WHEN IN ROME
We had rendezvoused with ma petite amie Agat in Rome, and it was her last full day here. For the past three days, we had been showing her the Renaissance and antiquities, guiding her among the non-secular and secular, taking her to eat delicious Roman food. Today we’d wander …
No reservations, we headed to parts well known.
One of the things we do in any Italian city is stop into any church we pass along the way … so often, there are many hidden treasures, with awesome art or surprising sculptures. There are always one or two as we go from Point A to Point B.
Piazza Navona is a must. There are no mimes or musicians or magicians, but Four Rivers Fountain is amazing. And the piazza’s “modern” facade hides the fact that it was the site of ancient chariot races. Around the corner (to the left) is a site of an excavation, with a subterranean museum.
We continued walking … Agat even found the French Embassy. As we started to get hungry, we kept an eye open for an inviting trattoria. “A place like that,” David said, pointing down a narrow street to several tables in the shade of an old building. We stopped. We looked. We exchanged glances. “Why not THAT place?” It was LA LUNA D’ORO, and the owner welcomed us with a big smile. We ordered water and white wine, and one plate of prosciutto and burrata to share. The ham, without its traditional outer layer of fat, was less than stellar … the liquid-less cheese, only adequate. However, the bread was excellent. I ordered mezzo manico with guanciale, breadcrumbs, and pecorino … stubby pasta rings, topped with strips of crispy pork, bright pecorino, and crispy breadcrumbs was very good. Both David and Agat had linguine … the flat strands were delicious with rings of sautéed calamari and sweet, sun-dried tomatoes. It was good enough to re-create at home.
And so I did.
We were heading toward Piazza del Popolo, and Agat and I did a little shopping … window and real … along the way. At the Bata store, we both found sandals … and then she bought us matching gold tennis shoes. Twinning.
Piazza del Popolo was full of stages and big screens for the upcoming European Cup … which, I am proud to say, Italy won! We walked up the curving road to the Giardino Villa Medici … along the Viale della Trinità dei Monte to admire the view … over to the Scalinata di Trinità dei Monte. The Spanish Steps. Down we walked into the Piazza di Spagna. But we didn’t see Audrey Hepburn or Gregory Peck.
Then, Agat treated herself to a Gucci tote.
On our way back to the hotel, I noticed a tie shop. David hasn’t bought a new tie in years … and though he wears one, oh, once every other year, he needed one with [wait for it] cats. I walked into the shop after a couple who spoke French with the clerk. As they thought about a purchase, the clerk turned to me … and I addressed her in French. Then I laughed … and explained to her why. I found a cat tie with a blue background … David’s favorite color. Sold.
Around another corner, David noticed a wine shop. Not just any wine shop … MR. WINE, a place we have visited many times. Mr. Wine died several years ago, so now Mrs. Wine and their son, Riccardo, are in charge. We sat at a little table outside, and Riccardo brought us generous glasses of cold, refreshing white wine. It’s near the Parliament, and lots of men in dark suits wander the nearby streets. The tarelli were, um, bad and the potato chips stale … so I amused myself by tossing pieces to the pigeons. Another lovely late afternoon.
For dinner, we went back to BA’GHETTO (MILKY). We love returning to a restaurant … the staff now treats you like a friend. The owner, Avi, joked that we came back so we could enjoy the suppli cacio e pepe again! As we were just sipping our wine … a bottle of the Gamla Sauvignon Blanc which we had enjoyed the night before … it suddenly started to rain. Big drops. Covering our glasses [wink], we hurried under large umbrellas where we enjoyed the rest of our meal.
We shared two antipasti. Salmon tartare with avocado combined two of my favorites, and it was as good as I wanted it to be … delicate salmon, smooth avocado … and the toast twist that decorated the patty added a nice crunch. The classic bruschetta with tomato was tasty, but David’s tomatoes are senza paragone (without equal) so I can’t be objective. Agat loved the sweet Italian tomatoes anointed with olive oil. Without hesitation, we each ordered the cacio e pepe. Delicious again … so creamy, so flavorful, plus the great cheesy crunch from the frico shell! We finished our meal with the irresistible pistachio mousse … 1 cup with 3 spoons … creamy, rich, and dense with pistachio flavor and generous bits of chopped nuts.
BA’GHETTO has been added to our Restaurants We Visit in Rome. Grazie Avi … toda raba.
The next morning, Agat had an early flight back to Geneva … to spend time with her family in the French Alps. And to eat pain française. We got up early to give her another hug, an extra big “safe travels” hug. See you soon, my chosen sister!
Agat had arranged a prêt à manger portable breakfast … but David & I headed up to the roof-top terrace at HOTEL MONTE CENCI for our cappuccino and croissant at a more civilized hour.
But before we headed home, we were meeting American friend Joyce for lunch. She moved here only last autumn to be with her Roman boyfriend, Claudio … now fiancé. She lamented that she cannot find cumin at the local store (solution … stockpile at Trader Joe’s on your visits to California) and we cautioned her about the potholes on the bureaucracy highway (solution … none, just be patient). Claudio recommended DA ENZO AL 29, a place that is renowned for its cacio e pepe … and that’s where we’d go. She met us at our hotel, and with our car still in its precious parking place, we walked across the Tiber, then along the twists and turns of Trastevere.
The trattoria doesn’t take reservations … we arrived at 12.30, and got a shady table.
I’ll start by saying … they make their own whole wheat sourdough bread. It’s The! Best! Bread! I’ve eaten in Italy! Full of irregularly-shaped air bubbles … wheaty wonderfulness … crispy crust … slightly chewy inside … perfect. I brought a few slices home, but no [sobbing face] … they don’t sell loaves.
We started with two antipasti. A large, Jewish-style fried artichoke had light and crunchy leaves with a familiar bitterness, and a wonderful, tender heart. The fried zucchini flowers were as light as clouds … in a delicate and crispy batter, these plump morsels had a filling of mozzarella and Cantabrico anchovies, making a great pair of warm, melting cheese and salty fish.
Next, the pasta, the raison d’etre. David had ravioli stuffed with spinach and sheep’s milk ricotta … a classic filling (rather taken for granted and, too often, uninspired) … this was the best version we’ve ever had. The sheep’s milk ricotta was so flavorful, well-balanced with the assertiveness of the spinach, filling your mouth with flavor. The butter and sage was all the “topping” (I hesitate to call it “sauce”) it needed. The dish = Amazing! I had rigatoni alla gricia … made with guanciale I.G.P. di Amatrice, pecorino D.O.P. Agro Romano, and freshly-ground Malesia pepper, it is superlative. Every ingredient is delicious, the combination is irresistible, each bite exemplary. The dish = Outstanding! Joyce ordered the tonnarelli cacio e pepe … and graciously let us have a taste. The long pasta strands are homemade with stone-ground wheat, and the other two ingredients … pecorino and pepper … are the same in the gricia, with the result, equally wonderful. The dish = Fabulous!
We decided to have 2 desserts. David & I had tiramisù classico … perfect cocoa, coffee, mascarpone, it’s the reason spoons were invented. Joyce savored a tiramisù fragola, equally creamy and delicious with fresh, sweet strawberries.
As we left, we noticed that there was a line of hungry customers waiting for tables. I assured them it was worth the wait. Indeed … it’s worth a detour. From Spain. It’s at the top of our Restaurants in Rome list!
As we headed home, we stopped in Orvieto … to buy wine at the Coop, where local wines are usually in offerta.
Several bottles later, we were on our way to the kitties!
LINGUINE WITH CALAMARI AND SUN-DRIED TOMATOES
1 clove garlic, minced
4 oz. white wine
12 to 16 sun-dried tomatoes, cut in half
Salt and pepper (to taste)
4 medium calamari … cut bodies into rings and legs into individual pieces
1 lb. linguine
Fresh parsley, finely chopped
- In a frying pan large enough to hold the pasta, cook the anchovies and garlic in olive oil.
- When the garlic is lightly golden, add the wine, sun-dried tomatoes, and salt and pepper.
- Turn heat to low, and simmer. Add some of the pasta cooking liquid if the mixture gets too dry.
- In a large pot of salted boiling water, cook the linguine until barely al dente.
- Add the calamari into the frying pan. N.B.: it should cook for only 2 to 3 minutes!
- Reserve some of the pasta cooking water, then drain the linguine.
- Add the linguine into the frying pan. Toss well. Sprinkle with parsley … toss again. Add 1 to 2 tablespoons of Ligurian olive oil (optional).