Monday, May 28, 2012

Cacio e Pepe

For the past two weeks, I have refused to go out for Italian food. I know that it won't be as good as it was abroad, and I don't want to ruin Italian-American food for myself for forever. But despite my aversion to Italian restaurants in the States, I still crave a hearty bowl of perfectly al dente pasta. So, rather than scour the local Italian joints in search of my favorite dish, cacio e pepe, I figured I would give it a try.

Armed with 2 lbs of fresh fettuccine from Fairway, $20 worth of grated Parmesan and Pecorino cheeses, this recipe and my mother as sous chef, I attempted to compile a few of my favorite dishes from abroad into one meal.

One of my favorite appetizers that my parents and I enjoyed when they came to visit was burrata cheese with sun-dried tomatoes and fresh baguette. I found fresh burrata from Fairway (my favorite supermarket, I'm really sorry if you don't have one, you're totally missing out), threw some sun-dried tomatoes in the food processor, and voila. The plate was devoured within seconds.

Cacio e pepe easily translates to cacio cheese and pepper. It's a simple, traditionally Roman recipe that requires little prep or cooking time. The fresh pasta cooks in a minute, then is thrown into a pan with cracked black pepper, some butter and some pasta water. It's tossed until evenly warmed, then hit with handfuls of Parmesan and Pecorino cheeses. Toss some more, add more pasta water if it's too thick, and serve. It's such a simple yet satisfying dish. For sides, we had a fresh tomato and basil salad tossed in a garlic infused olive oil (simmer olive oil with two cloves of garlic until the cloves are browned, removed cloves and pour oil over the tomatoes), and asparagus baked with shaved asiago and butter toasted breadcrumbs. Not heart-healthy or waist-friendly, but so easy and SO delicious. My father's still raving about it, two full weeks later.

Friday, May 18, 2012

A Bittersweet Farewell

After two sleepless nights, a whirlwind of packing, a final goodbye dinner, a 10 hour flight, and a significant amount of tears, I am back safe and sound in the good ol' US of A. I feel like I've been in transit for four months and now I've screeched to a halt. Whenever I come home it feels like I never left. My younger brothers get taller and my dog gets more decrepit but other than that, my four months abroad already seem like a dream.

(carciofi alla giuda - fried artichokes)

For our goodbye dinner on Monday night (Tuesday night we knew we would be too busy packing and getting ready) we went back one last time to Hostaria la Botticella in Trastevere. It's a wonderful little restaurant run by an older couple and their son. They make unbelievable homemade pasta and alla cacciatore dishes (lamb and chicken), though I'm sure everything on the menu is to die for. 

(schiaffoni con pomodoro, parmesan e basilico)

So simple, but so good. Schiaffoni pasta is like rigaoni, except it's wider and homemade. We ordered more food than was necessary, ate more than we thought was possible and talked and laughed for hours while the owner's wife, who's totally a modern day Strega Nona, made sure that we had everything we needed. What a perfect last meal to end the trip.

(fruit stand in the San Giovanni di Dio market)

Tuesday was a day of lasts. Our last trip to the market, our last time visiting the Pantheon and Trevi fountain, our last cannolis, our last gelato (ughhh noooo), our last tram ride, our last time in Piazza Navona (I could live in Piazza Navona, it's so beautiful in the summer), and our last time at school. It sounds so dramatic, but realistically I don't know when the next time I'll visit Rome will be. In five years, 10 years, 20 years? And when I come back I certainly won't stay in Monteverde, the quiet suburb I lived in. And it most likely won't be with my girlfriends (unless we do a Rome Reunion every 10 years, which I think is the best idea ever). It will be more of a tourist's trip than the true living experience that I've had.

(Goodbye I Dolci di Nonna Vincenza. You make the best cannolis in the whole entire world)

(Goodbye Gelateria Frigidarium. I'm so sad I only found you a few weeks ago because you totally deserve the ranking of #18 out of 3914 places to eat in Rome on TripAdvisor. Seriously everyone, go here.)

(Goodbye three-legged dog who hobbles up and down Via del Governo Vecchio who clearly wanted a lick of my gelato. Not sharing, mi dispiace non mi dispiace)


Monday, May 14, 2012

Things I Will Miss

Now that I'm in the final hours of my time abroad, I really don't want to leave. The amount of real world problems that I have waiting for me once I arrive home is starting to freak me out. Being here is like being in a bubble where the real world doesn't exist, my debit card magically never runs out, and the only work I have to do is for school. But now that I'm officially a SENIOR in college, I guess I need to start getting ready for all the annoying anxieties that come with growing up. But not before one last glorious day in Italia.

(beautiful and sunny, unlike the first time we saw Trevi Fountain)

One more picture for the road, right? We had to visit it once more before we left, and Trevi Fountain is just as beautiful as ever. I always wish that I could see it without the mass crowds of tourists, shoving to throw their coin over their shoulder and trying to take a picture. But I guess that's just part of its allure. Other things that I'll miss? Surprisingly, I'm going to miss AUR. Not the classes, but the campus (if you can even call it that, it's so teeny). Sitting up on the roof, looking out over all of Rome in between classes is something that I certainly won't find at Maryland. And of course, I'll miss the food (prepare yourselves to be bombarded).

(freshly baked chocolate croissants with my morning cappuccino)

(ricotta & spinach croquette and suppli)

(spaghetti cacio e pepe with artichokes and pancetta)

(nutella pizza pie)

(mussels steamed in a white wine and garlic broth, not that I can't get these at home but everything just tastes better here)

(black truffle pizza)

(nutella filled donut)

I miss it already.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Stop, It's Sandwich Time

I know the picture's not great, but this was one of my earlier sandwiches at the sandwich shop by school. I was timid at first, only getting turkey, pesto and mozzarella. Très boring. There's such a delicious variety of meats available and I was limiting myself to the most American-Italian sandwich I could get. I might as well have gotten turkey, mustard and cheddar. But not anymore. Today, for my very last sandwich ever, EVER I tell ya, I went all out. Not that I don't always go all out, but usually I don't get quite as much meat and a lighter cheese. But not today.

This, this sandwich masterpiece, was today. Notice the width of it, and the tan-ness of my hand. I told my sandwich maker guy that it was my last one, probably forever, before I take a skip, jump and a hop back over the big pond to the lovely land of the garden state. He didn't really understand all that, but said he would make it extra super special. And so I got: proscuitto, salami picante, pesto, tomato, and taleggio cheese (similar to brie). He piled the layers with such care and love onto the freshly baked roll. After I bid my forever farewells (sort of goes like this, "bye, uh ciao, arrivederchi!") I carried my little package up to the roof top, overlooking all of Rome, and ate the last of my Italian deli sandwiches. Hopefully not forever, if I am so fortunate. And so my last days are upon us. I'm halfway through with my finals and have one weekend left. One more weekend to get in all the eating, seeing, sun, gelato, walking, tram-riding, and people-watching that I can.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Two Hands

Exactly 10 days, or two hands, until I'm leaving, on a jet plane, don't know when I'll be back again, oh babe I hate to go. Sorry, song over, I distract myself sometimes. Anyway, 10 days! And the countdown is on. Any time I get to the end of something, the end of summer vacation, the end of the semester, the end of a job, I start to hate it. I just can't help it, it's how I cope with ending things; if I make myself resent it, then it's not so hard to leave. Every time I leave home to go back to school, my mom and I start bickering non-stop. That way it's not such a painful goodbye. So that's how I feel about Italy right now. Every morning, when I take the 44 bus to school with every single high-schooler/middle-schooler in the area and all the people going to work, and a bunch of obnoxious kids stand in my closest possible personal space (like actually, someone will stand as if were taking a prom photo, like I should reach down and put my arms around them (and I say reach down because I am the single tallest person on the bus, every time)), I just wanna scream. Sweating profusely on the bus before going to school and climbing approximately 84 steps to class (there's no elevator, that's allowed here), just isn't cute. So alas, Italy and I are breaking up. But not before we have one last hurrah and remember all the good times.

(cappuccino from the Archi Bar across from school)

Aww look at the coffee heart, my cappuccino maker guy loves me. I love him too, he makes the best cappuccinos in all the land. This is something I'll miss. Not that I'm not looking forward to Starbucks, because trust me every time I see a mupload including the beloved brand, I want to reach my hand into my laptop screen and steal their drink. I plan on double fisting an iced skinny caramel latte and a veinti shaken sweetened iced green tea as soon as I get home. Those probably won't taste very good mixed together, but I don't even think I'll mind.

(apples out front at a local frutteria)

I will also miss the produce here. I don't personally eat apples (sometimes I'm allergic and I have trouble swallowing them), but do you SEE the size of that apple?! Of course you see it, it's the size of my head. And that's saying something because I have a fairly large head. But actually, if you put your two fists together, that would be approximately the same size (the apple might be bigger). When my parents were here, they couldn't get over the size of the produce. The eggplants are the length of my forearm, the peppers are the size of a sneaker, even the eggs are monster-sized. I guess it's just something in the water.

(carciofi bruschetta con parmesan)

Since we're running out of nights to go out to dinner, we have to choose wisely. Last night we went to Ciccia Bomba (I went there with my parents also) and I had hands down the best form of bruschetta, well, ever. The bread was crisped to perfection, and atop it sat a thick layer of "artichoke cream," as they called it. Then on top of that sat tons of shaved parmesan with a drizzle of olive oil. I'm going to try to recreate the dish, as it seems simple enough: boil an artichoke until it can be smushed with a fork, put it in a food processor with a touch of heavy cream and salt, pulse until it's thick and spreadable. It was such a unique use of artichokes - they're really big on them here.

(rigatoni alla gricia - rigatoni with black pepper, pecorino romano and pancetta)

(calzone con melanzane e mozzarella - calzone with eggplant and mozz)

Just some other lovely dishes/blog-worthy-pictures from the meal. Anyway, it's the final countdownnnn (here I go singing again, I don't know why I'm in such a sing-song mood tonight, good thing I'm not singing out loud or my roommate's ears would be bleeding). I'll be posting as much as possible in the next week and a half to get in all my last Italy shots before I bore you with the most repetitive pictures of sushi once I get home. Since that's all I plan on eating. For the rest of my life. Ciao for now!

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Interesting Italian

All semester long I've been bombarding you with delicious looking photos of Italian food and other European cuisine. There's been pizza, gelato, desserts and more pasta than I care to admit. Overall, it's been outstanding, but rather generic. Nothing has struck me as "so Italian," since where I come from, Italian is the most popular cuisine. Yes, Italian-American is vastly different than, well, Italian-Italian, but still. Though I haven't told you yet about suppli.

I thought about making this picture extra-large to show you all the cheesy, ricey goodness up close and personal, but then I thought that that's not fair, cause I can get this at any pizza place and you can't. Basically, if you haven't already put two-and-two together, suppli (or suffli as my dad calls them) are cheesy-tomatosaucy rice balls, that are deep-fried to seal in all the deliciousness. If it's a good one, there's a blob of melty mozzarella cheese in the center. And if it's a really, really good one there's the cheese center AND it's perfectly crispy on the outside. They're the equivalent of our mozzarella sticks, except just so. much. better. The worst part is that I don't even know how I would make these at home. Unless I got a massive deep fryer...

And then there's this. Before you look too closely and get totally freaked/grossed out, let me explain. I shared these with my father at a restaurant when he was here. They were served deep fried, with zucchini sticks and lemon. If you haven't noticed the little eyes by now and figured out what they are, they're fried whole anchovies. Yuck, right? Nope, not yuck. They weren't fishy at all and had the perfect amount of crisp (probably from the eyeballs and bones! kidding, but not really). I wanted to dip these babies in a garlic aioli or tomato sauce, but they were delicious all on their own. Would eating these while casually watching TV on the couch be too weird? Probably. This dish will most likely stay in Italy, since American's aren't all that open to eating things that still have their eyeballs intact. How lame.