Can I go back to Italy now?

IMG_3896

our country hotel in Assisi

I just got back from Italy and I want to go back right now.

IMG_4237

Piazza Navona, Roma

Happens every time. It is never enough. Perhaps even living there is never enough (it wasn’t when I DID live there!).

What is it about that country? Okay, I’m second generation Italian-American. So there’s that this-feels-like-home phenomenon. But STILL. The small groups that I lead there are Americans from different descents, and they, TOO, want to stay for extended periods of time.

IMG_3903

my group with the proprietors of our Assisi hotel

Italy is the charming country. It’s the beauty. The food…

ravioli w crispy pancetta

Siena lunch: ravioli w crispy pancetta

…the People…

IMG_4350

Every Italian is thrilled with fresh porcini season…here at Mastro Donato In Testaccio, Roma

…the differences between regions. Differences between cities, towns. The food…

IMG_4011

pizza at Mercato Centrale in Firenze

…Striking mountains. Lush hills…

IMG_4130

hills in Tuscany

…Stunning coastlines. Coffee…

IMG_3993

Siena breakfast

…History. Monuments. Art…

IMG_4209

Venus by Botticelli at Uffizi Galleries in Firenze

…Fountains…

…Food…

IMG_4191

Bistecca Fiorentina in Firenze

…Philosophy of life.

And it’s shaped like a boot. What other country is clever enough to be shaped like something so recognizable?

On this recent trip, my group and I tasted the food of Tuscany, Umbria and Lazio. We dove particularly deep into Firenze, Roma, and Chianti country. I brought back many new recipes from these experiences, and am inspired to recreate many more.

One of my favorites is below. We visited a small winery in the Chianti Classico region, where they served us lunch. The star of the menu was pasta cooked in Chianti wine. Delicious! And so simple. See the recipe below and do try it. Enjoy! Ciao for now…

wine pasta

pasta cooked in Chianti for our wine-tasting at Brogioni Maurizio Montefioralle

IMG_4150

Maurizio, the producer, telling us about the process of wine-making

Pasta Cooked in Chianti Wine (serves 2-3)

1/2 cup chopped pancetta (or bacon)

2-3 tablespoons olive oil

1/2 lb. cut pasta, such as fusilli or farfalle

3/4 cup Chianti wine or favorite dry red wine

1/4 cup grated parmigiano or pecorino or combination

4-5 fresh sage leaves, diced, stems discarded

salt & pepper to taste

Place a pasta pot of water on the heat. Bring to a boil. Meanwhile, place the olive oil and chopped pancetta in a small frying pan. Cook until pancetta cooks through and browns a bit. Reserve in pan.

When water has boiled, salt water well, add pasta and cook until almost done, just before al dente or to al dente (softness of your cooked pasta is up to you, but Italians don’t like it too soft…pasta will cook some more in the wine).

Start heating wine while pasta is boiling. Pour wine into a sauté pan with at least 2-inch sides. Bring wine to a simmer. Add a pinch of salt to wine. When pasta is al dente, scoop out with a strainer and add pasta to the wine. Let it cook in wine at a lively simmer, stirring, for about 2 minutes until wine is mostly or all absorbed. Take off the heat, or transfer pasta to a bowl.

Season with salt and pepper. Pour in pancetta with its oil. Sprinkle and stir in cheese. Sprinkle and stir in diced sage leaves. Stir to combine. Serve.

My Favorite Roma

first trip to Rome with family 1974

first trip to Rome with family 1974

So it was in 1974 that I first went to Rome. My parents visited for the first time the year before and came back excited for my sister and I to experience the country too. These photos are from our first trip all together. To Rome & Florence. But mostly Rome. Where I fell in love. With ROME. (I’m the one with the ponytail.)

It took me a year and a half to devise a plan to LIVE in Rome. I applied to an American college there (I had left college after 2 years to work in the theatre, now I turned my third college year into an excuse to live in Rome). In January 1976 I moved to Rome and immersed in the culture with an open heart and soul. It’s a culture that still flows thru my veins on a daily basis.

After I moved back to the States (crying the whole plane ride home), I went back to Rome to visit as often as possible.  And back. And back. And back again. (And again. I’m still going.)

I’m not an expert on Rome. But after all these years I have favorite spots that I return to over and over. If I lived there now I’m sure new favorites would emerge, but these classics always win my heart again with each visit.

Favorite neighborhoods:

The historic center (Il Centro) is the best. I love the area that encompasses Piazza Navona, the Pantheon & Campo dei Fiori.

Rome historic center w Piazza Navona, Pantheon & Campo dei Fiori

Rome historic center w Piazza Navona, Pantheon & Campo dei Fiori

My other fav is where I used to live: Trastevere (I lived on Via Anicia). More residential, full of charm, and the part near the river is not such a long walk from the historic center.

Trastevere near the Tevere (Tiber River)

Trastevere near the Tevere (Tiber River)

Favorite historic sites:

Campidoglio. For me this is the most breathtaking Roman site. Campidoglio or Capitoline Hill, not far from Piazza Venezia. The site was designed by Michelangelo (and  I love how Lincoln Center in NYC echoes the layout). Climbing the long flat stairs leading to the hill always excites me. I’ve arrived at the most Roman, most beautiful, most soulful spot in the city. It was also here where some of my co-students and I met a group of Italian guys who became close friends of ours and showed us the locals’ view of Rome on a daily basis. Massimo gave us a cooking lesson on how to make spaghetti alla carbonara at his parents’ apartment in EUR. It’s a recipe I have never altered to this day. Perfectly Roman.

Campidoglio

Campidoglio

If you face the central building and walk to its right, follow the path to behind it, you will have the most spectacular view of the Roman Forum.

Roman Forum

Roman Forum

Pantheon. The most knock-out building in Rome. With history reaching back to ancient Rome, and transformations over the centuries to suit each new wave of society. This is the building with the famous hole in the ceiling (built that way, of course). When it rains, it rains in a circle on the stunning marble floor.

Pantheon

Pantheon

Favorite shopping:

Via dei Giubonnari I dream about this street. I love the shops. It’s about 3 blocks long and it’s jammed with clothing, shoe, and jewelry stores. Prices are right. Fashion is funky, edgy, or tame. I always find a treasure that I’m so happy I own once I get home. It connects directly into Campo dei Fiori…that piazza filled with produce stands in the mornings. A LITERAL feast for the eyes and palate.

Via dei Giubbonari near Campo dei Fiori

Via dei Giubbonari near Campo dei Fiori

Trevi Fountain. Yes, this is quite impressive. Yes, Anita Ekberg swam it in La Dolce Vita. Yes, I remember a time when there were maybe a few dozen people milling about, throwing coins, taking pictures. Now if feels like a million visitors are constantly on top of this monument. So the experience is a bit overwhelming. Still go. And here’s another reason I make the effort. Totally girlish and totally shopping-centric. The Trevi Fountain is surrounded with shoe stores.

Trevi

Trevi Fountain

Via Del Corso. Speaking of shopping. Via del Corso, that long street with 2 knock-out piazze on each end: Piazza Venezia & Piazza del Popolo, is lined with shops. Stray from the Corso and you’re into more great shops on Via Frattina, Via Condotti (designer shops), via del Tritone. And these streets lead to Piazza di Spagna, Piazza Barbieri, and Via Veneto. I say wow.

A few favorite eating & drinking spots:

Cafe della Pace The decor of this cafe rings Belle Epoch. A true step into another time but tres moderne. Drinks, coffees, and mostly atmosphere. In one of Rome’s prettiest tiny piazze.

Cafe della Pace

Cafe della Pace

Dal Paino  My favorite pizza in the world at this pizzeria near Piazza Navona.

Sandy at dal Paino

Sandy at dal Paino

Ristorante Campana When I took a cooking group to Rome we literally tripped over this place. We peeked in the windows and, as I was telling everyone that it looks like a true typical Roman restaurant, the cute waiter came out the door and charmed us to come in. We loved it and went back a second time. Classic Roman dishes here. Wonderful atmosphere. You feel at home and you feel Roman.

Ristorante Campana

Ristorante Campana

Archimede Just a few steps from the Pantheon, this friendly elegant but casual restaurant never disappoints. Must order: the carciofi alla giudia, and the fritto Sant’Eustachio. I love their spaghetti alla carbonara. You can’t go wrong with ANYthing.

the touring group I led to Rome at lunch at Archimede

the touring group I led to Rome at lunch at Archimede

fritto Sant'Eustachio

fritto Sant’Eustachio

Cafe Sant’Eustachio They say this is the best coffee in Rome. Coffee in Rome is the best in the country according to me — so this is high praise. AND there is a store full of coffee presents to bring home.

Sant'Eustachio

Sant’Eustachio

Roma Sparita Off the beaten track, tucked away in a secret piazza, this is a locals’ favorite and now the rest of the world has also found out. But not everyone. So you’re good. Famous for the cacio e pepe that they serve in a romano cheese bowl. Please order this.

Roma Sparita restaurant

Roma Sparita restaurant

cacio e pepe

cacio e pepe at Roma Sparita

I know I know. This leaves out a billion other wonders. I have more favorites but it’s taken me a few days to fill in what’s here. Stay tuned for a part 2 in the near future but this should get you started.

Another favorite, but I hesitate since I haven’t been in about 15 years: Sunday flea market at Porta Portese. It used to be the bomb. And likely still is. As I know it: miles of stands selling everything from car parts to fashion to kitchenware. I bought my favorite winter coat there as a student. My mom and I always find scarves and shoes. And my dad loved the stand selling porchetta sandwiches on rosetta rolls. Wowsa.

Back to 1974. Here’s the family at the flea market.

1974 trip with family at the Porta Portese Sunday flea market

1974 trip with family at the Porta Portese Sunday flea market