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.
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.
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.
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:
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)!