Yearly Archives: 2011

London Food Finds

On either end of my trip to Italy, I spent several days in London.  It’s been difficult to convince the folks back home, but I have to say that some of the better food that I had when while traveling was in this capital city.  I can hear your disbelief from here, much the same reaction as I’ve been getting from other people to whom I’ve said the same thing.  On the UK side, the Brits are shocked that everyone is still hanging on to the outdated notion that English food is nothing to write home about, especially with some of the world’s top culinary stars making their marks there.  The thing of it is that I didn’t have to look very hard to find these gems, and I really didn’t do that much research in advance.  Here are some of the highlights of my trip.
It would be fair to say that I cheated a little bit as I stayed near the neighborhood where I once lived, so that gave me a bit of an advantage as I wasn’t in the central tourist district.  The fact that I have lived in London twice, in the late 80s (Thatcher era and just after pubs were able to stay open all day long) and in the late 90s (just as Jamie Oliver was breaking through and the attention to British food heritage was ramping up) probably gives me a different perspective on the evolution of UK foodstuffs and what to eat while visiting.  Is it still possible to find dreadful things to eat in London?  Yes, of course, but there’s also so many fantastic options to try while you are in town.  As a side note, I found some sensitivity to my taking photos inside of places, so many of the photos of food in restaurants are not available.  You’ll just need to visit for yourselves to try them out!
Starting with one of the more well-known and innovative places that I tried during my stay, St. John Bar and Restaurant near Smithfield Market is known for nose-to-tail eating and for inventive dishes.  Not surprisingly, the menu has some more unique carnivore options (like Ox Heart with Chips and Aioli), it also has seafood plates and vegetarian options as well.  I met up with a friend of friends from New York who is doing some research in London for a few months. We met in the Bar part, which filled up rapidly as the folks left their offices to head out for a drink and a bite to eat.  My big tip is just that, that we ate in the bar part and not the restaurant itself.  While not all of the same menu options are available, there’s definitely plenty to choose from, and the price points are lower, too, with you reaping the benefit of the same high culinary standards.
I’d never eaten Bone Marrow so we shared a plate of that, along with some parsley salad, one of their signature dishes.  The fatty, smooth marrow spread on toasted bread still had that taste of meatiness while being rich and creamy.  The Parsley Salad was a great bright, herbal counterpart to it.  Then, we shared a terrific Lentil Dish.  Bathed in a broth, dotted with tangy goat’s curd and dressed with some greens, this was a hearty vegetable dish that left us both scraping the bowl to get at all of its warm, soupy goodness.  I would definitely go back again for this type of meal.  Next time, however, I want to sample some of their dessert options as well, as I was staring at the ones that the next table over had ordered to share.
After weaving our way down several back streets in Mayfair, which was really the fault of my friend’s boyfriend not giving her good directions, we ended up at Hush, tucked away on a side street with a courtyard.  Originally, we were just there for a drink, but then we decided, after a bottle of wine and huge rings of fried calamari with tartar sauce, to head downstairs to the restaurant.  This was actually my first real meal in London.  The dining room had tables spaced well apart and provided some great people watching opportunities.  Soon, however, I was too focused on the food to pay attention to anything else.
As a starter, my friend and I decided to split the Carpaccio of Beef “Harry’s Bar” Style and the Organic Salmon Tartare with Lemon Oil and Chilli.  I love carpaccio, and this dish reinforced for me how wonderfully prepared it can be when put in the right hands.  Tissue paper thin sheets of beef perfectly rare enough dressed with a horseradish and crème fraîchedressing just melted lovingly on my tongue with the sauce providing a kicky backnote of heat and pepperiness.  The fresh fish was delicious and fatty with a citrusy-hot bite.  This was the perfect way to begin a meal.
My friend ordered The Hush Hamburger, which might seem like an odd choice at a more upscale restaurant, but when it arrived, I could see why.  Without even tasting the burger, which was delicious, you could see the high quality of the meat resting on the bun.  The side of Aspen Fries dressed with aromatic truffle oil and dusted with parmesan cheese perfumed the whole table and gave our dinner a more indulgent air.  She was nice enough to share them with me.  Her boyfriend had his favorite dish, and one that’s on my list to try the next time I eat there, which were Scallops in a fragrant, not too hot, Curry Sauce served with a Saffron Rice.  I don’t see it on their current menu nor do I see the dish that I had that night which was a Pasta stuffed with a Duck Cassoulet.  Each bite was succulent and meaty.  The pasta was drizzled with a butter sauce and sprinkled with arugula, whose peppery bite helped balance out all the richness of the meat.  This was the perfect way to start off my trip, fully of good food and wine and after catching up on all the latest news from friends.

The Gallery Mess, located next to the Saatchi Gallery on the King’s Road was a surprise find on my trip.  As you can see from the photos on the site, the bright interior open interior is welcoming space, set back from the road overlooking Duke of York Square.  With a relatively new chef behind the stove, as the waiter told me, who is putting a seasonal and local spin on the menu, I was interested to see what was available for lunch.  I was not disappointed. Following on the previous night’s theme, I had the house-cured Carpaccio which came dressed with an Endive and Radicchio Salad drizzled with Balsamic Vinegar.  The peppery beef was delicate which was a great foil for the crisp greens.

My main course was a dish about which I was still thinking today, a few weeks later.  I had the Wild Boar Ravioli in a Tomato-Herb Sauce.  Soft, tender hunks of juicy meat just pulled apart when I cut open the pasta.  Thick tomato sauce perfumed with herbs hugged every bite.  It was one the best dishes I ate on my trip.  It was savory, tangy, and even a bit sweet, with the thin pasta wrappers cooked perfectly.  I wanted the bowl never to end.  I had to pass on dessert this time, but on my next trip, I’d like to check out their offerings.  Better yet, I’d like to sit at one of their courtyard tables, glass of wine in hand, sharing a few small plates, watching the sun go down.

For my next recommendation, I’m just going to send you straight to Ottolenghi’s website so that your eyes can feast for a bit.  In the photos by location, you can see the gorgeous spread that awaits you as you enter their Notting Hill shop, where I stopped off for lunch.  Back on the front page, I believe that the chocolate item behind the fruit tarts is the sinfully delicious, tastebud delighting Flourless Chocolate Fondant Cake.  This time I did not pre-ssert, I ate in the correct order.  There are several locations, but the seating is limited at a few of them so you might want to time your visit for before or after the lunch rush.

You can choose from a variety of plates with two or three of their many prepared salads like the Roasted Aubergine [eggplant] with tahini yogurt, panko-almond crust, red chilli and basil or the White Cabbage and Kohlrabi Slaw with currants, dill, spring onion ones that I tried.  I also added a meat course to mine and sampled the Seared Beef Fillet with Horseradish and Chive Sour Cream Sauce.  I loved the snap of the cabbage salad and the delicate meatiness of the eggplant.  The beef was cooked perfectly.  Even after I finished my plate, I was looking around at all the beautiful combinations that the others around me had chosen.  I was completely satisfied after my meal but, being on vacation, just had to push it over the edge with the cake.  I didn’t regret it one little bit.  Another sweet option would have been their chewy, dark chocolate cookies as well.


The Orangery at Kensington Palace Gardens is one of my favorite places to pause after a busy day of walking around and sightseeing.  I find it calm and soothing.  The interior is beautifully decorated with columns and statuary, as befits a building that was once used by royalty.  The afternoon tea is much the same as you would find at many places, although slightly cheaper.  It isn’t the best tea that I have ever eaten in London, but I will confess that the location and setting are really what make this worth a visit.  I have eaten a pretty decent lunch there as well, however, the menu is limited to soups, salads, and sandwiches.  The other places that came up in discussion with friends as good places to have tea were Fortnum & Mason (where I’ve eaten several times) and Claridge’s (this was everyone’s top choice).

Back in 2007 on another trip to London, I discovered Hummingbird Bakery’s cupcakes.  I have long since been over the craze for these treats, but every so often, I try to give them another chance.  These do not disappoint.  The Red Velvet is their post popular overall, I was told.  With moist cake and just enough sweetness and tang to the frosting, I could totally see why.  Their daily specials are also bit hits, like their Nutella cupcake or the Lemon Tart version that I had when I was there.  Can a cupcake be juicy?  I’m not sure, but this totally was a lemon-lovers cupcake.  Lemon sponge cake with a blob of lemon curd nestled inside of it.  Lemon frosting and an additional dot of lemon curd on top.  This was pucker-icious.  I could have eaten several of them.

Belleville Boutique and Café was one of my more delightful finds on this trip.  Part café in the French sense and part housewares boutique, along with a small art gallery display up front.  Hervé, the owner and creator, left a career in fashion in Paris to open up a small store in the south of France to sell specialty syrups, olive oils, mustards, and other foodstuffs.  Several years later, he’s opened up this charmingly decorated spot, which has some gorgeous finds located within.  Its tables make the perfect place to enjoy a cup of coffee and a croissant or perhaps a slice of quiche with salad.


While Belleville would also make a great place to stop off for breakfast, I also found a few other options, too.  What was interesting is that the number of old “caffs” featuring all-day English seem to have dwindled in my old neighborhood.  Some of the things that have moved in like GAIL’s Artisan Bakery are so far and above a better quality of food and experience that they have elevated the English breakfast experience to a whole new level.

GAIL’s has several locations around the city, each with its own chef.  I was told by the one at the Notting Hill branch that each place really has its own distinct clientele and personality as well.  The one here on a weekday morning was full of folks holding business meetings, moms and their tiny children, and a few folks like me who’d popped in to have a real breakfast to fuel their day.  I had the most beautiful Fried Eggs with orange yolks served over a bed of Spinach and Mushrooms covered with Taleggio and a side of their bread.  That, and the steaming cappuccino that I had with it were the perfect way to start the day.  There were several other options for a hot breakfast as well as pastries available.  They also serve lunch and have things to take away, in addition to selling their beautiful-looking bread.

Another place I tried out for breakfast was another semi-chain called Cotê.  These are designed as French-style brasseries, which have an interesting feel being in the UK.  What I really liked about this place, aside from the fact that I could reliably get my morning caffeine fix, was that they serve their egg dishes where you can get one egg in an Eggs Benedict, which I did.  That way, I didn’t feel too heavy after eating breakfast.  Their prices for lunch and dinner also seemed to be good as well, but I didn’t eat any of those meals there.

There seems to have been an explosion of places in Notting Hill that sell UK products and showcase regional produce.  When I lived there, these would have been so welcome instead of always relying on what was in the Portobello Road market or the Tesco Metro around the corner.  One of the few places that is still around and has been an anchor for the neighborhood is Tom’s.  They operate as part grocery store, part takeaway lunch place, and part eatery.  They also stock UK-made chutneys, jams, mustards, and other items, many of which are used in the cafe part of their operation.  For those of you craving a peanut butter sandwich, I also spied jars of Jif on the shelves.

Borough Market

I’m not even sure that I can accurately describe the experience of visiting Borough Market.  If you take the Union Square Greenmarket on Saturdays and double it, add in Essex Street Market, throw in a dash of Arthur Avenue Market, and toss it together with a few heaping tablespoons of New Amsterdam Market and the food tables at the Brooklyn Flea, you might come up with this.  In fact, I have so many photos that I’m really just going to send you to the album on Facebook to experience it for yourself.  A friend of mine gave me a huge and invaluable tip, to visit there on Friday afternoons about lunchtime.  Many of the vendors bring out their portable stoves and burners and cook up small plates, wraps, or even steaming savory bowls of food based upon their products to sell to customers.  Folks were lining up to get these reasonably-priced bites.  If you want to walk around one of the historic markets in the city (and ever-changing as the construction demonstrates), fuel up here and just spend the afternoon wandering and taking in all the great food delights.

I had a wonderful trip to London.  On the food front, there was just so much great stuff to try that I couldn’t possibly fit in all in, although I did make a respectable attempt to do so.  I really needed my New York food festival gang with me on the Borough Market trip, as I wanted to sample everything that a saw, so much of it appeared to be delicious.  While I know that you can still get less than great food in the UK, as you can anywhere, I’m really begging everyone to put their culinary biases aside and open up their tastebuds and minds to the reality that London is one of the great food destinations to savor.

Buon appetito!

We Have an Italian Cooking Gizmo Giveaway Winner!!!

Congratulations to Ferriz whom the Randomizer selected as the winner for this prize!!!!  Thank you, too, to those folks who participated in this giveaway.  It was so much fun to have this unique culinary item to offer as well as a great story and this recipe to share with everyone.
Check back throughout the week for some stories about the London portion of my trip and for another giveaway item from one of the hotter spots in that city.

Buon appetito!

Soup Tour with Seriously Soupy and Explorecation

Yesterday was one of those gifts of a day that happens just every so often to break up the cold and grey weather.  It makes you feel as though spring is just around the corner, setting us up to get whalloped by an enormous blizzard about two weeks from now.  It was the perfect setting to get out and do a food tour of Manhattan.  Twenty New Yorkers joined Serena at Seriously Soupy and Sebastian and Hannah from Explorecation (a new site that lets folks find unique and interesting ways to explore cities via any parameter you would like) for a Lower Manhattan Soup Tour to try out some of the city’s delicious offerings.

Our first stop was off of a little street in Chinatown.  I almost never head downtown to this neighborhood unless it is for a meeting or a food-related reason, so after I practically clawed my way through the locals who were shopping and perusing produce stalls, weaved in and out of the tourists who were dawdling on the sideways looking at knock-offs, and avoided the surreptitious vendors trying covertly to sell me watches and handbags (none of which would be authentic), I was really ready to eat some soup.  Fortunately, our tour started at Tasty Hand-Pulled Noodles, Inc.

When the steaming bowls of long, chewy noodles bathed in hot broth and dotted with vegetables/meats/seafood (where ordered) arrived in front of us, collective “aahhhs” rose from the tables.  These are the dishes that inspire rabid fandom among New York food-types.  The prices were very reasonable as well, with the most expensive plate being that for the seafood version, which my food tour compatriots said had some of the freshest ingredients they’d ever tasted (not a complete surprise with all the amazing fish stands in this part of town).  It topped out at about $8.00.

I selected the Fujianese Wonton Meatball soup.  The thinly-wrapped, meat stuffed orbs were great hearty bites located within the intense broth, and I think that their fattiness added some extra flavor to the soup and the noodles themselves.  The bit of green decorating the sides of the bowl made me feel a bit better about indulging in the meatballs.  The noodles were toothsome and chewy and made me want to keep eating more and more of them.  As Chinatown isn’t located all that far from the courthouses, I could see my next stint on jury duty being a great excuse for my heading over there again to try out other types of their soups and maybe even some of their other noodle dishes.

Our next stop wasn’t too far away at Da Nico Ristorante in Little Italy.  Their menu has pizza, pasta, and several typical Italian soups to try.  Usually, I avoid the restaurants in Little Italy, but this one seemed very charming on the interior and several Italian women were finishing up their meal just as we sat down to sample their soups, always a good sign.  I had the Stracciatella alla Romana, and Serena tried the Pasta Fagioli.  I’ve seen many versions of the latter soup, also called pasta fazool in more slangy terms.  Hers looked gorgeous with curly pasta covered in tomato broth and a pile of beans located within it.  My soup was bright green with bits of cooked egg dotted around it and a very light broth covering everything.  It definitely benefited from a dusting of cheese to add a creamy, dairy bite to all the vegetables.

At the end of our meal, we were presented with plates of fritelle.  These fried dough things covered in powdered sugar are similar to beignets or funnel cake or any one of a number of different fried dough things that many cultures have.  At this time of year, they appear in Italian restaurants and food shops, like several of the ones I visited in Rome, as part of the pre-Lenten indulgences getting everyone ready to fast and make their annual sacrifices.

Our final stop yesterday was the venerable Katz’s Delicatessen.  The walk from Little Italy to this part of the Lower East Side should have been enough time to digest the offerings we’d eaten at the previous two stops.  I’m blaming the fritelle for having pushed us over the edge, but as we all staked our places in front of the steaming counters of meats, soups, sauerkraut, hotdogs, and other delicacies, sadly, no one seemed to have the room left to try their Matzo Ball Soup.  I was a bit disappointed, as I’d hoped that maybe between the ones of us who were left, we could have at least tried to share a bowl.  I have eaten it in the past, so I can testify to its heart-warming, homey, comforting effects.

Aside from the fact that everyone who reads this site regularly or talks to me for any length of time can attest to the fact that I love eating, one of the other things I really love is that New York has such a great combination of foods from other places, whether they are old-school traditional dishes or newer, more inventive fare.  Food tours are great ways to get out there and discover all this richness and deliciousness.   I also really enjoy meeting the people who participate in these excursions.  We had an in-depth discussion of offal at the first stop and discussed travel stories (and passport issues) at the second one.  Despite the fact that we didn’t eat at Katz’s, we did talk about what dumpling equivalents exist in other cultures and proposed that as a theme for another eating tour for the near future.

Buon appetito! 

Tasty Hand-Pulled Noodles, Inc. is located at 1 Doyers Street in Chinatown, just off of Bowery (no website).

Da Nico Ristorante is located in Little Italy at 164 Mulberry Street between Grand and Broome Streets.

Katz’s Delicatessen is located at 205 East Houston Street between Orchard and Ludlow Streets.  Note that it often gets very crowded, being popular with both tourists and locals. 

Baked Stuffed Zucchini with Tomato Sauce (Zucchini Ripieni con Sugo di Pomodoro)

As I mentioned in my previous post, this trip was great for discovering some new dishes for me to try to re-create at home.  While I don’t think that I’d been in a culinary rut recently, it was more that my tastebuds needed a bit of a wake up or re-tuning.  Italy is, not surprisingly, the perfect place for this.

A couple of friends of mine moved to Rome a little over a year ago.  I hadn’t had a chance yet to catch up with them either in the U.S. or in Italy so we spent some time walking around, seeing the city, and, of course, eating.  One of the places they took me to try was the Gelateria del Teatro located at Via di San Simone, 70.  Tucked away off of a busy street, this shop not only has a range of unique-sounding gelato flavors, there’s also mini treats like tiramisu and boxes of handmade chocolates to savor.

Really, though, it was the gelato that I was there to try.  With flavors like Pear and Caramel and Raspberry and Sage, theirs is not the typical array.  Several of the choices are made without dairy, like their Chocolate Fondant gelato (I was told that the green handle indicates these.).  My first selection was one of their more unique combinations: Chocolate with Nero d’Avola wine.  It was rich and smooth, like taking a square of the finest confectionery, putting it on your tongue, and then taking a sip of a robust red wine to let all the flavors mingle together to slide down your throat.  My other scoop was the bright, citrusy, creamy Agrumi di Sicilia, a lemon cheesecake gelato studded with the peel of the fruit, delivering a wonderfully refreshing contrast to the richness of the chocolate concoction.

While I was in Rome, I met up with Nicole of And Baby Cakes Three, a wonderful blog to check out for some delicious Italian recipes.  She shared with me one of hers and her husband’s favorite restaurants to visit (and where I notice she got the inspiration for this recipe)  Santa Lucia is on a side street off of busy Piazza Navona (at Largo Febo, 12).  This charming spot was where I ate probably the best meal that I had on my trip to Rome.  Being sensitive to policies regarding the prohibiting of taking photos of meals in restaurants, I opted not to snap any pictures.  I was also too busy enjoying all the wonderful tastes.

I started out with a dish that has in recent years become one of my favorites, which is a complete shock to me.  Artichokes (carciofi) are definitely something to try when you are in Rome and when they are in season as there they handle them perfectly.  I had a shaved artichoke salad dressed with extra virgin olive oil and decorated with strips of parmesan cheese and crumbled crispy pancetta.  This hit many of my taste points: salty, meaty, cheesey, crunchy, vegetal, and is one of the dishes I plan to try to recreate when artichokes come into season in New York.

My pasta course was maltagliati (literally “badly cut”) pasta with cooked little squid, a perfume of rosemary, and a buttery sauce.  Both of these dishes held true to the Italian mantra of “simplice ma buona” (simple ingredients prepared well).  Being on vacation, I decided to order dessert.  The semifreddo (sort of an ice cream type dish) with nocciole (hazelnuts) and torrone (nougat) which was dusted in cocoa powder and drizzled with chocolate sauce was the perfect end to the meal.  Alongside of it were two wafer thin cookies dusted with powdered sugar.  These were a surprise, as they had a delicate anise flavor that proved to be a welcome balance to the creamy semifreddo.

That night, we ate at the place that inspired the recipe in the title of the post.  It was in a restaurant that did seem to be full of tourists, but the food was not bad. We had been directed there by a friend of a friend.  Two dishes stick with me from that meal, the Carciofi alla Romana (artichokes Roman style) and the stuffed zucchini covered in tomato sauce.  Usually when I’ve seen zucchini ripieni, they are open-faced and baked with a topping of cheese and breadcrumbs.  Inspired by this version and with fond memories of my encounter with a Roman street vendor, I decided to try my hand at making this for myself.

Stuffed Baked Zucchini with Tomato Sauce (Zucchini Ripieni con Sugo di Pomodoro)

Prep Time: 1 hour, 10 minutes (with making sauce)
Serving Size:  2 zucchini each for 4 people

Basic Tomato Sauce (see recipe below)
1/4 lb. ground pork
1/4 lb. ground veal
1/4 c. finely grated parmesan cheese, plus additional for finishing
2 Tbsp. finely grated breadcrumbs
2 cloves garlic, very finely minced or put through a garlic press
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1/4 tsp. ground nutmeg
1 Tbsp. minced fresh parsley
1 large egg
8 medium zucchini

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.  Mix together, pork, veal, cheese, breadcrumbs, garlic, salt, pepper, nutmeg, parsley, and egg until combined thoroughly.  Take each zucchini and cut it in half.  For each half, scoop out the seeds to create a trench to be filled with the meat mixture.  Place meat mixture in 8 of the halves, being generous so that the second half covers the meat mixture almost completely when placed on top of it.  Top each filled half with the second (empty) half of the zucchini.

In shallow baking dish, spoon 2 Tbsp of the tomato sauce and spread it to coat the bottom of the dish.  Place the filled zucchini in one layer in the dish.  Cover zucchini with an additional 1/2 c. of the tomato sauce.  Put aluminum foil over the baking dish and place in the oven to cook for 30 minutes.

At 30 minutes, check to see that zucchini are cooked by poking a fork or knife into the thickest one.  The meat should be cooked through as well.  Remove from oven and sent aside.  Reheat leftover tomato sauce.  Place two of the stuffed zucchini on each of 4 plates and ladle about 1/4 c. of the sauce around the base of the plate and over the vegetables.  Sprinkle with additional parmesan cheese.  Serve hot.

Buon appetito!

Basic Tomato Sauce

Prep time: 40 minutes
Serving size: makes about 2-3 cups of sauce

2 tsp. olive oil
2 large cloves of garlic, sliced
1 pinch red pepper flakes
1 box chopped tomatoes (like Pomi, 750 ml or 26.46 oz.) or large can chopped tomatoes without salt
1/2 c. water
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. ground black pepper

In large saucepan or Dutch oven, heat olive oil.  Add garlic and red pepper flakes and let cook for about a minute, taking care not to let the garlic get brown or burned.  Pour in the chopped tomatoes and water and bring to a simmer.  Let cook for 30 minutes until the mixture is thick.  Turn off the heat.

Add in the salt and pepper.  With a hand-held immersion blender, mix the ingredients until completely smooth or slightly chunky, depending upon your preference.  At this point, the sauce is ready for additional seasoning or spicing up as necessary for the dish in which you are using it.  For the recipe above, nothing more is needed.

Product Giveaway – Italian Cooking Gizmo

If you read my post yesterday about my encounter with a street vendor at Rome’s Campo dei Fiori, you know that this enterprising and entertaining personage convinced me to buy one of the kitchen wares that he was hawking.  Now, I’m offering it to one of you readers as I think this is something that someone else should try out.  

So, I’m giving away one L’Originale 100% Made in Italy Master 5” on this site.  I know that we can’t always fly to Italy on a whim, but with this, maybe you’ll be able to capture some of the magic of la cucina italiana a casa tua.  Remember, this is a multi-functional piece.  It cores, peels, juliennes, scales fish, makes crinkle cuts, and, oh, yes, makes bubbles, too.

The Rules (There have to be some of these, you know.)

Eligibility: U.S. mainland residents only. 

To Enter:  Write a comment on this post with the answer to the following question: What did the vendor hold up as ‘earrings’?

You must also have a valid screen name (not “Anonymous”) with a corresponding email address to enter this giveaway.  I’ll need to be able to click on it in order to contact the winner.

Deadline:  Is Monday, March 7th at 12:00 p.m. EST, based upon the date/time stamp on the comments.  (I’m going to be strict about this and make no exceptions.)  

The Outcome:  Only one winner will be chosen for this gizmo.  I’m going to put all the entries into an online Randomizer (like this one) to come up with the winner.  

Rome Visit – Campo dei Fiori

I’ve made it back Stateside after almost two weeks away.  Thank you so much to my siblings and in-law who contributed posts to the blog!  I hope that you enjoyed them.  As an aside, we still have not let my little brother live down that “weird kid” defense that he tried to pull after trying to stash the boxes of his Girl Scout Cookie binge.  As dutiful big sisters (this is what you get for being born the second-youngest of six kids), we bring it up from time to time, usually in the context of what on earth made him think he was going to get away with that for long with our mother.

The Rome part of my trip was sort of in the middle, with stays in London on either end.  Part of my visit was to re-connect with some family friends who have been over there for about eighteen months for work. The morning of my first day there, we toured one of the famous palaces that now serves as an embassy.  While waiting for the building to be open, I wandered through the Campo dei Fiori to take in the early Saturday morning vibe.  I really love walking through street markets to feel the energy of a place, and I’m always interested to see what kinds of foods and produce are sold in them.

There were some gorgeous fruits and vegetables for sale, along with these beautiful lemons and huge ropes of garlic.  This is what makes me miss shopping in Italy, the variety and quality of the products that are available at just any stall.  Another of the reasons that I like shopping in these markets, is that you never quite know what you’ll find there.  It could be things like this display of coffee makers or even something a bit more unique: a kitchen item you never knew that you just need to have on hand.

My encounter with this vendor was probably the highlight of my entire trip.  He was a classic hawker in every sense of the word, no matter what language.  He was pitching his spiel both in Italian and English and demonstrated the prowess of his wares in such a manner as to make me part with 10 Euros for one of his culinary items.  I normally play the part of skeptical New Yorker in these scenarios, and I also speak Italian so I’m not easily hoodwinked by these guys.  This, however, was more than just a pleasant tourist-native encounter but a real piece of street theater, the kind you don’t often get these days.

First item was the instrument pushed into the end of a potato that when turned several times created curlycues that could then be fried.  O.K., you say, so, you have curly fries, then what?  Well, hold on there, he said, you can then put a carrot into the hole in the potato so that when you slice it you have carrot and potato coins in addition to the curly fries.  Perfect for going along with chicken or fish (which he demonstrated by having a plastic version of each to show alongside the vegetables).

Then, there was the other potato slicing instrument that with a few twists and turns makes perfectly sized slices to be made into chips (crisps).  This could save you minutes of struggling with a mandoline or knife trying to cut them into just the right thickness.  Along with that there was the lemon juicer that also serves as a container to save the squeezed juice in the refrigerator.  All of these items, he was selling as a set in a handy clear plastic storage bag to take away with you.

Really, however, he saved his best material for last.  When I showed this to my Rome friends, along with the photos, their half-joking reaction was that everyone needs this, how could you live without it.  Wondered how you could ever find something that would cleanly core a zucchini so that you could fill it with meat and bake it?  Maybe you need perhaps to make an easy vegetable julienne or even scale fish and peel potatoes with the same item?  What about making crinkle cuts for fries?  Never fear, you have not yet met “L’Originale 100% Made in Italy Master 5!”  [I’m not kidding, this is what it is called on the box.]

The only word I can come up with to describe this item is that it is a gizmo.  I could actually see it having some usefulness, even in my kitchen, believe it or not, well, for as long as it would take me to break it.  For a demonstration, let’s see it in action at the market:

Removing the inside of a zucchini to prepare it for baking
Making a julienne of carrots (to serve along with the potato slices)
Oh, and did I forget to mention that it also makes bubbles when you are done?

Part show, part display of practicality, and all-in-all a great memory to take away of an entertaining encounter on a sunny weekend day in Italy, this vendor and his wares grabbed my attention and reminded me that sometimes the best parts of a trip are the ones that you can’t plan at all, the ones you just stumble upon in the moment.  So, I was convinced to part with my Euros and to find a place in my already-crammed suitcase to bring back a “Master 5” with me to New York.  We’ll have to see if it lives up to the “Made in Italy” reputation, as stamped in plastic on its side (which he also pointed out a few times)!

Buon appetito!