Wednesday, 17 February 2010

roman holiday - food tour

This is my foodie tour of Rome, and it's going to be one mega-long post.

After our holiday in Sweden, Jonas and I spent one week in Rome. As expected, it was a food paradise and we enjoyed so many local specialities.

The trip was further enriched by the sense of nostalgia I felt walking through the city again.

Ten years ago I lived in Rome as a nanny for a wonderful Italian family (Paola and her kids Jacopo & Ludovica, collectively named PaJaLu). Now those kids are 23 and 21 yrs old (!!!) and I’m an old married lady. Times have changed but after spending time together again, I realised we get on just as well as we did when we lived together. Paola is just like a second mother “mia mamma italiana” and i ragazzi are like my little brother and sister. It was so nice to be with them again.

View of Piazza della Rotonda from our hotel

So both the touristing and the family moments on this trip were rich and exciting and nostalgic. And of course the food just rocked.

Speaking Italian again for the first time in years was pretty fun too, and after two weeks in Sweden I was surprised how easily I switched from Swedish to Italian, and how much Italian I remembered without realising it!

But now onto the food . . . .

Porchetta is a Roman specialty made from a hog roasted on a spit with herbs and wild fennel. The man who prepares the porchetta is known as a porchettaro, and I was lucky enough to meet one at PaJaLu’s local supermarket as he carved up the meat. I chatted to him for a while and he was so proud that I photographed him at his work. I was just as honoured to eat the delicious results at lunch!

Can you imagine anything more wonderful than a mozzarella bar? There are two in Rome, part of a chain of nine locations including London, New York and Tokyo. Obiká provides a range of Mozzarella di Bufala Campana (a DOP cheese made of buffalo milk) and Jonas and I made sure we tried all four:
Paestum (delicate taste)
Pontina (stronger taste)
Affumicata (smoked)
Stracciatella di Burrata (sweet and creamy taste)

The stracciatella di burrata was my absolute favourite, with strings of delicious cheese in an oozing cream infused mass. Burrata is one of the most wonderful cheese experiences you can have.

The Colosseum

Carciofi alla Giudia translates to Jewish-Style Artichokes, and in the Roman context this means deep fried so the edges are crisp and crunchy while the interior and heart are still wonderfully soft.

A square in the Jewish Ghetto

Stracetti con Rughetta is a typical Roman dish consisting of fine strips of veal, sautéed then topped with fresh rocket and grated parmesan. The rocket wilts and the cheese melts and the whole dish is simply wonderful. This particular photo is without cheese, because I ate it in a Jewish restaurant, and cheese with meat just ain’t Kosher.

Paola is responsible for my addiction to bresaola (air-dried beef). She buys it the day we eat it, sliced so thinly it almost tears, then topped with parmesan, a drizzle of olive oil and a squeeze of lemon. PaJaLu laugh when they watch me eat it, drenched in more lemon juice than it ought to be. If you don’t eat pork, bresaola is the perfect replacement for jamón or prosciutto.

The elusive, delicious, pungent truffle. Can you believe how expensive they are!!! €120 for 100g (3½ oz) of the black ones then €582 for 100g of the white!!! Wowzers.

Puntarelle is a type of Italian chicory served regularly in Rome. The curly tips are soaked to soften a little, yet retain their crunchiness, then served with olive oil and lemon juice. It’s very bitter, but deliciously refreshing and a favourite since ancient times.

Statue on Ponte Sant’Angelo

Pizza in Rome is served paper thin, just the way I like it. Although this is a wood fire version from a tavern, pizza al tagliato is my favourite afternoon snack: cut to size then sold by weight, wrapped in grease paper and eaten folded over on-the-go.

This photo is a healthy portion of the high-calorie, damn tasty Gnocchi Gorgonzola. I’ve made my own version before, if you want the recipe.

View of St Peter’s Basilica

Pasta e Fagioli (pasta and beans) is a vegetarian Roman pasta soup, thick and meaty in consistency. It’s the perfect winter meal.

Spaghetti Cacio e Pepe is a sauce of freshly ground pepper and pecorino cheese mixed with steaming hot pasta and a little cooking water to form a sauce. I’ve made it before, if you want the recipe.

Roman pasta “alla amatriciana” is a rich, salty sauce of tomato, pancetta and onions. Somehow the versions I’ve eaten in Rome taste so much better and moreish than those in Australia. I can’t even begin to explain why, they were just much, much better. Unlike this photo, usually amatriciana sauce is served with bucatini, a pasta slightly thicker than spaghetti with a hollow interior.

Once upon a time my favourite gelataria was Gelateria di San Crispino, but since I last visited in 2005, this beautiful artisan gelateria has franchised and their delicious flavours have become dull and flavourless. It was such a disappointment! The bergamot sorbet Jonas ordered was quite divine, but our other choices were not very exciting.

Instead, I returned to the delicious fruit sorbets and chocolate based gelati of Gelateria della Palma (pictured above). Their creamy flavours are so-so, but their chocolate range (nutella, choc-orange, choc-raspberry, choc-coconut, choc-mint, rafaello) are intense and divine! As are their citrus and berry sorbets, my favourite being pompelmo (pink grapefruit). And how convenient that Gelateria della Palma was around the corner from our hotel!

Although they were closed during this visit to Rome, I also have to mention two suburban gelaterie that I love: Gel’Istria and Gelarte (both near Rome’s largest park, Villa Ada). Gel’Istria makes wonderful granita di fragola (strawberry ice) and yogurt di fragola (strawberry frozen yoghurt) while Gelarte makes an unusual, unique flavour called Frutti della Luna (moon fruits) made from scoops of gelati like wood berries, melon and cream all piled on top of each other in balls.

The Trevi Fountain – throw in a coin and make a wish

Jonas and I were on a coffee quest in Rome. After suffering through Swedish coffee, I was more than ready to taste the real thing again and decided to drink only espresso in order to enjoy it more fully. Our favourite caffè turned out to be a tiny little bar in Piazza Colonna called Caffè Ferrieri, operated by a young cashier and an old barista pumping out the most delicious coffee.

We also enjoyed an excellent espresso at Bar del Cappuccino di Santoro, on Via Arenula (on the way to Trastevere). The big coffee disappointment came from Rome’s most famous coffee bar, Caffè di San’Eustachio. The crema was too thick and the espresso a little burnt. Not worth all the hype.

If you’re not into coffee, then try an Italian hot chocolate or “cioccolato caldo”. You cannot imagine just how thick and rich they are compared to most milky hot chocolates from around the world. They’re more like a runny chocolate custard.

View of ancient Roman ruins from the Palatine

Around Easter time, the city explodes with delicious bigné (profiteroles). Choux pastry pumped full of flavoured custards like strawberry, vanilla, chocolate and pistachio. As you can see, I’m partial to chocolate.

The ciambella is an Italian donut, yet it’s texture is much lighter and fluffier and the sugar coating is enriched with lemon zest rather than cinnamon. Too good and an old breakfast favourite of mine.

After a night out on the town, Romans head to Lambiase Antonio in the small hours of the morning. This not-so-well-kept secret is given away by the lines of people waiting to descend the stairs into the bakery to buy hot sorchetta doppio schizzo. Sorchette are circular croissant-like pastries, and in this case they are oven-fresh and topped with whipped cream (panna) and your choice of schizzo (swirls of molten chocolate). The shop is on Via Cernaia, pretty close to Termini, so tourists won’t find it too difficult to locate.

I haven’t been a big fan of Campari, but on this holiday I became very fond of the Americano, a cocktail made from Martini Rossi (vermouth), Campari and soda. It was a refreshing aperitivo and worked perfectly with savoury snacks in the afternoon.

My favourite building in Rome, the Pantheon

So, what are our recommendations:

Bar Ferrieri (Piazza Colonna 356)
Tiny cafe serving the best espresso we tried in Rome.

Bar del Cappuccino di Santoro (Via Arenula 50)
Unassuming cafe selling wonderful coffee on your walk through the Jewish Quarter or on the way to Trastevere.

Wine Bars & Pubs
Ombre Rosse
(Piazza di Sant'Egidio, 12)
Happening Trastevere pub with artisan beers and free aperitivo buffet.

La Vinoteca di Mimi e Coco (Via del Governo Vecchio 89)
Cute bar on lively lane near Piazza Navona

Antica Enoteca (Via della Croce 76)
Old school wine bar near Piazza di Spanga. Good selection of cheese and salame.

Vineria Reggio (Campo dei Fiori)
Cool, casual drinking spot attracting thirsty locals. Great people-watching venue.

Best dinners
Sergio delle Grotte (Vicolo delle Grotte 27)
Absolutely delicious no-fuss trattoria pumping out wonderful roman pastas like cacio e pepe or amatraciana. Close to Campo dei Fiori.

Il Portico (Via del Portico d'Ottavia 1)
Delicious Roman-Jewish food in a picturesque piazza.

Ai Balestrari (Piazza dell'Unità 27)
Traditional Roman taverna close to the Vatican Museums.

Gelateria della Palma (Via della Maddalena 20)
My favourite gelateria in central Rome. Their chocolate flavours and sorbets are particularly excellent.

Lambiase Antonio (Via Cernaia 47)
End your night out by eating the sweet sorchetta doppio schizzo with Roman locals.

Palombini (Piazzale Konrad Adenauer 12, EUR)
Famous pastry shop and cafe set in the modern architecture of EUR.

Statue on Capitoline Hill

I've made a Google Map for those of you keen to see more. It includes the venues listed above, as well as a few others we visited on this trip.

View Roma in a larger map

Sunday, 14 February 2010

strawberry & white chocolate mousse

Sometimes being a blogger is pretty wonderful, and one of those occasions was when Green & Blacks offered me some samples of their delicious organic chocolate. They didn’t just want me to eat it, although that would have been pretty good, they wanted me to cook with it and see how I found the results.

What can I say? This chocolate tastes amazing on it’s own, so it tastes just as wonderful cooked into desserts.

Today, for Valentines Day, I made Jonas this fruity mousse. The pretty pink colour is a tribute to the Lovers’ Day and the vanilla infused white chocolate enriched the velvety mousse perfectly.

It was a match made in heaven.

Strawberry & White Chocolate Mousse

Anna’s very own recipe. Serves 2.


250g strawberries
1 tablespoon Cointreau
½ cup whipping cream
100g white chocolate
2 teaspoons agar agar


1. Wash and hull strawberries. Purée with Cointreau in blender.

2. Heat strawberry purée over a medium heat until bubbling.

3. Add agar agar and stir until dissolved. Place saucepan in a bowl of ice water and allow to cool (but so much it sets).

4. Melt white chocolate and set aside to cool a little.

5. Whip cream until stiff peaks form.

6. Add cooled white chocolate and whip through.

7. When strawberry purée has cooled, whip into cream-chocolate mixture.

8. Divide into serving dishes and refrigerate for a minimum of 3hrs before serving.

I used Green & Blacks white chocolate which is infused with vanilla beans.

Stay tuned for other Green & Black’s organic chocolate recipes, or just go out a buy a bite size bar for yourself. They are delicious just on their own too.

Tuesday, 9 February 2010

tab tim grob - thai dessert

Tab Tim Grob (ท้บทิมกรอบ) is also known as Tabtim Grawb or Tup Tim Krob, but in English it’s known as Red Rubies.

This Thai dessert, made from water chestnuts, is a seemingly weird combination to serve in a sweet course, but surprisingly it works very well.

Although water chestnuts are usually served with savoury dishes, they don't have much flavour on their own so their wonderful crunchy texture takes on the sweetness of the surrounding coconut milk.

Be brave and this dessert will reward you.

Tab Tim Grob (Thai Water Chestnut Dessert)

Recipe from Serves 4.

250ml coconut milk ice
220g canned water chestnuts
185g white sugar
185ml water
Approx. 4 tablespoons tapioca flour
Few drops jasmine or rose essence
Few drops red food colouring
¼ teaspoon salt
Sliced jackfruit, for serving
Crushed ice, for serving


1. Halve canned water chestnuts into bite sized pieces.

2. Put into a bowl and add just enough cold water to cover. Drop food colouring into the water, stirring, until there is a strong red colour.

3. Add a few drops of rose essence.

4. Leave water chestnuts to absorb the colour for 15-20 minutes. When the water chestnuts have absorbed enough colour, drain in a sieve.

5. Meanwhile, dissolve sugar and water in a saucepan to make syrup. Allow to cool.

6. On a sheet of paper spread the tapioca flour and roll the pieces of water chestnut in the flour until well coated. Put the water chestnuts in a dry sieve and shake off excess flour.

7. Bring a saucepan of water to the boil. Drop into the boiling water and cook until the pieces rise to the surface. Lift out on a slotted spoon and drop immediately into a bowl of iced water.

8. Mix the coconut milk with the salt.

9. In each serving bowl or glass pour some of the syrup, then spoon in some water chestnuts. Gently pour in some of the coconut milk, scatter in a few slices of jackfruit and last of all add a spoonful of crushed ice. Serve at once.

This is my contribution to Weekend Herb Blogging, but I have already blogged about water chestnuts in the past, so forgive me for stealing from my own posts:

The Chinese water chestnut Eleocharis dulcis is a sedge (water grass) that grows in freshwater swamps, marshes and flooded rice fields. Its tubular, leafless stems can grow to 1.5 metres tall, although it is cultivated for its corms.

In fact the white corms remain crisp even after cooking, making them popular in Western-style Chinese food. The corms can be eaten raw, boiled, grilled or pickled. They can be even ground down to make flour.

Nutritionally, the water chestnut is rich in carbohydrates as well as dietary fibre, vitamin B6, potassium, calcium, iron, potassium and zinc. But watch out – uncooked fresh water chestnuts can pass on Fasciolopsiasis, an intestinal infection caused by parasitic flukes (worms).

Water chestnuts grow in many varieties across China, South East Asia, India, Polynesia, New Guinea and northern Australia. In the Northern Territory, the native Australian variety is small, sweet and a food source for millions of birds.

For other WHB recipes, check out the recap from my blogging pal, Chris from Mele Cotte.

Saturday, 6 February 2010

swedish christmas fare

Jonas and I recently came home from a lovely Christmas and New Years in Sweden.

It was my first winter Christmas, and luckily it was very, very white! In fact it snowed beautiful, large flat snowflakes for days. Combined with bright blue skies and no wind at all, the -15’C (5'F) didn’t seem that cold at all.

We spent Christmas in Lindvallen (Sälen) at the ski fields with Jonas’ mother and stepdad, older brother (+ his wife and two sons), his older sister (+ her fiancée and daughter) and his younger sister (+ her boyfriend). We stayed in three lovely little stugar (cabins) that even had two bastur (saunas). It couldn’t have been more lovely and picturesque.

But the fun didn’t stop in Sälen, because after we relocated to Stockholm, we stayed with Jonas’s father, stepmother and little brother and sister and spent New Years Eve setting off fireworks on the frozen edges of Lake Mälaren. We went for long walks on the thick ice and it was my first time walking on a frozen lake, feeling it shift and groan and shudder (scary).

In fact, this was the first time I had properly been in snow.

As a two year old my grandparents took me to the Snowy Mountains but I sat on the car bonnet and watched everyone else playing in the man-made ice. Then, when I was 10, on the way home from a school excursion our bus past a snowy field and they let us out to play for an hour. Then finally, when I was a 19yr old nanny, I watched my charges go up and down an artificial-snow slope in northern Italy. I stood on earth, they skied on snow.

That was the extent of my exposure to snow.

So this holiday was amazing. I was in snow, touching snow, being snowed on. I even got waist-deep in the stuff. There was so much of it, most of it lovely and powdery.

But I know you just want to know what I ate, so here’s the foodporn (and some travel porn too).

These are the cabins we stayed in.

How can you go to Sweden without eating a plate of Swedish meatballs? This was really husmansmat (traditional food): a generous portion of beef meatballs with rich gravy and served with preserved lingonberries (like cranberry sauce), pressgurka (slices of fresh cucumber dressed in a light vinegar) and boiled mandelpotatis (or almond potatoes, a speciality of northern Sweden). We ate this particularly fine dish of food in Saluhall.

Many visitors to Sweden are too narrow-minded to eat sill (pickled herring), and they’re really missing out. Most sill dishes have a sweetness from the dressing (senap – mustard; inglad – onion or matjes – spices) and a soft saltiness from the fish. I just adore pickled herring with boiled potatoes. It’s hard to beat.

Skis lined up at Lindvallen's popular slope, Gustavbacken.

Jonas’ sister, Helena, made this cake of almond paste and dark chocolate. It was simply delicious.

The smoked reindeer meat was very strong and I’m not sure I liked it. I think I prefer fresh reindeer or dried reindeer jerky over this type of smoked meat.

This is Jonas's little sister Maria, walking across a frozen Lake Mälaren.

Roast moose is just great. It has a strong gamey flavour like venison, but it’s really moreish and juicy if cooked right. A new favourite meat!

Everyone should know this tasty, famous delicacy: gravlax. Lax means salmon and gravad means buried. The dish is made from curing raw salmon in covering of salt, sugar and dill.

An afternoon stroll across fields outside Stockholm.

This game sausage is great. It’s strong-flavoured, soft-textured and has a fatty mouth-feel that you know is bad for you, but you just don’t care.

Glögg (mulled wine) is an extremely important part of a Swedish Christmas. It’s always served warm with almonds and raisins added, and pepparkakor (ginger biscuits) on the side. We drank our glögg at 3pm while watching Kalle Anka och hans vänner önskar God Jul, and ate cookies, fudge, chocolates and julskum too.

Snow falling on New Year's day.

Lingonberries are popular at winter time, and a nice hot bowl of porridge sweetened with preserved lingon is wonderful.

Ostkaka is a type of Swedish cheesecake, flavoured with bitter almonds and, in this case, served with cloudberry jam and whipped cream.

The rustic charm of Dalarna's unique fences.

Jonas’ dad and stepmother made a great mushroom dish by taking dried chantrelle mushrooms and frying them in butter. The mushrooms soak up some of the butter and soften a little, but they retain the concentrated intensity from the drying process.

This shot was a delicious discovery, introduced by my two sisters in law, Helena and Tove. They said Hot Shots were very popular drinks at ski resorts in the 1990s and, after tasting them, I can understand why. Yellow galliano, hot coffee and thick cream are layered in a glass and I admit it was very difficult for me to get the whole thing down in one go. But it tasted delicious!

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