Rome

R

For Irish people particularly, Rome immediately conjures up images of the Vatican and St. Peter’s square…. Been there, done that, a long time ago so this time I had a two day stop over on the way to Sicily. There are seven hills in Rome, so we prepared for lots of steps, it’s an intriguing city and around every corner you are reminded of ancient history, the Trevi fountain, the Colosseum, the Spanish steps.

In Rome you still see priests and nuns in traditional garb hurrying through the streets. If you want to make the most of your time in Rome, hop on one of those sightseeing buses, it will get you orientated. The main focus of this visit was to visit the Sustainable Food Project at the American Academy in Rome and to taste one of my favourite pasta
dishes cacio e pepe at source. The latter wasn’t a great success, I tried several versions none of which were nearly as delicious as Rita Soda’s version I ate at Soda in Manhattan.

The American Academy was established at end of the 18 Century at the top of Janiculum Hill just behind the Fontanele, in the midst of beautiful gardens with mature trees, an olive grove, vegetable beds and an orchard of peaches, plums and apricots. The Sustainable Food Project at the Academy founded in 2007 under the guidance of Alice Waters from Chez Panisse, Berkeley in California. It provides the community of fellows and artists, writers, scholars, historians, architects, astronomers…… Passionate brilliant, intelligent people with seasonal nutritious and utterly delicious food.

This is all the more remarkable because up to the point where Alice became involved, the food was famously appalling described as a “lot like airplane food crossed with an elementary school lunch”. Now guided by the spirit of the Roman table and using home grown produce from the academy’s beautiful garden as well as nearby organic farms and food producers. It is fulfilling the Academy’s aim to provide a replicable model of simple sustainable food for other likeminded institutions. We’ve had a link with the American Academy for almost a decade but I’d never been there so it was especially nice to put a face to the name of the people I’d been corresponding with for years. Laura Offeddu , the manager and Chris Behr the chef who guides a whole team of interns, two of whom are past students from the Ballymaloe Cookery School, Clementine Hain Cole and Freddie Woodruff. We had a delicious lunch at the long table under the arches in the courtyard that seats close to a hundred people.

Simple delicious food, a cold zucchini soup, a salad, a pasta and a fresh cherry compote with housemade yoghurt. We stayed in a little hotel, Hotel Donna Camilla Savelli, in Travasera, in an old convent with a church off reception and a delightful little courtyard with lots of white hydrangeas and trees to shelter from the intense sun. It’s just minutes from the centre, so worth getting in your diary. Any guide book will tell you about the awe inspiring history, architecture and iconic buildings of Rome but here’s a cook’s tour of the Italian capital.

First stop a market – Campo de’Fiori is now a tourist hot spot although there are some food stalls, you are unlikely to find anything of real interest. Real farmers and food producers can’t afford to trade there so seek out other local markets to get a glimpse of how and what real Romans eat. I went to the market in Testaccio, it’s a permanent covered market with row after row of produce, butchers, fishmongers. It’s a real joy and education to watch Italian women shop and to observe how super fussy they are, they still shop for fresh produce every day. There were no big supermarkets in evidence although I did see a few small neighbourhood ones.

If you want to make the best of a foodie trip to Rome, contact Katie Parla, www.katieparla.com. She whizzed us around to some of the very best food shops and cafes. She’s deeply knowledgeable on Roman history architecture and archaeology as well as the food scene.

La Tradizione, where I bought a superb Pecorino aged in the time honoured way in a timber box with aromatic herbs and also and tasted a variety of other Italian artisan cheeses. Then on to Pizzarium, Bonci on Via della Meloria where I tasted the very best pizza I have ever eaten anywhere in the world and that is quite a statement…..
The crust was crackly, the base crisp, the centre tender and flavourful and the topping super delicious. He does pizza by the slice and you pay by weight. At his bakery on Via Trionfale one can buy really good bread and food to go including this Roman chicken and chips which is bound to become your favourite comfort food. Bonci is a well-known TV chef in Italy who works with small producers and farmers who grow ancient cereals and grains.

We also loved the fantastic ice cream and granitas at Carapina. One can’t visit Rome without eating gelato and put Supplizio on your list also for the best suppli and arancini…I’ve ever eaten.

HOT TIPS

Transition Year Cookery Course
Doesn’t matter whether you wish to be an astronaut or a GP everyone needs to be able to cook. In response to numerous requests we plan to run two five day cookery courses for Transition Year students. Monday 25th July – Friday 29th July or Monday 1st August – Friday 5th August. Very limited numbers. www.cookingisfun.ie

Kids in the Kitchen
Kids absolutely love to sieve, knead, roll, measure and mix. It’s hugely important to teach kids at this young age to develop a life-long love of food and cooking, to develop good eating habits in a fun and engaging way.
On Monday August 8th, we will teach the students to cook a range of simply delicious food for friends and family. They will spend a busy morning cooking, before enjoying a lunch of what they’ve made. After lunch we will feed the scraps to the hens, see the vegetables growing in the glasshouses. This is an action-packed day of delicious learning and fun. www.cookingisfun.ie

The Fit Foodie
Derval O’ Rourke’s new book has just been published. Derval discovered the importance of nutrition as an elite athlete and believes eating well made all the difference to her form. The Fit Foodie is full of simple, delicious and totally doable recipes such as Laid Back Lamb Tagine, Mediterranean Salmon and Spaghetti, Butternut and Bean Stew, Chocolate Fondant Cake…..Derval also shares smart and inspiring advice on how to get organised so that good food and exercise is a seamless part of your life. Publised by Penguin Life

Date for your Diary
A Taste of West Cork Food Festival will run from 9th – 18th September 2016 in Skibbereen brings together a unique mix of food markets, demonstrations, cookery competitions, special dinners, brunches and banquets, food talks, tastings….and lots more. http://www.atasteofwestcork.com

Garden Café Pizza Dough

The beauty of this recipe is that it is so quick and easy, using this fast acting yeast does away with the first rising. By the time your tomato sauce is bubbling in the oven your pizza base will be ready for its topping!
Makes 8 x 25cm 10inch pizzas

680g (1 1/2lbs/6 cups) strong white flour or 600g (1 1/4lb/5 cups) strong white flour and 110g (4oz/1 cup) rye flour
50g (2oz/1/2 stick) butter
1 packet fast acting yeast
2 level teaspoons salt
15g (1/2oz) sugar
2-4 tablespoons (2-4 American tablespoons + 2-4 teaspoons) olive oil
450 – 500ml (16-18 floz/2 – 2 1/4 cups) lukewarm water – more if needed

In a large wide mixing bowl sieve the flour and add in the salt, sugar, rub in the butter and fast acting yeast, mix all the ingredients thoroughly.

Make a well in the centre of the dry ingredients, add the oil and most of the luke warm water. Mix to a loose dough. You can add more water or flour if needed.
Turn the dough on to a lightly floured work top, cover and leave to relax for about five minutes.

Then knead the dough for about ten minutes or until smooth and springy (if kneading in a food mixer with a dough hook, 5 minutes is usually long enough).
Leave the dough to relax again for about ten minutes. Shape and measure into 8 equal balls of dough each weighing approximately 150g (5oz). Lightly brush the balls of dough with olive oil.

If you have time, put the oiled balls of dough into a plastic bag and chill. The dough will be easier to handle when cold but it can be used immediately.

On a well floured work surface roll each ball in to about 25cm (10inch) disk. I find it convenient to pop a few rolled out uncooked pizza bases into the freezer. You can take one out, put the topping on and slide it straight into the oven. What could be easier!

This dough also makes delicious white yeast bread which we shape into rolls, loaves and plaits.

Gabriele Bonci’s Pizza with Squash Blossoms, Ricotta and Black Olives

10 oz (300 g) fresh sheep’s’ milk ricotta
7 oz (200 g) black olives, pitted and crushed
1 (12 oz/350g) ball white pizza dough
Extra virgin olive oil to taste
9 oz (250 g) mozzarella
15 squash blossoms
Fine sea salt, to taste
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Preheat the oven to 220-250C/ 450-475F

Mix the ricotta cheese and olives together to combine. Stretch out the dough and place it in a well oiled pan. Tear the mozzarella cheese into pieces and scatter about half of it over the dough. Dot the dough with the ricotta and olive mixture. Place the whole squash blossoms on top. Scatter the remaining mozzarella cheese on top of the blossoms.

Bake the pizza until golden brown and well risen, about 25 minutes. Remove the pizza from the oven, season with salt and pepper and drizzle with a little oil.

Gabriele Bonci’s Pizza with Tomato Sauce and Anchovies

1¾ lb (800 g) fresh anchovies
2 lemons
Extra virgin olive oil, to taste
500 ml (18 fl oz/2 cups) white wine vinegar
1 (12 oz/350 g) ball white pizza dough
18 oz (500 g/2 cups) canned peeled tomatoes
Fine sea salt, to taste
1 head garlic
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
¼ cup loosely packed flat leaf parsley leaves, minced

Preheat the oven to 220°C-250°C (450°F-475°F).

Clean, butterfly and bone the anchovies. Arrange them in a non-reactive pan in a single layer. Zest ½ lemon and set aside for finishing the pizza. Juice both lemons, whisk the juice with a generous amount of oil and vinegar and pour the liquid over the fish. Cover and marinate until the flesh of the anchovies has turned white, about 20 minutes.

Stretch the dough out and place in a well-oiled pan. In a small bowl, combine the tomatoes with some oil and salt. Spread the tomato mixture over the dough by hand, crushing the tomatoes between your fingers as you drop them into the dough. Break up the garlic and scatter the unpeeled cloves over the tomato sauce.

Bake the pizza until golden brown and well risen, about 25 minutes.

Remove the pizza from the oven and arrange the anchovies on top. Season with pepper, the reserved lemon zest and a drizzle of oil and the parsley. Serve hot.

Gabriele Bonci’s Spicy Pizza with Eggplant and Burrata

1 (12 oz/350g) ball white pizza dough
Extra virgin olive oil
1 lb (500 g) eggplant
Fine sea salt, to taste
10 oz (300 g) burrata, chopped
Red chilli flakes, to taste

Preheat the oven to 220°C-250°C/450°F-475°F.

Stretch out the dough and place in a well-oiled pan. Thinly slice the eggplant into rounds and toss them with a small amount of oil and salt. Arrange the eggplant rounds on top of the dough.

Bake the pizza until golden brown and well risen, about 25 minutes.

Remove the pizza from the oven and arrange the cheese on top. Sprinkle with

Gabriele Bonci’s Pizza with Squash Blossoms, Ricotta and Black Olives

10 oz (300 g) fresh sheep’s’ milk ricotta
7 oz (200 g) black olives, pitted and crushed
1 (12 oz/350g) ball white pizza dough
Extra virgin olive oil to taste
9 oz (250 g) mozzarella
15 squash blossoms
Fine sea salt, to taste
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Preheat the oven to 220-250C/ 450-475F

Mix the ricotta cheese and olives together to combine. Stretch out the dough and place it in a well oiled pan. Tear the mozzarella cheese into pieces and scatter about half of it over the dough. Dot the dough with the ricotta and olive mixture. Place the whole squash blossoms on top. Scatter the remaining mozzarella cheese on top of the blossoms.

Bake the pizza until golden brown and well risen, about 25 minutes. Remove the pizza from the oven, season with salt and pepper and drizzle with a little oil.

Roman Chicken and Chips

Serves 6-8

Chicken thighs, drumsticks, wings
8 large potatoes
Salt
Freshly ground pepper
Thyme
Rosemary
Onion
Extra virgin olive oil

Season the chicken heavily with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Put into a bowl and scatter with lots of thyme. Toss well.
Peel the potatoes, cut into thick chips. Dry and season well with salt and freshly ground pepper and thyme. Add to the chicken.
Drizzle with extra virgin olive oil.

Preheat the oven to 230°C/450°F/gas mark 8.

Spread out onto a roasting tin.

Drizzle with a little more extra virgin olive oil. Roast for 45 minutes or until the chicken is cooked through and the chips are crispy at the edges.

Serve with a good green salad and several vegetables of your choice.

Pistachio Honeycomb Ice-Cream

Serves 12-14

100g (4oz/1/2 cup) sugar
220ml (8fl oz/1 cup) water
4 egg yolks
1 teaspoon pure vanilla essence
1200ml (2 pints/5 cups) whipped cream
100-200g (3 1/2-7oz) Pistachio Honeycomb (see recipe)

To Serve
Pistachio nuts

Put the egg yolks into a bowl and whisk until light and fluffy (keep the whites for meringue). Combine the sugar and water in a small heavy-bottomed saucepan, stir over heat until the sugar is completely dissolved, then remove the spoon and boil the syrup until it reaches the ‘thread’ stage, 106-113°C/223-236°F. It will look thick and syrupy; when a metal spoon is dipped in, the last drops of syrup will form thin threads. Pour this boiling syrup in a steady stream onto the egg yolks, whisking all the time. Add vanilla essence and continue to whisk until it becomes a thick creamy white mousse. Fold the softly-whipped cream into the mousse, pour into a bowl, cover and freeze. After 1 hour fold roughly chopped pistachio honeycomb into the semi-frozen ice-cream. Freeze.

Serve with a little more pistachio honeycomb and coarsely chopped pistachio nuts scattered over the top.

Honeycomb

Makes about 500 g (1lb 2oz)

Serves 30-40 as a petit four

85g (3 1/4oz) Duchy (or good quality local) honey
180g (6 1/4oz) liquid glucose
400g (14oz/1 3/4 cups) castor sugar
100ml (3 1/2fl oz/scant 1/2 cup) water
15g (3/4oz) bicarbonate of soda

1 Swiss roll tin – 20 x 30cm (8 x 12 inch)
parchment paper or silpat mat

First loosen the honey and glucose syrup by dipping their containers in warm water, then weigh out into your saucepan. Then add the sugar and water and heat gently, stirring until the sugar has dissolved. Gradually raise the temperature of the pan’s contents to 150°C (300°F).

Carefully sprinkle the bicarbonate of soda into the pan. The contents will fizz up like lava from the underworld, but don’t be alarmed, this is what puts the tiny air bubbles into the honeycomb. Stir the mixture to make sure all the powder is incorporated, then pour it out onto your silicone sheet (or baking tray). Leave to set for at least 30 minutes, then break the brittle mass into small pieces.

Variation
Pistachio Honeycomb/Praline
basic Honeycomb recipe (see above)
150g (5oz) pistachios, roughly chopped

Sprinkle half the pistachios over the bottom of the Swiss roll tin, pour the honeycomb over then sprinkle on the remaining pistachios. Leave to set for at least 30 minutes, then break the brittle mass into small pieces.

About the author

Darina Allen
By Darina Allen

Letters

Back to List
Latest Letter
All Recipes
Back to Website
All Darinas Letters are published each week in The Examiner

Past Letters

  • Recipes