemingly to-good-to-be-true creation that is a cross between a doughnut and a croissant -- ever since their ascent to fame in New York City a couple of years ago. The creator, Dominique Ansel, has thankfully opened up a bakery in London, too, so I didn't have to travel too too far to experience this legendary sweet. The cronut of the month was filled with mirabelle plum jam and lychee ganache, and it did not disappoint -- the inside was flaky and multi-layered (croissant!) with sweet jam and gooey ganache in between said layers, while the outside was pillow-y and cloudlike (dougnut!) with a dusting of lemon sugar. Yummm. We also ordered the banoffee "paella," or butterscotch banana custard topped with caramelized bananas with a toasty, crumbly cookie crust. Verdict: the bakery lived up to alllll the hype. 

 

RIPPON CHEESE SHOP

Cronut cravings satisfied, we continued our way through London, with another goal in mind: cheese. As per tradition, we always get Rachel (a fellow foodie) cheese instead of flowers to congratulate her on a performance (past gifts include Pecorino, brie with truffles, and Parmigiano). With her show only one day away, we had to find and buy the best cheese we could find, so we headed to Rippon Cheese Shop, a tiny corner of cheese paradise packed with wheels and wedges and slabs of all sorts of delightful cheeses we never find in Rome (in particular: cheddar). After some intense deliberation we selected Winslade cheese as our post-opera gift ("soft and gooey with floral, piney notes") with clear instructions to let it sit for an hour before serving. We also picked up some cheddar for ourselves and a few small pieces of (complimentary) cheese for snacking. A special thanks to John (one of the store owners) for being so helpful in our epic cheese quest!

 

BUCKINGHAM PALACE

Fresh off the excitement of the Royal Wedding (yes, I did watch it, the whole thing, while eating scones and drinking tea amidst fervent wedding-dress commentary) plus two seasons of "The Crown," we had to make a stop at Buckingham Palace. It was everything a royal palace should be --- majestic, impressive, imposing, packed with tourists -- and provided a nice glimpse of the London eye. We took in the view while enjoying one of our newly purchased pieces of cheese, which is probably not something that Queen Elizabeth would approve of, but highly recommended.


RACHEL + THE ROYAL OPERA 

There are few things fancier than an evening at the opera, and when you're talking about an opera at the (gorgeous! regal!) Royal Opera House, you're talking fanciness and class on a whole new level. If you have a friend who is singing one of the lead roles in the show, the experience is all the more special (elegance and excitement) and so on Friday afternoon we headed to the Royal Opera House to see the Royal Opera's production of Don Giovanni, featuring Rachel as Don Anna. Quick recap: Don Giovanni is an opera in two acts with music by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Italian libretto by Lorenzo Da Ponte, based on the legends of Don Juan, a fictional libertine and seducer (a real catch). The plot of Don Giovanni -- like many operas -- is a bit lengthy, complicated, a good mix of drama, heart break, and deceit, with a little comedy thrown in. I was thinking of summarizing the plot for you here but Wikipedia sums it all up nicely for us, stating simply: Don Giovanni, a young, arrogant, and sexually promiscuous nobleman, abuses and outrages everyone else in the cast until he encounters something he cannot kill, beat up, dodge, or outwit. Don Anna, Rachel's character, tries to avenge the death of her father who was murdered by Don Giovanni, and in the end, Don Giovanni is murdered by her father's ghost (see? I told you the plot wasn't a simple one!) Rachel was outstanding -- I am not exaggerating when I say she has the most beautiful voice I've ever heard -- and at the end of the show, received a very enthusiastic, appreciative applause from the audience, tying with none other than Don Giovanni himself. You can see the videos of Rachel we managed to take during the show here and also here





COLUMBIA FLOWER MARKET

On our last day in London (we had wisely booked a late flight back to Rome) we headed to the Columbia Road Flower Market. The market sells more than just flowers, with lots of cafes, bakeries and other little shops leading up to the actual flower market. The flower market itself, once you get there, is a sight to behold; it was packed, for starters, filled with both customers and vendors, and so much color -- there were sunflowers and begonias and foxgloves and roses and pretty much every flower you could ever imagine, plus ivy, chili peppers, and cacti, thrown in for good measure. In the imagined scenario in which I move to London, I have a kitchen filled with lots and lots of flowers from Columbia Market (orchids, if you were wondering). 

BRIXTON VILLAGE + MARKET ROW

While Italian food is and always will be my favorite kind of food, I do always welcome a break from the usual amatriciana and pizza (any expat in Italy who tells you they don't is lying). Market Row in Brixton Village was just the place to eat before heading back to Rome, with Japanese, Ethiopian, and Indian restaurants, to name just a few. After some thought we opted for Carioca, a Brazilian restaurant with an impressive brunch selection, where I ordered the Samba -- veggies, black beans, avocado, and crispy sweet potato on a corn muffin, served with eggplant puree, a poached egg, and arugula (or rocket). Anything with sweet potatoes and avocado is exciting (both are hard to come by in Rome, and if you do come across them, can be pricey) and corn muffins make everything better, important when you're about to leave one of the coolest cities in the world. 

Time certainly does fly when you're having fun -- I've been back in Rome a few days and am still in the midst of my I-miss-London woes, when can I go back?! -- but am keeping any nostalgia at bay by eating lots of the cheddar we bought home and by working on a few new summer-y recipes. New posts soon -- stay tuned.