ROAMIN’ IN ROME

It was our first afternoon in Rome … on our first post-vaxx trip. Stepping foot into the New Normal … whatever that might be. We had rendezvoused with my BFF Agat to enjoy a few days in the Eternal City, her first visit.

Savoring our gelato from GIOLITTI, we retraced our steps by the Pantheon … to admire the obelisk in front of Santa Maria della Minerva. It’s my favorite of the city’s 13 ancient obelisks because of the Bernini elephant at the base. Agat and I took a selfie … which I quickly sent to our friend Mark, the person who introduced us. Not really, “introduced.” It was more that our work spaces were near one another many years ago at the law firm where Mark was (still is) a partner. Plus he’s a history buff who loves Rome and, H/T, explained the 8 Egyptian and 5 Roman obelisks prior to one of our trips.

The beautiful church, despite the sign showing the hours it’s open, was locked.

And on we walked. Did somebody say Trevi Fountain …? Suddenly, there it was, in all of its tranquil, turquoise water and bright, white marble beauty. With so few people sitting around or tossing coins, it was easy to admire. 1 … return to Rome. 2 … fall in love. 3 … marry. (You must have tossed three, right Joyce?)

And finally … a Spritz! It was refreshing, but too sweet for moi. But on a late afternoon in Rome, everything is good. Plus, the benefit of being a musketeer … there are two others to pick up the slack [wink].

We headed back to the hotel to relax before dinner.

David & I picked CLUB MIRAGGIO in Trastevere for our evening meal … our Roman friends, Liliana and Fonzo, introduced us to this restaurant years ago. I called to make a reservation for one of their tables on the sidewalk.

Instead of house wine, David chose a 2020 Satrico, a white blend from Lazio. It was light and sippable as we settled in and looked at the menu.

We began with two antipasti. Grilled calamari … tender and tasting of the sea and so much more flavorful than its over-served battered and fried cousin, all it needed was a squirt of lemon. The other was batter-fried artichokes … a Roman classic that was good but, unfortunately, had a bit too much batter to be excellent.

My pasta pick was Gricia, the cousin of cacio e pepe that includes guanciale … a wonderful cheesy, peppery, porky dish, comfort food with a kick. David opted for Amatriciana … long stands of bucatini bathed in a tomato sauce rich with pancetta and porky-flavor, plus a generous dusting of pecorino. It’s so yummy, the last bit begged to be enjoyed with delicious, crispy-crust bread. Scarpetta, the Italians say … to wipe the remaining sauce with a shoe. Agat ordered pizza napoletana … but she was disappointed, saying the tomato sauce didn’t have much flavor and the crust was bland. We assured her that we had a few days to find her a better one. (And we did.) We decided to share a dessert. One tiramisù, three spoons … creamy, cocoa-y, coffee-y goodness.

We strolled leisurely across the Tiber. People lingered … dogs lounged … musicians played. The warm evening air in Rome is evocative, a bit humid and somewhat sultry, as the city envelops you.

We all woke up early, ahead of our Covid-era breakfast reservation time. We headed up to the rooftop lounge … and sat at the low table and large couches where we had our drinks the night before. It became our stammtisch … German for “same table” … where we had breakfast every day and drinks on the occasional evening. Cappuccino, artfully decorated and personalized by Ilaria … croissants, bread with butter and jam, yogurt, and big slices of fresh melons, kiwi, pineapple. Every morning she decorated our cappuccino with a different message. She was one of the reasons we enjoyed staying at HOTEL MONTE CENCI.

Navigation set, we headed toward the Vatican. It said a 35-minute walk, but we hadn’t calculated the photos we’d want to take along the way. My phone binged … and it was the ticket agency forwarding the official tickets. (There had been no prior indication that a WhatsApp message would deliver the tickets at the last minute. I had been prepared to show the email with the confirmation code.)

We arrived at the entrance a few minutes before our reservation.

When we got to the guard with the ticket scanner, he said it was only 1 ticket. Whaaat? Go to the office, he said as he motioned to the door. The Linda went inside … ready to use the “this is Agat’s first time in Rome, it has to be special” stratagem. The men checked with the agency, and confirmed that we had 3 tickets … and said I should call them. The woman apologized for her mistake, and immediately sent 3 new tickets. Stratagem averted.

My musketeers were waiting in the shade … our tickets were scanned … we went in and up toward the galleries.

The Vatican Museums have many exhibits and countless rooms, each amazing in its own way. We started with the rooms displaying the Greek statuary, then headed into the classic chambers. Figures of Roman gods and mere mortals carved in marble line the long hallways on the ground floor … Raffaele’s rooms in their incomparable colors and glowing figures … the map room, with cartography from up and down the peninsula in incredible accuracy … rooms with dark wood wainscotting and vibrant stories unfolding on the walls and ceiling … the hallway lined with delicate tapestry … tall cabinets and display cases filled with intricate miniatures and illuminated manuscripts … mosaic floors, some tiny tiles representing a lifetime of work and others in the random, colorful terrazzo.

Then … the Sistine Chapel.

When you look up the word “awesome” in the dictionary, there should be a picture of this room. That is, if the Japanese company that did the restoration permitted photography. It is spectacular … in grandeur, in detail, in colors and faces and images. And knowing that some of the historical figures are actually famous people from Michaelangelo’s era make trying to remember who is who even more interesting. There is always something new to see … something to re-see and re-admire.

Our sore feet needed a break, and we decided it was time for lunch. Agat wanted to just find a place …. rather than using a local’s recommendation or a multi-star google search or some finicky, foodie formula (yeah, that was directed at me [wink]) … and we hadn’t walked too far when she found an inviting place with umbrellas on the sidewalk.

It was BOTTEGA VICTORIA. The manager gave us a shady table at the end, and we immediately ordered cold adult beverages and more water. Agat and David both ordered the same pizza. It was squacquerone and anchovies … the wonderful soft cheese and salty fish pairing was excellent, and the crust was surprisingly good for a non-Napoli pie (and my ultra-high standards for puff, char, chew). I had paccheri with artichokes, pancetta, and pecorino … the large pasta rings were great with the trio of vegetal bitterness, porky goodness, and bright cheesiness. A dish to re-create at home. We relaxed and rehydrated. There’s no rushing on vacation.

Our next destination was St. Peter’s Basilica … and our decision to skip the skip-the-line tickets was a good one. There was no line.

There aren’t enough words to describe this cathedral, the largest in the world … as the markings on the floor show. Walking is still counter-clockwise, but without crowds it’s a luxury to stroll slowly. One can admire the amazing altar in its wooden and golden beauty, and marvel at the marble statues, massive and white. Speaking of statues … there’s an impressive marble carving on the right near the front by a guy named Buonarroti. La Pietà. The delicate drape of the fabric, the fragility of her tender sorrowful face, the muscular body of her son limp in her loving arms. Is her face really a different texture …? You are transfixed.

We spent time in the piazza … the obelisk … the encircling Colonnade … the cathedral. But the sun was high in the sky, and we soon looked for shade as we headed back across the Tiber. In a taxi.

By the time we got back to the hotel, we were Tired. Capital T. We went up to the rooftop, and sank into the pillowy couches. Paolo brought us a bottle of local white wine (tucked in a bucket of ice), bowls of peanuts and potato chips, and water. Agat wrote to her kids … I reviewed my photos … David shared the highlights of our day on FB. Birds like potato chips. Who knew?

To be continued …

GORGONZOLA CHEESECAKE

When the cheesecake is warm, the gorgonzola is bold and bright … when it’s cold, the flavor is much more subtle. It’s delicious either way … so you might want to try both.

12 oz. cream cheese, at room temperature
1 tsp. salt
¼ tsp. freshly-ground pepper
2 eggs
1-½ cup sour cream or yogurt
3 to 4 oz. gorgonzola, at room temperature
CRUST

- Preheat the oven to 325° F (160° C) degrees.
- In a cuisinart, combine the cream cheese, eggs, salt and pepper, and sour cream until creamy and well-blended..
- Pour the mixture into the crust.
- Spoon spoonfuls/globs of gorgonzola over the filling, then use a knife to mix (sort of) into the filling.
- Bake for 30 to 35 minutes until just set and the center is still jiggling.
- Eat at any temperature.
- Serve.
Enjoy!

CRUST
1 oz (2 Tbl.) melted butter
1 small garlic clove, minced
1 cup bread crumbs

- Melt butter, then sauté garlic until lightly golden. Off the heat, stir in the breadcrumbs.
- Press into the bottom of a 8-inch baking dish.

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Life … and cooking … in the Tuscan countryside.

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