ROME WASN’T VISITED IN A DAY

The Three Musketeers … Agat, David & I … were enjoying our evening in Rome, drinking wine on the rooftop deck at HOTEL MONTE CENCI, after a catholic and Catholic, art-full day at the Vatican Museums and St. Peter’s Cathedral. We were tired, our feet were tired … but we were getting peckish.

As we wondered if we should order another bottle of wine or decide where to go for dinner, Paolo the manager re-appeared. We had a collective lightbulb moment!

Can we have food delivered?

Even the idea of that is a vacation treat … living in the countryside, UberEats isn’t an option.

Paolo said yes. We all agreed that of the classic Roman pastas … which we all wanted … tomato-y Amatriciana would survive the journey better than cheese-y cacio e pepe or cheese-y/pork-y Gricia.

“I put them in real plates and added some pecorino,” Paolo said as he arrived with three bowls of pasta … and another bottle of wine. The best of all possible worlds. The tomato sauce-pancetta combination was delicious and satisfying on the toothsome mostaccioli. We savored every bite on our own private terrace. We lingered late into the night.

The next morning, fortified by croissants and cappuccino (with a new ! decoration from Ilaria), we set out. Today we were taking Mr. Peabody’s Wayback Machine … to ancient Rome. Through the Piazza Veneto with its white monolith of a monument, the Vittorio Emanuele (nicknamed, appropriately, the Wedding Cake and the Typewriter), we found our way to the Colosseum.

The areas one can visit with a general admission ticket seem more limited, but as always, it is an incredible building. Julius Cesar walked here. Gladiators and lions fought here. New exhibits have been added on the upper level … showing architectural details, explaining how the structure was built, how it used to look.

We made our way down the well-worn brick stairs and back into the courtyard … then up the path leading to the Forum. Inside the gate was a grassy area under a big tree, with marble blocks where people were sitting. I told the Musketeers that I was already very hot, and in an abundance of caution, said I would stay here while they ventured into the shade-free forum and the uphill/downhill of the sun-drenched Palatine Hill. I told Agat that David would be an excellent guide. When they returned, she said he had been outstanding … making sure she knew the history of this building or that, seeing various views from the best angles. And then she hugged me … adding that she appreciated my patience to wait while they were tourists.

I sat and hydrated and people-watched. Shorts with t-shirts … long dresses or sundresses … umbrellas … backpacks or large purses … hats or caps … sandals or sneakers. Pairs … tour groups. It was fun to try and guess where they might be from. A young mom with 2 little girls told me that her friends in Boston thought she was crazy to come to Italy while the world was in Covid limbo. I said she was crazy like a fox … she turned to her husband and said, “Hear that, Hon? I’m crazy like a fox.”

We had another walk up another of the seven hills ahead of us … and we decided to use The Agat Method … i.e., random … to find a place for lunch. Again, it was the 2nd trattoria we reached.

We sat at a sidewalk table at BISTROT CAFFE DELLO STUDENTE, and I was happy to see locals at the other tables. Water and white wine were the first things we ordered … by day 2 we had become very predictable.

My pasta pick was arrabiata … and this version was a nicely spicy tomato sauce tossed with penne. David and Agat both had, yep, pizza. The same pizza. It had tomato sauce, arugula, and shaved parmigiano … both said it was very good. I just nabbed some of the arugula. We chatted with a couple from England who had moved to Rome for work just six months before, and petted their wonderful dog named Jaime.

Our destination was a nearby church. Not just any church … S. Pietro in Vincoli, where Michaelangelo’s Moses sits near the altar. Massive, marvelous, pensive, patriarchal … the strength of his muscles, the curls in his beard, the authority in his hands. We were alone in the church … alone … to admire this masterpiece.

And on we walked. Feets don’t fail me now.

As we passed an open door, we noticed ceramics inside and a woman in the back room. Agat and I went in. It’s the workshop-art studio of artist MARINA GOZZI … and we both bought one of her unique, handcrafted creations. It’s important to support local artists … and Marina’s work is so colorful, with no two pieces alike. Agat now has a cup and lid in lively blues and greens in an abstract design … I have a small bowl with a blonde woman in the center and several women painted around the outside. It’s me surrounded by my wonderful girlfriends. You know who you are [using my hands to form a heart].

Please check out her creative, colorful work … she’s on Instagram. Oops, Insta.

We relaxed before dinner, and our legs made it very clear they didn’t want to walk very far. Lucky for us, there are many choices on Via del Portico d’Ottavia … a charming, cobblestone street just two blocks away.

As we strolled the street, we noticed BA’GHETTO (MILKY) … which had been recommended by Claudio, the Roman fiancé of our American friend, Joyce. (For those playing our home game, I wrote about Joyce’s visit to Tuscany in TAKE THE LAST TRAIN TO CLARKSVILLE).

We settled at our table under a large umbrella.

I was people-watching (as I always do) … and a young woman a few tables away, caught my attention. She was alone, but soon I saw her talking to the two men at the next table. Above the chatter and clatter of the other diners, I heard her say, “Southern California has the best weather.” And I instantly knew who she was. She was me! I had had that conversation at her age … traveling solo, talking about food and travel and life, pontificating with strangers.

The waiter suggested an Israeli wine, and David said va bene … a 2018 Sauvignon Blanc from the Gamla Winery. Mineraly and light with subtle fruit notes, we enjoyed every sip.

We decided to share dishes. We started with Jewish-style fried artichokes. The whole flower is fried … crispy, crunchy, chip-like. The menu had 2 choices for suppli (deep-fried rice balls), and we wanted to try the cacio e pepe version. But when we cut into the golden globe, there was tomato. It was the classic mozzarella-tomato one … so we asked the waiter to bring a replacement. Yet … the replacement was a classic, too … so the waiter, again, promised to bring the one we ordered. (Spoiler alert: it never arrived.). Shh, don’t tell … we tasted the classic, and it was very good. We also ordered the non-Roman falafel with hummus. I am such a hummus-head that, as with the wine, we broke our “eat locally” rule. The flavorful falafel were crackly and crunchy, and the extra-creamy hummus was delicious … especially good with scarpetta using Roman bread. Fusion at its best!

Our primo we ordered was tonnarelli carciofi, spigola e bottarga. And then … a plate of cacio e pepe was brought to the next table, and we KNEW we had to order that, too. Served in a large, pecorino frico … shaped into a bowl to hold the tonnarelli … it was outstanding on every level. Cheesy, creamy, with that added frico crunch, and the right pepper punch. The other pasta was great, too … the sea bass was flaky and tender, the artichokes added their pleasant bitterness, and the bottarga (salted, cured fish roe … a love-it-or-hate-it item) made it very special.

Our secondo was citrus-cured salmon … moist and tender, it was delicious with the bold boiled chard drizzled with olive oil. This was our only proper protein and actual vegetable of the week [wink] … no, wait, are peppercorns a vegetable?

Dessert time. Yep 2. The chocolate mousse was milk chocolaty and subtle, made extra good with dark chocolate sauce and chopped almonds on top … the pistachio mousse was fabulous and chocked full of chopped nuts creating a nutty-creaminess. Our waiter brought us hot mint tea … made more elegant, served on a gold try in a pretty teapot. A lovely way to end a delicious meal.

To be continued …

PANNA COTTA

2–½ cups heavy cream
½ cup milk
¼ cup sugar
½ oz. (8 grams) gelatin leaves
1–½ tsp. vanilla extract

- In a small bowl, soak gelatin leaves in cool water to soften.
- In a medium saucepan, combine cream, milk, and sugar. Heat, stirring often, over low to medium heat, until small bubbles form at edge and sugar is melted.
- Squeeze the water out of gelatine leaves, then stir the leaves into the cream mixture over low heat until completely dissolved.
- Remove from heat … stir in vanilla extract.
- Pour/ladle mixture into serving cups or bowl. Place wax paper or parchment directly onto panna cotta.
- Cool, then refrigerate until set … a few hours.
- You can serve from the cups … or unmold (dip bottoms into warm water for several seconds, use a slim sharp knife around the edge, then invert onto a plate using the plate-on-top-then-flip method).
- Grate chocolate on top or place a few fresh berries on the plate.
Enjoy!

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Life … and cooking … in the Tuscan countryside.

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