Weekend Food – Roman Delis: Kiss My Mozzarella

“Kiss mine,” or a dialogue something like that happened in the 18th century between Nick Salvi – the guy mostly responsible for the above Trevi Fountian – and a barber who didn’t much care for Nicola’s handiwork, and wasn’t shy about saying so. You can still see where said barber’s shop was in the above photo. It’s the shop behind that irregular outcropping in back. That’s of course because Salvi obliged the barber’s reticence with a special deviation – a cup sculpted into a rock large enough to block the loose-tongued Figaro’s view.
Salvi died before he could finish his fountain, and I’m pretty the barber’s been dead for a quarter millennium or so. But their story, the fountain, and Salvi’s “Kiss my ass. Big time,” remain. Not quite in the same vein but not so far off either is Salumeria Ciavatta, about 50 feet or so away on Via Lavatore. The shop’s been around since 1956. Not quite as long as the fountain but seeing how mass tourism has changed the economy and notions of quality on the Via Crucis, (see earlier posts), it’s amazing not only that it’s still in business but that it still tries to bring some of the best quality and least known Italian and European agricultural products to light. It’s surrounded by all the nick-knack, false ‘Italian’ supermarkets, bad ice-cream parlors and pizza-slice take-away joints that have opened up in recent years. And Ciavatta admits that despite his best efforts he often ends up having to throw nearly the entirety of some shipments of exquisite cheeses and the like in the trash as they rest unsold in his shop. But he keeps slugging away.
If you happen to be close by on Thursady afternoon, please pass by all those other cheap tourists traps. Plop into the shop, tell him a freind recommended that you pick up some of the freshest, most flavorful Mozzarella di Campagna DOC that will have just arrived that morning. Then go sit near the fountain, open the package and slowly start eating. As you see all the other Japanese, Korean, Russian, German, Irish, Chinese, etc, tourists chomping on their fake gelato or poor pizza slices, let the undescribably satisfying flavor penetrate your mouth and nose. Glance over at Salvi’s ‘Ace of Cups’, barber-defying sculpture and smile.
(And, if you know any other good delis in Rome, please let us know.)
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Weekend food: Raclette – Valais

link – becoming a raclett-eur in Sion:  http://www.rts.ch/video/info/journal-12h45/4873423-minimag-des-cours-de-raclette-existent-desormais-a-sion.html


It’s best in the early evening, after a long walk up there, way beyond the noise and scents of the valley, maybe along paths you’ve gone on many times before but they’re never the same, changing from hour to hour as the light shifts, as the clouds bring shadow, as winter snow melts or a hot summer sun makes the rocks more golden or bright or gray or sugar white. Then before night comes with all the light above, the milky way, the clear sky that you never get to see anymore unless you live up there or in the desert somewhere, the easy, sweet air, the bells of the Herens cows somewhere off where you can’t see, place some rocks in a circle and light up the fire as the sun just begins its dip for the night. Have a drink or two once you’ve put the potatoes on to bake, fingerlings, maybe  slice of dry meat or chunky, rustic salami.


You don’t need many words. You’ll be feeling similar things, all of you sitting tired and serene after the paced hike, wether 2 or 5 or 8, it’l still be a deeply pleasing moment. Then once the potatoes are cooked you take the pickled onions and open another bottle of Fendant, the one Emile or Davide or Richard made from the small patch of vine on the mountainside below and out comes the half round of cheese, Raclette, a local one made from the milk of cows high up in their summer grazing grounds. It’s a potent smell of leaves and fertile soil and flowers, a melange of odors waiting to come together wafting off the deep cream color, solid and heavy and rich. Set it down in front of the fire until a layer begins to melt away. Then lift the round and with a broad knife slush the melting, now harmonious mix into a plate and then slice gently back up for the slightly caramelized rind. Pass the plate to the first, who will grab a hot potato, slice it through and add a good bit of cheese, maybe grate some black pepper on top first. The cheese and tuber dissolve as he chews, nourishing and generous, as if the mountain itself were giving a quick massage, an approval of the day. Then he drinks a sip of wine and as the next plate comes for the the next layer of bubbling, melted raclette.

Soon enough it’ll be your turn. For now, you can wait with serene patience. Like the mountain.




Weekend Food: Strange Magic – the best baristas in Rome

Strange magic – the best baristas in Rome

You couldn’t come up with better names for two of the best baristas in Rome, each in his own way: Angelo and Marcello. Marcello is special, that is, what he does is special. He works behind the counter at Sant’Eustachio (see earlier post: coffee paradise), probably the place where they make the best espresso, even the best coffee, on the planet. (That is the opinion of this quasi-fanatic, condemned by a tongue that insists on distinguishing bitter flavors – like the kind you find in coffee – despite the wanted relative indifference of the head in which it resides.) The coffee-espresso emulsion they make there is always superb, excepting for a few short months a few years ago when they most likely had problems with one or two of their suppliers. (Most likely the rapid rise in the price of all coffee beans led those producers to stop giving a crap about quality, seeing as they could make a killing with pretty much any bean.) But when Marcello makes the espresso – he mans the machine on the left as you enter the bar, about 55 years old, in fairly good shape, elegant proportions, long but attractive face, short salt and pepper hair – it’s something else: a dreamlike foam, a Murakami book, a Puccini aria from the last act, the first warm breezes of a heat wave, the first musical phrases of a Beethoven symphony. At least, if you have the tongue to taste it.


Angelo instead works across the river in bar/pastry along the Tiber called Antonini Gran Caffe, a place that is often filled with smug bastar…, er, I mean government lawyers and noted politicians. It’s one of the few places downtown where the flavors are almost nostalgic. That is, things taste like they did 30 years ago, flavorful and satisfying. Not so much the bakery part of the bar – Romans just don’t get sweets and pastries. To do them right you actually have do things like measure, show discipline and consistency. When the ice cream is so good, the weather so fine, dinner so satisfying…why bother? But on the bar side of the locale, with its good selection of sandwiches and tramezzini and deep-fried delicacies, it’s a real pleasure. Marcello, to, is about 55, shorter than Angelo and as thin as a weed. And he, to, has short salt and pepper hair, though with less salt and more pepper. He doesn’t use many words, doing much of his communicating by frequent subtle signs of his hands, eyes and head.  But if you watch him working behind the bar for about 10 minutes, you can’t help but realize he’s the guy that makes the place work so well. He examines and sniffs the food to make sure it’s up to snuff, points to where this drink or that rice ball has to be served, makes the espresso… like a Steven Nash, a point guard from whose hands all the action begins. Essential to maintain quality. A bar sommelier.

   Who knows why – (ok. Anytime you see a sentence that begins with ‘who knows why’ you can pretty much rest assured you’re about to read the most banal, rhetorical or stupid of crap, or all three at the same time, of the kind I most likely am about to put down here,) – Angelo and Marcello have such similar expressions in their eyes. It’s a look that at the same moment contains both tiredness – of the day, of life, – and the deepest of intentions. I mean intention in a sort of Castanedian way, something deep, solid and massive as wrought iron, something that implies more honorability and authority than an Alpine  mountain. And both have a lively intelligence in their gaze, Angelo particularly, and seem to always be ready to look at you straight in the eye not with emptiness or from behind a working mask but because…they’re ready to share, because they can. Who knows why they’re where they are, modest barristers behind a bar, creating their small magic instead of, well…and well what? In a courtroom? In parliament? Maybe magic doesn’t have a measure. Anyway, I, at least, am grateful to them both. We all should be. People like Marcello and Angelo add a bit of delightful flavor to the world.

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Le Bombe. E La Montanara (friday music)


Sigh. Nel 2005 abitavo da solo in un piccolissimo appartamento in un borgo Abruzzese rusticamente grazioso. La mattina scendevo, uscivo dalla ruva (vicolino. Si chiama Labirinto. L’allusione e troppo ovvio e azzeccato. Almeno era allora,) direttamente in piazza per magna’ una bomba da quelle parti, fresca fresca e con una quantità’ di calorie da sfamare il totale degli animali, uomini inclusi, nel sub-Sahara per una settimana. Ma ero in forma col corpo – era prima che mi sono incasinato sto’ cavalo di piede sinistra. Per cio in genere magnavo due.

   Dopo pigliavo’ il motorino blu per scendere al mare, quello a cui appartengo – l’Adriatico su quella costa. Dal borgo c’era la panorama piena, l’aria dolce-salato, e man mano che si avvicina alle onde la lingua usato, le parole, cambia, letteralmente, avvicinando a sua volta al Italiano. (Su usano sti’ ritmi e cadenze e parole che riflettano il borgo. A sentirli sembra di annusare un piatto di spaghetti alla chitarra in ragù di agnello cotto da un Francese.) Fino al mare stesso, che ha una lingua sua.


   Suppongo che il luogo dove cresci abbia un forte impatto sulle lingue che gli animali, uomini inclusi, usano. Non solo per parlare sia con la bocca che con i gesti ma tutto quello che sei, dove ti metti internamente e come ti deve esprimere. E ‘cresci’ nel senso lungo dello sviluppo, ovvero fino al ultimo delle tre fasi grossi dove i geni trovano lo spazio necessario per cercare di cambiarti, di avere un influenza sul dialogo contesto – te in modo determinante. La panorama. Gli odori. Le forme. La geometria. Le persone. Gli animali. Il verde. Il mare.


   Il mare ha il suo tempo diverso delle montagne. In quest’ultimo sei in qualche modo chiuso dentro forme più larghe di te, le distanze visivi sono diverse. Sei più piccolo, più contenuto e meno solo. Devi accettare, come un pescatore in una barca nei vecchi tempi, quello che fa la natura, quelle forme enorme. Il mare visto dalla terra ferma e come avere sempre qualcuno con te. Entra in tutte le relazioni ma rimane distante nel suo impatto diretto, in qualche modo. Non la devi accettare e non ti fa diventare più piccolo. Nei primi casi sei spesso fuori in un contesto così inevitabilmente più grande di te. Non e così in città’, o in aula, o in un ufficio su i piani alti con sotto la Mercedes che t’aspetta a portarti in un altro luogo chiuso e protetto, anche noioso, anche se chiuso fuori nelle vie più cari con negozi dove compri cose, cose dimostrative, o nei resort sui mari più cari dove ti portano da bere o ti fanno un massaggio.


   I montanari spesso non sono molto frivoli, diciamo. Ma quasi sempre sono di un onesta’ ormai rarissimo. Non t’inculano, e non si vendono. Come possono. Fanno parte di una montagna così immensa e solida. E usano parole le più pratiche possibile. Quelli delle aule, della città’, della vista sul mare da terra ferma o sulla città’ dai piani alti invece non. Non fanno parte della montagna, del mare. Usano parole che corrispondono a niente, astrazioni su astrazioni. Le città, i mari, sono, dal punta di vista di quegli dei piani alti, da terra ferma, parte di loro. Percio e il mare che deve subire il loro tempo – il presente senza memoria – la montagna che deve subire le loro azioni. Ma… la montagna sarà li anche dopo. O la distruggi, e non ci sarà niente. Ma il mare non. Si può avvelenare, ma non distruggere. Ha sempre la sua giustizia, usando una lingua tutta sua. Che comprende tutte le nostre. E che e inevitabile.

La Montanara: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wONwwvhNI2A

Le Bombe: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HfIQduXSOLw

Weekend Recipe: Uncle Silvio’s Baked Pasta with Mozzarella and hard-boiled eggs: Abruzzo (video)

There’s no denying the cliche: returning to the sea is a bit like coming home. The other day I popped over to the Adriatic coast, Abruzzo, to attend to a couple of things and see some familiar faces. The rock barriers there in some places come right up close to the beach. I couldn’t resist the temptation to wade through a few feet of sea to climb onto one. Once over the top and seated on the other side, the side facing out to the sea, everything seems more quiet. The cautious mini crabs scrambling around beneath, the various small fish that swim around the barrier in different colored and sized schools, the tranquil sound of the easy waves that reverberate in the rocks, the hues of blue and green under the sun, the endless horizon, take away much of anything else on your mind. It’s where we come from. So I got a little wet. But despite it being on the cost, Abruzzo isn’t really a seaside region.

It is a necessary background though, the sweet-scented Adriatic – (nowadays rather more filthy than a few decades ago and flattened on its floor, far beneath the water line, from all the heavy fishing nets.) But just walk a few hundred meters away and there begins Abruzzo proper. Strong and gentle … and stocky. Beautiful, but not the beauty of, say, the Alps – that can take your breath away, if you’re susceptible to it, without, as it were, even trying. Abruzzo’s beauty is not for everyone. Every corner is not a picture-postcard as certain more famous places in Tuscany or the lakes in the North. It’s not snobby, not chic. Let’s say that if Saint Tropez or Portofino are for you, you probably will not find your earthly heaven here.

Its beauty instead offers you the best of itself. It will let you into its forests, rivers, mountains of pure rock, even its wooden fishing huts, ‘trabocchi’, which seem almost like expressions of fatalism on this coast of west Europe’s greenest region. Strong and gentle, that’s Abruzzo. It’ll touch something solid inside, if you are willing to let it.

As will many of its people, (although things are changing there as well. The bi-forcation of resources: socialism for the wealthy, a sort of corporate fascism for the rest of us. Oh brave new world…) The men in these parts after a certain age begin to resemble the territory from which they came, even when they emigrate. Their faces take on more and more the appearance of the shapes of the rocks and mountains, their bodies often become a bit like the trunks of trees, low but broad and strong. They grow old well. Women often posses more or less an infinite supply of physical energy and are loaded with practical intelligence, kind of like Madonna. Which is to be expected. They worked hard here, nothing for free. And they still work, when they can find work. You need hearty food for all that hard labor.

Uncle Silvio, Silvio is affectionately called by 99.7 percent of the inhabitants of his town – the last .3 percent not yet only because they moved in last Wednesday and don’t know him yet – is a classic Abruzzese. Honest, hard worker. Won’t ever try to screw you. We’re not in Rome. Here they still fight over who has the honor to pay the restaurant check, not the other way around. Uncle Silvio doesn’t eat fish, and rarely goes to sea. But the pretty hill-top village where he lives has a pure and sweet view right onto the Adriatic that lightens all the other burdens of life. Silvio is always ready to give you the best of himself and his cuisine. Authentic stuff, traditional flavors, of great substance. And calories. You may think, after eating lunch or dinner at his place, that eating is the main Abruzzesan activity during weekends. It isn’t. Digesting is. But with pleasure. And with a view of the Adriatic Sea, always present, a substrate on which the Abruzzo rests.

For the baked pasta:
360 grams of short, thick pasta (like mezze maniche or rigatoni, paccheri, etc.)
Salt & pepper

2L. of tomato passato or around 20 skinned and cleaned tomatoes
broth or other liquid
2-4 sausages
1 chunk of beef, 3-400 grams (under-shoulder or other 2nd category cut, something with fat – but good quality meat)
1 chunk of lamb, 200 grams 1/-
200 grams or so of ground round or mixed hamburger meat
4 boiled eggs
1-2 mozzarelle
1 onion
dry red wine, 1 glass
2 celery stocks
2 cloves garlic
EV olive oil
1 bay leaf
Parmigiano cheese
serves 4

The ragu-stew as usual, brown the ground meat first in some oil on high, lower and add the chopped falvoring (garlic, celery, onion) add the wine and up the heat again, then add the tomato, salt and pepper, then the meat chunks and herbs to taste (bay or thyme or even nothing at all. It’ll still come out delicious,) lower the burner to the minimum of the minimum and let it go low and slow for…., …, … the more the merrier, at least 2-and a half hours stirring now and then and adding liquid as needed. When the sauce has dissolved itself into something lovely red and glistening, with an almost pornographic scent, the meat trembles at a wooden spoons touch… boil the noodles in salted water and the eggs in water with a bit of vinegar. Slice the fresh mozzarella into happy-sized slices, quarter the eggs when they’re done and mix them with the cooked noodles, then spoon in the ragu sauce and mix. Grate some parmesan – real parmigiano though, no, no, no, no Kraft, not ever – and shove the casserole into a hot oven, about 180 degrees celsius, 10-15 mn. or so and if you want some crunch plop on the grill setting near the end for a few minutes – but be careful not to burn. Accompany with a decent Montepulciano d’Abbruzzo and don’t worry about cooking the next day. Not because you’ll still be full but because the solids work great with the remaining sauce as a main course of leftovers. Tonight, in the unlikely event you have any space to left, take a deep breath and…
for the chicken and peppers:
2-4 chicken legs
1 bell pepper
2 potatoes
2 garlic cloves
EV oil
Salt and pepper
white wine (about a glass)

…oil and season the legs and potato chunks, place them in a casserole and shove’em in a hot oven 170 degrees celsius or so.  10 min, then in goes the wine. 10 minutes, then in go the whole cloves lightly crushed, rosemary in peices but still on the branch and thick slices of peeled and cleaned bell pepper. 10min, check the birds and spoon over some of the sauce forming below in the casserole. 10 minutes or so more check again – they’re likely done. The kitchen by now will smell, as it does in Silvio’s, like… home. (Well, if you’re from the the central-south of Italy…)