Rome, Part II: Sweet & Savory
I went to Rome. And I visited the Colosseum, the Pantheon, the Forum, Campidoglio and Campo dei Fiori. But I know what you’ve all been asking. What and where did I eat ?!
Even though my lists only had addresses for gelato, chocolate, torrone, pastries and breads, remember, I wasn’t alone on this trip. So I did sort of have to eat some savory. And hey, it’s Italy… land of pasta, pizza, prosciutto, mozzarella and more. I was okay with that.
If Rome had a vegetable as its emblem, it would be the artichoke, hands down. Carciofi was the first Italian word I learned while there. We saw it on every menu in all shapes and forms: below left as Carciofi Romana at offal eater’s heaven Checchino dal 1887, and below right as part of an antipasti salad at Roscioli, which should be on every gourmet’s radar. But it was the deep-fried artichoke that interested me the most. When I was first in Rome in 1999, I wasn’t able to spend much time in the Jewish Ghetto, as it was completely blocked by construction. So when i returned in 2001 with a friend who had lived there, we went right there. After a tour of the synagogue that left my mouth wide open in awe, we then went to fill it at Da Giggetto, perhaps the most well-known restaurant on the main street, Via del Portico d’Ottavia. You can’t miss Da Giggetto, there are mountains of artichokes out front.
And so, after plates of prosciutto with fresh figs and grilled gambas, we had the famous Carciofi alla Giudia, Jewish style artichokes. There’s proof below, bottom right, on a page in my travel journal. (The recipe and links are at the very bottom of this post.) I found myself once again craving that fried artichoke last weekend, remembering its extraordinary mix of textures – dark and super crisp leaves that come apart and almost resemble potato chips, with a surprisingly tender center.
However, you don’t need to go to the Jewish neighborhood to have them (even though I was so hoping to get to Nonna Betta, but that will be for the next trip), as my friend, Rome local, fellow foodie and list maker, and wine aficionado Hande of Vinoroma showed us. We had a fantastic alfresco lunch together at Roma Sparita in Trastevere that began with fried zucchini flowers stuffed with cheese and anchovies, and… fried artichokes (above left). That was a stellar meal, with the sun shining down on us on the terrace, a view over Piazza di Santa Cecilia – and the plates of food that made everyone smile: cacio e pepe (tagliolini with cheese and lots of black pepper), ravioli with oxtail ragu and mussels.
Up and down the streets of Testaccio and Trastevere we went, in and out of boutiques that are Hande’s regular haunts… local markets with more varieties of pork products and tomatoes than I have ever seen, a spice and dried fruit shop with the freshest, most fragrant hazelnuts and a fine food shop with cheeses displayed like jewels in the window. My husband, Olivier, and I downed caffè (him) and glasses of vibrant blood orange juice (me) and found ourselves with slices of pizza in our hands from Hande before we could even ask what we should get. My lists stayed in my pocket and I enjoyed the thrill of being with someone that knew the city intimately, its food scene and the people behind it all. It was a fun, informative and very delicious day !
Ask my husband his favorite treat on that whirlwind foodie walk, and he’ll say the Nutella pizza. Need I say more ? For me, it was the palmiers at Innocenti Biscottificio Artigiano, a place I had underlined and put stars around on my Rome sweets list. There was no way I was going to miss a 100 year old biscotti bakery with 50 types of cookies. We asked the friendly lady there to put together an assortment for us, with one of each variety, and perhaps two of a few that looked extra tempting. An entire bag of those palmiers – also known as elephant ears and as I just learned, pig ears too – somehow disappeared that day.
I know what you’re thinking… where’s the gelato ?! When I was in Venice, I took it upon myself to find the city’s best gelaterie. I think I need to return to Rome and do the same, as my findings are incomplete. After all, how many times can you have gelato in one day ? We managed 3 or 4, which is a pretty good start. We went to the famous, upscale San Crispino, where the gelato is hidden in metal containers below the counter. Meringue chocolate chip, honey and pine nut were favorites there. When Nick Malgieri tells you to go somewhere for gelato, you go. To Giolitti we went, another chic address. It was coffee and wild berries for me, while Olivier got fantastic pistachio and dense, fudge-like Nutella (notice a theme on his part ?!) with panna (whipped cream) on top. After numerous other gelato shops and scoops devoured, my favorite place was…?
Della Palma, partly for nostalgic reasons as I discovered it near the Pantheon back in 1999, partly for its 100 different flavors ! If you dream about gelato in Italy, you are probably picturing this place. Sculpted mounds of gelato you just stare at in the glass cases, with flavor upon flavor, each one more tempting than the last. After numerous visits here, I’d recommend the mint stracciatella, pistacchio croquant, honey pine nut and coffee. I have a feeling you already know Olivier’s favorite… Nutella.
In between gelato tastings, there was another place I had my heart set on: Pasticceria Il Boccione (Forno del Ghetto), a centuries-old, family-run Jewish Roman bakery. I was heading there for their Pizza Ebraica, a sweet creation in fact, with almonds, raisins and pine nuts (recipe here). When we were told by neighbors that it was closed all week, you can just imagine my disappointment. Hande to the rescue ! She sent me right to Il Mondo Di Laura, a cute, very pink biscottificio down the street that had just opened a few days prior to our visit. I almost forgot about that pizza. Almost.
Following a lively discussion with the woman there about Laura’s online baking success story, cookies they’ll be making kosher for Passover and the possibility of shipping to Zürich, I walked out with numerous little plastic bags of almost every variety of biscotti (Raggi di Sole with raisins and sesame seeds, Lovely Coffee shortbread, Rosa Bianca butter cookies spiraled with meringue…). My favorites: Pepitas and Miss Cioccolatissima. The former was a dark round chocolate shortbread cookie with a touch of Himalayan sea salt, reminiscent of Dorie Greenspan‘s World Peace Cookies. The latter was a super soft, chewy chocolate cookie coated in powdered sugar with a special ingredient that made it just that much more addictive: coffee liqueur. I may just have to ship those to Switzerland… for research purposes, of course.
I’ll still have to return to Rome one day, way too many sweet addresses remain unchecked.
What’s your favorite gelateria or sweet address in Rome ?
Carciofi Alla Giudia (Jewish style artichokes)
copied from my travel journal in 2001, most likely a card from Da Giggetto restaurant
Remove the outside green leaves of artichokes and cut the core up to the white part. Using a sharp, pointed knife, out them in a spiral shape, starting from the core towards the top, so as to eliminate all the tough parts. Salt the artichokes and then fry them with a lot of oil: they have to float in oil. After 20 minutes, remove the artichokes and open them like a rose. Put the artichokes back in the pan and fry them for two minutes on a high flame. Drain the artichokes on a perforated pan and serve very hot.