April 10, 2010 – A Foodie Day in Rome
Since this is a culinary tour to Italy, I guess itâ€™s only fitting that Saturday in Rome revolved entirely around food. With the first-timers in Rome off to tour the Vatican, I set out with my friend for the Campo dei Fiori market. Although we had passed through it the day before with Inger on our tour, we wanted to browse the stalls a bit more and enjoy the opportunity to take it all in at a leisurely pace. Markets in Europe are different from ours in the US. We passed fish stalls brimming with the latest catch, fava beans piled high, aromatic flowers……and enticing displays of fresh local vegetables……including these gorgeous Roman artichokes. But EuropeanÂ markets also carry, shoes, shirts, wine, and other things the locals might need to buy for the week ahead. From the market we pretty much just wandered our way to lunch. Sure, we stopped off at the top of the Rafael hotel near the Piazza Navona for the views from the top. That’s a tip – get to a high point in any city to really get a sense of how it’s laid out. And in Rome, this hotel rooftop is open to pop into for a quick view (you can also get drinks or dinner here, but be warned it’s a Relais & Chateau property, so pricey).And stopped in the Ara Pacis to see the altar (as well as an interesting exhibit about Fabrizio de Andre, the famous singer and composer from Italy who died 10 years ago). But our mission was to find food, and the CafeRe near the Ara Pacis, filled with pretty much only local Romans having family lunches, drew us in. Have you ever seen a 2 year old who can barely manage to get food into his mouth handle a wine glass (albeit filled with water) with complete dexterity? It must be an Italian thing, but I couldnâ€™t take my eyes off this little guy as he did just that. I know this is a food-related travel blog, but sometimes Iâ€™m so hungry and the food is so good that I just forget to photograph it.And thatâ€™s the case with this very thin pizza that we shared. Trust me – it hit the spot! After lunch we wandered up the Via Veneto to visit the Capuchin crypt at the Santa Maria della Concezione church, something Iâ€™ve never seen in Rome and yet I think everyone should. No pictures allowed, so youâ€™ll just need to check it out yourself to see the macabre yet artistic way the monks buried the bones of the dead – entire rooms of just pelvic bones laid out in a floral pattern, tiny bones from the fingers made into baskets and other shapes, and even light fixtures made from a combination of bones. Itâ€™s quite incredible, really. We wandered from there completely across the city to head up through Gianicolo Park – if youâ€™ve never been here, it’s just north of Trastevere on the west side of the river, and itâ€™s a nice bit of exercise climbing the hill for the views (another great vantage point in Rome).For me, it was really just to ensure I was primed for dinner at Flaviaâ€™s home. Flavia Pantaleo is a cesarina, one of the women (and a handful of men) who have been approved to cook for visitors to Italy (though an organization called Home Food Italy) in an effort to preserve and present the historical food traditions of the various regions. Flaviaâ€™s dishes are inspired by Roman Jewish cooking traditions, and they are always delicious. Mozzarella crostini with anchovy paste – way better tasting than you might be imagining if you think you don’t like anchovies.Pasta with a quick tomato, pancetta and pecorino sauce – simple but delicious.And sliced veal with an onion marmalade, served with chicory and peas. While everything was wonderful, I think the ricotta dessert with sweet cherries in a crumbly crust might have been the crowning touch of this yearâ€™s dinner. Flavia (and other cesarine) pair wines from the region with the dishes, and we enjoyed a frascati, a shiraz from Lazio, and a moscato dessert wine. Canâ€™t wait to return on my next trip to see what Flavia cooks up then! Tomorrow we’re off to Lecce, on a long train ride, but worth it to get to this little gem of a city.