Ciao da Roma~
I have landed in Rome and have every good intention of keeping you all up to date with my daily travels and “eatings” while in the Eternal City. Let’s hope I can live up to my own expectations!
It is raining (piove) in Rome and according to the driver who picked me up at the airport ~ “Last week was beautiful, this week will be cold and rainy.” Such will be my vacation in Rome ~ chilly and damp. And who forgot to pack a scarf and couldn’t find their travel umbrella? Me—povero Marco.
Luckily, I am staying with a friend, who is teaching architecture for the semester, in a palazzo (Palazzo Taverna). I know—tough gig! The palazzo is a miss-mash of periods and architectural styles—all beautiful in their own right. It has been divided into a multi-purpose building, meaning it houses the architecture center/school, apartments, an interior designer’s shop and other offices/businesses. The grand staircase of the school wraps around and around as it works its way to the domed ceilings. At each level there are large velvet drapes, tied-back and swagged, which can be closed off—don’t you have drapes hanging on your staircases? It is a beautiful old structure, full of flaws brought on with the advance of time.
We set out yesterday in the rain to see what the city had to offer … a little walking tour to grab uno spuntino (a snack) and see a couple of the sights. Along the way to the Piazza Navona, we passed this building beautifully draped in fading wisteria. Ours back in Montgomery faded weeks ago, but in Rome it is just beginning to pass—a lucky find for us today!
We stopped in a German Catholic church that is now under serious renovation. The word on the street is that it was a complete disaster a couple of years ago—uncleaned frescoes, incensed-darkened statuary and only a single light bulb hanging from a chord. After the election of the current “German” Pope, hmmm, funny thing, this neglected German church is now receiving a facelift. Most of the interior was scaffolded and wrapped, but here is a view of one of the interior shrine’s altars. Marble, deep in color and veining, was used to make this images of lillies.
Lunch was at a tiny, and I mean TINY, little family ristorante tucked in a little side street, with 6 tables inside and seating for about 18. “Alfredo & Ada” is located on Via Banchi Nuovi. This is the type of place where there is no menu and the waiter/owner offers you a selection of 3 pastas, 3 meat coarses and a dessert or two. There is nothing fancy here … no fussy table decorations or waiters dressed in coat & tie. Here, the locals come to enjoy zucchini with a beef stuffing (pictured here), carbonara, tripe in a spicy red sauce (highly recommended by the owner), or artichoke lasagna. I went for the Carbonara (pancetta and egg pasta) and the spicy, red-sauced tripe.
After lunch, what’s next? Why a nap of course! A little riposo (rest) never hurt anyone—the Romans know how to do it right.
Well rested from a nap, it was off to visit a bar that was having an art exhibit … a friend of a colleague installed his art in a neighborhood bar. It was wonderful to trek off in the early evening for a little art before dinner.
Arriving at the packed Barnum Cafe on via Pellegrino, complete with Victorian trapeze artists hanging from the ceiling, we wedged our way inside to meet artist Dan O’Neill. His use of monofilament and colored card stock made his graphic work of yellow and green have an “abacus” movement to it. I enjoy meeting other Americans in Italy to see how their “ex-pat” life is treating them and how it is reflected in their work and life. We are all influenced by our surroundings. How would Rome affect you?
Squeezing back out of Barnum Cafe, we headed a short distance down via Pellegrino to Settimio al Pellegrino, a family run restaurant opened in 1932, by the now owner’s late parents. The owner was the waiter, while his wife was the chef—who confided in me that her husband had been working here in his family’s restaurant his whole life—it seems that while his mother was pregnant with him, his mother was the “chef.” We were taken care of and, once again, served simple Italian food prepared family-style—nothing fancy here. I started with the spaghetti with tonno (canned tuna—a recipe featured in my book and app) and couldn’t make up my mind about the secondo (the meat course) so I asked if I could order to two half courses. Luckily, I could, so I split an order of the Polpette ai Ferri (Grilled Meatballs) and the Alici Gratinate (Roasted Sardine Gratin).
The grilled meatball was a smashed meatball that had been grilled—think hamburger. And it was a really good “hamburger,” too. No bun, no condiments, just a meatball of pork and veal that had been seasoned, smashed and grilled. Wonderful. The sardines were layered with pangrattato (bread crumbs) and parsley (prezzemolo) in a large circular pan and baked.
What was really fun was to meet the “chef”—the owner’s wife—and to go into the kitchen and speak with her for a couple of minutes. She learned her husband’s family’s recipes as they took over the business from his parents. In fact, she was the one who told me about him being in this kitchen “in the womb”—she and I laughed about it … he only half-heartedly smiled. I’m not sure he liked us talking about his then pregnant mother—or maybe he wasn’t thrilled with how I was distracting her from getting the next serving of spaghetti al tonno out the door. Regardless, they were a lovely couple, warm and very accommodating. She wanted to know when we were coming back … and that we should “come back for her handmade fettuccine on Sunday” (“Tornate domenica per le fettuccine a mano”).
But our meal was not complete without dessert—a “Monte bianco” (White Mountain).
An large meringue is covered with chestnuts, whipped cream, not sweetened, and piped on “spaghetti-style” with a chestnut paste. It was light, considering that the meringue melted in your mouth and like most Italian desserts it wasn’t an overload of sugar. I think most Americans would be surprised about how many Italian desserts are not SWEET, like ours are back in the states.
We were one of the last people to leave the restaurant and the owners of Settimio could not have been more delightful. We might not make it back for “gnocchi” Thursday—a tradition across restaurants in Rome but we will definitely try for “fettuccine Sunday” next week.
That was day one in Rome. Day 2 was all about more rain and the market. Post to come a presto!