Saturday, September 29, 2007


I bought Romanesco Brocoli at the market without ever thinking about what I would do with it. I have never seen it used it the kitchens I have worked in, and only on a single menu. Although it is mentioned in guidebooks it’s not with the same reverence or commonality of Spinach or Porcini. But how could I resist. I am in Roma (its origin Province) AND trying to impress a guest. Romanesco Brocoli is picture perfect; a fractal self-similar pale green vegetable whose texture and perfume resembles Cauliflower.

I decided to make a Frittata; a skill I felt confident in since practicing my “flip” on the farm. For only two people, I didn’t have the same fear I did for 50! To be clear, the “flip” (as only I call it) is when you use a large lid to help flip a frittata, repeatedly. The goal is to have an even end-result; the thing folks mess up most even with the aid of an oven. It’s all in the wrist…

I cut off the base of the vegetable, and carefully separated its inner replicas; each mini-head of Broccoli exquisitely similar to that which came before. First I steamed them (for 3 mins) and then sautéed them with Olive Oil, Garlic, a single Pepperoncino, Salt and Black Olives. I decided to keep them firm and with a crunch, not only because of my personal distaste for overcooked vegetables (not shared by my fellow Romans), but also to dignify the ingredient in a dish that often loses its central theme in its preparation.

Once cooled, I added the mixture to 6 beaten eggs and a healthy handful (meaning more than you would think) of finely grated Parmesean. When the mixture hit the pan, I moved around the ingredients to unify the dish (even out its arrangement) and began to “flip”, a total of 6 times. The most important thing to bear in mind when making a Frittata is that the egg mixture must cover the ingredients. It is not an Omelet, so think equal parts.

It was and is a beauty! I served a slice for breakfast and have leftovers which will inform a cold antipasti shortly.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Lower your expectations

…and you will be rewarded.

I was starting to garner a snapshot opinion of cuisine in Roma; if the goal is to eat typically, one can do so (relatively well) at any number of family run Trattoria’s. If your palette leanings are toward higher end cuisine, you will pay significantly more for surprisingly similar fare with a more thought provoking wine list, cheese selection etc. But Rome is a big city, and I am smarter than that. Indeed there has to be a family run place with love for their region AND transcendent creativity; both formal and comfortable where the waiters glow knowing that you have found them and in return you shine back with great thanks. I live for complete experiences where hospitality mirrors the kitchens output and a night is complete after a Digestiv; a similar set of expectations I have tried to “give back” promoting and producing events in NYC and at my own dinner parties in Park Slope, Brooklyn. Indeed the Restaurants I revere in NY surmise this and I have been anxious to replicate (the feeling, not the food) here in Rome. Then there was Monti…

A simple and elegant family run Trattoria, almost too close to Stazione Termini to be THIS good; where it is rumored the wait staff are distractingly charming and which Frank Bruni of The New York Times controversially declared the best dining experience in all of Rome. One of three Slow Food awarded Restaurants in the big city AND recommended by almost a dozen amici di amici...I made a reservation and whipped out the school boy blazer. But like a mantra, I lowered my expectations considerably. There have been a string of disappointments...

I have built a natural confidence in my Italian to not only order from the original menu, but more importantly to casually and gleefully translate my passion for food. My handsome waiter exuded warmth and walked me (a romantic stroll if you will) through the menu, carefully describing in Italian the details of each dish; when I stumbled on words, we charaded ourselves back on track.

My Antipasti was a caramelized sweet tangle of Red Onions baked to an almost crispy but soft bundle. Beneath, a rich and aromatic Gorgonzola sauce. Raw Red Onion slivers rested on the perimeter for a bright crunch if and when needed to offset the dish's richness.

If you recall, this is the same antipasti I had on Birthday in Milano. Rather than compare, I will only say that here (at Monti) I had a better understanding of the dish. It felt more homely, more focused, less gourmet, more hearty. Like a lot of my favorite dishes, I realized it needed to be served & then eaten immediately; a precise difficulty in timing that I have thought a lot about since working in kitchens.

What followed was one large beautiful crepe like Ravioli, stuffed with Ricotta and Spinach, a single just-browned Sage leaf and the raw yolk of a sultry red Egg in its center. What I first noticed was how the Tortellone lifted off the plate as if its shape was that of art and not weighted by extraneous sauce or garnishing. Then there was the glisten. I have all of these semi-unnecessary newfound opinions about Butter and yet here it was and I was damn happy to see it proudly illuminating the dish.

And then it happened, the yolk began to leak and the dish came to its fruition. A red stream weaved in a through the Ravioli providing its sauce and a subtle stickiness to the dish's overall texture. Oh my…

I decided it was time to test a new approach to affordable fine dining; one that is at odds with the rule to begin a meal or a night out with the best wine and if needed move towards (or downwards) to the fluidity / generosity of the cheaper variety. Instead, after I finished my ½ carafe of a White Wine of the house, I asked my waiter to recommend a single Red Wine by the glass to go with my Secondi. By this point in the meal, he knew what I ordered, was in touch with my facial expressions and my confidence in the Restaurant more broadly; we had a good rapport. And so with my paired Red Wine I proceeded to my next course.

Quail drenched in a truffle enhanced cream sauce (and perhaps pumpkin or squash – shamefully I don’t know) and roasted Potatoes. Its off-putting appearance turned out to be part of its charm. The sauce looked as if it had coagulated atop the small portioned hen; overly rich and daunting (for a 3rd coarse). But the beauty of food (and plating) is playful deception. The meat was moist and beautifully browned and the sauce was light and subtle; nothing like its appearance. A homemade pork sausage filled its center, colorfully and tastefully distinguishing the dish. In a city (or country rather) where Secondi’s have a tendency to disappoint, I was indeed very happy.

An Espresso spiked with Anice liquor (my dad’s favorite) completed my meal.

Dessert and more when I return…Friday!

Saturday, September 22, 2007

il profumo di pepperoni


A perfect contemplative Saturday in Roma complete with a sunny lunch of treats from the local mercato. An antipasti mista of Mortadella, hand sliced Prosciutto, marinated Artichokes, Pomodorini, a fresh loaf of bread, firm Pecorino cheese, a verbose red wine from Montepulciano &…

Mozzarella di Fiore de latte from Puglia. I have a thing for Cow’s Milk Mozzarella.

Friday, September 21, 2007


Folks eat salad as main courses...true of all big cities. Here are the creations of the Restaurant I work here in Roma. We also serve an Insalata Mista, Verdura Vapore (steamed), Porcini crudo (with Parmesan shavings and Lemon), Verdura Griglia (grilled) and a Caprese (Mozzarella, Pomodoro e Basilico).

Arugula, grilled lightly breaded calamari, fried Potato spaghetti and Zucchini curls.

Grilled Calamari, Bottarga (shaved and the eggs themselves), Carrot and Endives

Endive, Avocado, Tomato and reduced Balsamic served with lightly breaded grilled Shrimp atop.
Lobster Salad atop Tomato jus soaked Panzanella

Gelato & Graffiti!

Thanks to my girl Djassi, if ever a meal disappoints, I head straight to Via Ostiense for Gelato and colorful Graffiti. I have decided that my personal experience in Rome with Gelato (sans Romance ;) is paired with the expressive ink that soundtracked my Brooklyn upbringing and which seems to unify the world through European (and Japanese) acclimation.

It is painfully difficult to summarize the boldly original menu of this “find”. Here, I am (clearly photoshootin') devouring Pera & Gargonzola (€2)!!!

The other day, I had a triage of Blackberry (Mora), Pistacchio and Figindia (for my Leccian folks)…with crème sopra!

Best cared for...

Despite my afternoons spent indulging and researching local Restaurants fare, I am best cared for by Rosa, the head chef at Bottega di St. Teodoro where I work. Every evening, pre-work she(or Amni, the pasta chef) whips up a traditional meal for the staff, customarily utilizing surplus ingredients from the Restauran’ts expensive output. Not only free, but made with love, I am thankful for my extended family in the kitchen I work. Grazie mille tutti*

Straccetti – Beef trimmings with Balsamic, wilted Arugula and Pomodorini

Pollo con Pepperoni – self explanatory, but sumptuous, sweet and tender!

Meet Maurizio

Everyday I meet a "Maurizio". The unglamorous and more than humble chef (he would likely describe himself as a cook because he does not update or invent dishes). Dude is the only cook in a bustling, cheap no frills Tratorria; lauded in guidebooks and overrun my Business men. There isn’t a meal I have had in Italy where I haven’t invited myself into the Cucina to thank a “Maurizio” for his/her hard work and dedication preserving local traditions. My man offered me a job, they always do (lol). Cooks love to complain!

Below is a typical Roman pasta, pasta alla gricia, of Pecorino and rendered Bacon for €5. Made with love by Maurizio. Pesante e troppo sale, but there isn’t a pasta in Rome that hasn’t made me smile.