Category Archives: Resources

Joy of Keeping A Journal

Variety of Journals Kept While in Rome, 2012
Variety of Journals Kept While in Rome, 2012

This morning I walked out on the deck. The air was cool and the cloud streaked sky reminded me of a morning in Rome.  On days like this I find myself walking to the bookshelf and choosing one of the many journals I kept while living in Italy.  Randomly reading through the daily entries brings me great joy and allows me to re-experience a trip now almost two years in the past.

Whether you’re going for a week or staying for an extended time I urge you to take a few minutes every day to jot down an impression of your visit.   Noting a place you’ve visited, a person you’ve met, a meal you’ve experienced is something you will be thankful for when you get home.

Choosing a journal is also a great way to get out and about.  Visiting the shops that sell amazing varieties of paper, beautiful pens, leather bound journals can be a fun way to create your own walking tour and usually will take you to neighborhoods you may overlook. From higher end stores like Fabriano to the creative and colorful options at the larger bookstores such as Feltrinelli there is something for everyone.

Keeping a journal is one of the best gifts you can give yourself!!!!!

Excerpts from my Travel Journals – Italy 2012

Writing a Travel Journal – Finding Your Voice by Mo Redman

Recommended Reading – Made in Italy by David Rocco

"Made in Italy", David Rocco
“Made in Italy”, David Rocco

Admittedly I am a cookbook addict and when I find a new cookbook that captures my attention for more than a week I know that I have found a good book.  Such is the case with David Rocco’s, Made in Italy .  I am working on cooking my way through the entire book of 140 recipes featuring simple rustic food.

I had no idea that David had a cooking show on TV when I purchased his book at the Feltrenelli Bookstore on Via del Babuino.  I liked the cover and I liked the pictures.  Leafing through the book I saw many of the dishes that I have come to love eating and was hopeful that I would be able to remake many of them when I returned to Maryland.  I wasn’t disappointed!

Some of my favorites from Made in Italy include; Gateau di Patate (Potato Cake) pg.100, Le Mie Polpette Preferite (My All-Time Favorite Meatballs) pg. 303, and Caponata Napoletana (Caponata Naples Style) pg. 72

Day Tripping – Amalfi Coast to Paestum

Temple of Neptune, Paestum, Italy, 2013
Temple of Ceres, Paestum, Italy, 2013

Spending time on the Amalfi Coast is as close to what I imagine heaven being like.  While it may be hard to pull yourself away from the beautiful seaside towns of Sorrento, Positano, Amalfi, and Ravello there are many wonderful places in the surrounding area that I would recommend visiting if you have time – Pompeii and Paestum being two of these.

Paestum located in the Campania region of southern Italy is about 120 km to the southeast of Naples near the Amalfi Coast.   Several ways to get to Pasteum from the Amalfi Coast (Solarno, Positano, Amalfi) – By car (recommended), by bus, or by train.  All require some planning but I assure you the reward is worth it.

Buses run on the SITA line and trains via Trentitalia.  More information can be found by visiting Rick Steve’s website, Rick Steves Europe.

Pasteum, 2013
Temple of Neptune (foreground) and Basilica, Pasteum, 2013

Paestum originally the ancient city of Poseidonia was founded by the greeks in 600 B.C. and later became a colony of the Roman Empire in 210 B.C.  I have discovered that there are more intact and well preserved temples in Italy than there are in Greece and Paestum will not disappoint on that score.  In addition to the temples and ancient ruins which include remains of residential homes, forum, amphitheater, swimming pools, etc. there is a wonderful Museum founded in 1952, Museo Archeologico Nazionale, which displays some of the artifacts found in the nearby burial grounds including sculptures, bronzes, ceramics, terracotta, and actual tombs with beautifully painted details. The most famous of these tombs from the 4th century B.C. is the tomb of the diver which has recently been restored.

Pasteum, 2013Roman Road, Via Sacra, Pasteum, 2013

On this particular trip we drove from Positano down the coast through Amalfi, they should hand out awards, to Salerno and then inland across beautiful plains to Paestum.  Parking is easy and inexpensive (2 euros) and there are plenty of quaint places for lunch and many souvenir shops some selling quite beautiful reproductions of Paestan Ceramics.  Truly a bargain when compared to the same items in Rome or Naples.   While I recommend visiting Pompeii, Paestum is much less crowded and we often had no one in sight when walking through the ruins – you truly feel like you have been transported in time.  Make sure you bring your camera.   Buon Viaggio!

Cooking Roman Style – Peperonata (Stewed Sweet Peppers)

Ingredients for Peporanata, 2013
Main Ingredient for Peporanata – Cubanelle and Yellow Peppers, 2013

This recipe is one of my favorites.  Their sweet and sour flavor makes them perfect for pairing with – pork roast, sandwiches, as part of your antipasto, and they are perfect all by themselves on top of a crusty baguette.   You can serve them warm right out of the pan or at room temperature.  Easy to prepare filling your house with a wonderful aroma they last for a long long time in the refrigerator – I usually double the recipe.

While most any pepper will do and bell peppers seem to be the staple at the grocery store try to experiment with different types of peppers – the sweeter the better.  At the farmer’s markets I look for the Cubanelle Peppers (typically long slender red peppers) which are especially sweet.

Thinly Sliced Garlic, 2013
Sautee Garlic and Onions for a few Minutes before adding Peppers, 2013
While most recipes don’t call for roasting the peppers this extra step imparts a rich flavor and if you have the time go ahead and try it.  You will look like a pro at the very least roasting peppers over the flame on your stovetop.  (instructions for roasting peppers-4 easy methods)
 
Pepper Strips, 2013
Peppers, Garlic, Onions, Olive Oil, Water, Salt and Pepper – Cook on low heat for about 45 minutes, 2013
Peperonatta (Stewed Sweet Peppers)
Ingredients (makes 2 cups) 
  • ⅓ cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 4 assorted red, yellow, and orange bell peppers (or other variety of sweet pepper), cored, seeded, and cut into 1/4″ to 1/2″ strips – don’t worry about being exact
  • 4 cloves garlic, thinly sliced crosswise – the thinner the better
  • ½ medium white onion, thinly sliced
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • 3 tbsp. red wine vinegar
Instructions (total prep time 15 minutes, total cook time 45 minutes to 1 hour)
  • Heat oil in a 4-qt. saucepan over medium-high heat.  When you begin to smell the olive oil
  • Add garlic and onions and saute for a few minutes
  • Add peppers and ½ cup water and season with salt and pepper.
  • Cook, partially covered and stirring occasionally, until peppers are soft, about 1 hour.  About 20 minutes if you have roasted the peppers first.
  • Stir in vinegar, turn off the heat, and mix together
  • Transfer to a serving bowl if you will be serving right away or let cool in the pan before transferring to a storage container
  • As is the case with most italian food I always find these better the next day or several days later.   Easily made in advance and have on hand for later.  Buon Appetito!

 

Almost finished, 2013
Almost finished, 2013

Fall in Rome – Chestnuts “Castagne”

Piazza Navona, Chestnuts, Rome, 2012Piazza Navona, Roasted Chestnuts, Rome, Fall 2012

Fall is one of my favorite times in Rome.  Cooler weather, less crowded, amazing colors, and seasonal specialties including Ricotta Romana, newly pressed olive oil, and chestnuts!!

Strolling through the city on a cold day with a thick scarf around my neck and a warm paper cup full of roasted chestnuts certainly made me feel Roman.

One note fall is the time to eat chestnuts not spring or summer.  They seem to roast chestnuts 12 months of the year at the more popular tourist destinations in Rome.  Do yourself a favor and save the 2 to 5 euros in spring and summer as the chestnuts will not be enjoyable.

Dome of St. Peter's, Rome, 2012Dome of St. Peter’s from Ponte Sisto, Rome, 2012

Chestnuts in season are used to make some incredible seasonal foods including gelato, castagnaccio – a dense flat cake, and candied chestnuts.   Additionally throughout the region there are many chestnut festivals which offer a great excuse to take the train to the surrounding countryside.

Cooking Roman Style – Papacelle Ripene di Carne (Stuffed Peppers with Meat)

Cooking Classes in Rome, 2013Chef Andrea, Cooking Classes in Rome, Trestevere, 2013

One of the most rewarding experiences you can have in Rome is takeing a cooking class.   Meeting liked minded foodies from around the globe and preparing and sharing a meal is enormous fun and hopefully an adventure that you will bring home and share with your friends.   WARNING: It can be addictive!

On my fourth class with Chef Andrea we prepared a menu of stuffed figs, homemade cavatelli with pesto, stuffed peppers, sauteed cauliflower, and a pear torte.   My favorite recipe from this particular class is below and fairly easy to make.

Cooking Classes in Rome, 2013
Papacelle ripene di carne (Stuffed peppers with meat)

Ingredients to serve four people:
  • 1 lb ground meat (70% beef and 30% pork, ground and minced) Use prosciutto sausages if you can find them, if not use plain unseasoned sausages (casings removed)
  • 1 egg
  • 1 cup/100g parmesan cheese grated
  • 1/2 cup/50g edamer cheese grated
  • freshly chopped parsley
  • 3oz leftover bread soaked in milk (crusts removed)
  • 1 tbsp salt
  • 4 to 6 peppers depending on size (in class we used papacelle which are smaller and flatter than the bell peppers we most often use in the states.  Try to use peppers such as this or other peppers that are in season where you live – Note: smaller sized peppers are better)
Instructions
  • Heat oven to 350°F / 180°C
  • To prepare the filling mix sausage, parmesan cheese, eggs, grated cheese, leftover bread soaked into milk, salt and pepper.  Mix all the ingredients well and set aside for a good half an hour to let the flavors meld.
  • Wash the peppers and cut a small hole in the top around the stem, saving the piece you cut out.  Clean out the seeds, rinse and set aside
  • Stuff the peppers one by one and place onto a baking dish, replacing the small piece you cut from each pepper on top.  Add a little bit of water and extra virgin olive oil to the bottom of the pan to avoid burning the peppers.
  • Cook for about 15 to 20 minutes depending on the size of the peppers, until cooked all the way through.  Turn the pan carefully in the oven once or twice to ensure even cooking all the way through the peppers.  Serve hot.   Buon Appetito!

Stuffed Peppers, Cooking Classes in Rome, 2013 

How Many Caravaggio’s Are There in Rome? – Creating Your Own Walking Tour

Caravaggio, San Giovanni Battista, Galleria BorgheseSan Giovanni Battista (1609-1610 ca.), Caravaggio, Galleria Borghese, Rome

I am not sure there is an exact answer to this question.  Art being what it is there are always new discoveries and works that for years have been debated as being attributable to one artist or another.  However if we take Wikipedia as our authority the answer is 27.  Two of these are in private collections leaving 25 to be visited.

There are many many more of Caravaggio’s works in Italy proper including Cremona, Florence, Genoa, Messina, Milan, Naples, Palermo, Prato, Syracuse and Vatican City.   Additionally many of the worlds renown museums have a Caravaggio within their collections.

As many times as I have been to the eternal city I have never seen all twenty five paintings by Caravaggio but I have certainly made an effort to see many of them.   If you are looking for an adventure for yourself, for visitors, or for your family,  setting out to see all of Caravaggio’s works is one of the best.  There are many adjectives to describe his work as well as the painter himself.  Neither Caravaggio or his paintings are polite but both are intensely moving and leave you thinking.

Many times on visits to Rome I think about something I am interested in: Bernini statues, oblesiks, fountains, remnants of the ancient aqueducts, places in Rome featured in movies – and then I set off to see as many of them as I can.  This is a great way to learn about the history of the city, become more familiar with the city, and discover all sorts of new favorite destinations.

Be adventurous and create your own walking tour!!

Capers – One of My Favorite Ingredients

Wild Caper Plant, Vatican City, 2013Wild Caper Plant, Vatican City Walls, 2013

I suppose I never gave much though to where capers came from except to say off the shelf of my local Italian Grocer.   In the back of my mind I thought in some way they were related to olives and must be cultivated in the same way.  Well, I have certainly been learning a lot on this trip to Rome!

The discoveries that await you in Rome are multi-layered to say the least.  On a recent walk around the walls of Vatican City I was amazed to discover that one of my favorite ingredients for cooking, capers, grows willy-nilly in the cracks and crevices of just about every surface in this city.  Just look up as you walk pass by a stone wall, under an arch, or as you visit some of the most famous landmarks in the Eternal City.  You will undoubtedly see a caper plant.  All these wild capers are not looked upon with favor as they wreak havoc on the surfaces in which they grow, however I certainly find them intriguing!

Day Tripping – Rome to Arezzo

Ancient Forest, Camaldoli, Apennienes, TuscanyAncient Forest in the Tuscan Apennines, home of the Sacro Ermo , Camaldoli, Italy, 2012

Arezzo located in Tuscany in central Italy is about 190 km to the northeast of Rome near both Siena and Florence.

Several ways to get to Arezzo.  Take the train from Roma Termini station or rent a car and drive (recommended). Depending on the specific train It takes between 1 hr 15 min and 2 hr 33 min. The Eurostar is fastest and most expensive (29.50 euro); the regional trains are slower, but cheaper (11.70 euro).  By car take the A1 Autostrada and expect to spend 2 to 3 hours depending on traffic.

Described by Livy as one of the Capitae Etruriae (Etruscan capitals), Arezzo (Aritim in Etruscan) is believed to have been one of the twelve most important Etruscan cities.  The historical center is easily walked and many will recognize the Piazza Grande from the movie, A Beautiful Life.

We were fortunate to stay with friends who are living in Arezzo and spent an entire day outside of the city driving the back roads to two places that I highly recommend visiting if you can, The ancient hill town of Poppi and the Hermitage and Monastery of Camaldoli (Sacro Ermo).  Both places are incredibly beautiful!!

Poppi offers amazing vistas from the Castello dei Conti Guidi.  You can climb the bell tower if you don’t mind heights and if you time your climb to the hour you get an extra surprise.  Additionally the the ancient library contains incredible printed volumes.

The hermitage and monastery founded about 1012 by Saint Romuald, a Benedictine monk,  is situated in the National Park of the Forests of the Casentino in Tuscany and is accessible by walking (recommended – 4 km total) or car.  Make sure you visit the old pharmacy – originally a laboratory where monks studied and worked with medicinal herbs.  You can still buy a variety of herbal remedies.

Driving through the hills of Tuscany is an amazing experience for the senses!  Make sure you bring your camera and your appetite.   Buon Viaggio!

Celebrating Italian Holidays – Ferragosto

Emperor Augustus, Via dei Fori Imperiali, Rome 2013Emperor Augustus, Via dei Fori Imperiali, Rome, 2013

Assumption Day on 15th August is when all Italy, or so it seems, stops work to celebrate.

What Italians are actually celebrating on that day is actually quite interesting because the festival has elements of both the ancient and Christian worlds.

The term Ferragosto is derived from the Latin expression Feriae Augusti (Augustus’ rest), which is a celebration introduced by the emperor Augustus  in 18 BC.  The present Italian name of the holiday derives from its original Latin name, Feriae Augusti, “Festivals or Holidays of the Emperor Augustus”.

The popular tradition of taking a trip during Ferragosto arose during Fascism. In the second half of the 1920s, during the mid-August period, the regime organized hundreds of popular trips through the Fascist leisure and recreational organizations, and via the setting up of the “People’s Trains of Ferragosto”, which were available at discounted prices.  The initiative gave the opportunity to less well-off citizens to visit Italian cities or to reach seaside and mountain resorts. The offer was limited to the 13th, 14th and 15th August, and comprised two options: the “One-Day Trip”, within a radius of 50-100 km, and the “Three-Day Trip” within a radius of about 100–200 km.   For many families, it was only during these trips that they saw the sea, mountains, and Italy’s many artistic marvels for the first time. Moreover, since the trips did not include food, the connected tradition of the packed lunch arose.

The Roman Catholic Church celebrates this date to commemorate the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary—the actual physical elevation of her sinless soul and incorruptible body into Heaven. Before the Church came into existence, however, this holiday also included honoring of gods—in particular Diana—and the cycle of fertility and ripening, during the time of the Roman Empire.