Archives for the month of: November, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving everyone! I’m sad to be away from home today, especially since I’m in a country that, in general, could not care less about Thanksgiving. I figured today would be a day of work and eating mashed potatoes (the true star of any Thanksgiving table) on my own while watching Thanksgiving episodes from favorite TV shows.

A little depressing.

So I decided to turn it around. I left work at noon, and met my friend Allyson at an American bakery called Sweety Rome, with the sole intent of finding and consuming some pumpkin pie.

They did have pumpkin pie, but it was half the size of a normal pie, covered in crushed pistachios (not OK), and cost €30. Not happening.

To console ourselves, we turned to the case of pastries and, in addition to some questionable cupcakes, I spied a cheesecake brownie. I deemed it a satisfactory substitution (for the moment), and Allyson settled for a coconut brownie, and we sat and ate, while listening to a bizarre cover of Bohemian Rhapsody that was blaring through the sound system.

After putting away the brownies, we still had a little time to kill, and we hadn’t given up hope on the pumpkin pie. So we headed for The Perfect Bun, crossing our fingers that they would come through.

Well, they knocked it out of the park. Not only did they have full-sized pumpkin pies, they had miniature pumpkin, pecan, and apple pies! The Thanksgiving Trifecta. Allyson bought one of each to take home to her host family, but, ever in need of instant gratification, we decided to split a mini pie right there.

Since no one can make better pecan pie than my mom, and I wanted to buy a pumpkin pie to take home and eat later in the evening, we chose the mini apple.

It was so good! The crust was flaky and not too sweet, and the filling was cinnamon-y and not at all soggy. We got our much-needed dose of Thanksgiving and I headed back to work.

Now I’m home and I’ve got a solid line-up of episodes to watch, a glass full of Diet Coke, and a mini pumpkin pie just waiting to be devoured.

I did ask my family and some of my friends to send me pictures of their Thanksgiving dinners, and provided they don’t all forget, I’ll share those tomorrow!

Have a wonderful Thanksgiving!

p.s. My friends and I are planning our own little Thanksgiving meal for this Sunday! I will share the disastrous/delicious results early next week!

Gnocchi (or gnocchetti, as the smaller ones are known) can be made of a variety of things. Potato gnocchi are perhaps the most popular and well-known variety, especially in America. Other options include semolina flour, wheat flour, and ordinary flour + egg.

These are made of potatoes and deliciousness, and although potato is technically a vegetable, there was a mysterious voice inside my head that told me to add another vegetable to this dish.

I lied, it wasn’t a mysterious voice. It was my mother’s voice.

Regardless, I needed a more credible vegetable, and I turned to zucchini. Its credentials include: being green (automatic sign of legitimacy in the realm of veggies), being crunchy, and adapting well to many different flavors. In my kitchen, potatoes and zucchini are like Ross and Rachel. They do sometimes see other ingredients, but somehow they always seem to end up together.

This dish comes together fairly simply. By putting the zucchini in the pan with no oil/butter at first, and letting it cook most of the way, less oil is absorbed by the zucchini overall.

Once the “naked” zucchini has cooked by itself for 6-8 minutes, take it out of the pan and put it aside. Then add 1-2 Tbsp. of oil to the pan, plus a clove or two of garlic, and either a whole dried chili or some chili flakes. Once the garlic is lightly browned and the kitchen smells amazing, throw the zucchini back in, then the pasta, salt to taste, add some cheese, and call it a day.

It is finally getting a little chilly in Rome! Not cold, not mid-November weather by any means, but enough to induce the occasional shiver and demand long sleeves. Of course, the Italians are bundled up like Eskimos, in full-length down parkas and scarves and gloves, huddling for warmth as though they are trekking in the Arctic, when in reality it is 57°F and sunny.

They aren’t the only ones feeling the chill. The birds of Italy seem to have clued in to the impending cold season, and have begun migrating South accordingly. Each evening, I look at the sky and see thousands and thousands of birds swarming in and out of various formations, none of which resemble the “V” shape that I was taught to expect. And because this is happening every day, I can only assume that a) there are LOTS of birds here, or b) they are getting lost and doubling back. Either way, it makes for a pretty amazing sight:

Gnocchetti with Chili-Garlic Zucchini recipe

  • 1 serving of gnocchetti (I hate putting a measurement on this, because everyone eats different amounts of pasta)
  • 1 zucchini, diced
  • 2 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed
  • 1 Tbsp. + 1 tsp. olive oil (I used a chili-infused olive oil, but extra-virgin would work too)
  • 1 dried red chili pepper OR 1 tsp. dried chili flakes
  • salt to taste
  • 2 Tbsp. grated Pecorino Romano

Sauté the diced zucchini in a pan for 6-8 minutes, or until the zucchini begin to look cooked (but not very brown). Transfer zucchini from pan into a bowl, and set aside.

In the same pan, add olive oil, chili and garlic, and heat on low until garlic begins to brown.

Boil gnocchi in water – be careful not to overcook or gnocchi will become very mushy. (Note: it is also possible to add uncooked gnocchi to the olive oil, and sauté it, but boiling is a slightly healthier option.)

Once garlic is browned, add zucchini back into pan, along with boiled gnocchi, and toss together. Add salt and cheese and combine. Serve while hot!


Rome is beautiful and exciting, but sometimes a little too chaotic for this small-town girl to handle. In situations like this, a day-trip to Assisi with a few friends is just what the doctor ordered. So this past Saturday, Becca, Allyson, Jordan and I headed out to explore this beautiful town.

Assisi is a 2-hour train ride out of Rome, and is known for being the birthplace (and final resting place) of San Francesco (St. Francis), the patron saint of Italy. In addition, Santa Chiara (a contemporary and friend of San Francesco) lived and died here as well. Each of these saints has their own basilica in the hillside town of Assisi, and in fact, the basilicas were built in such a way that they face each other, as a tribute to the friendship they shared in life.

Because Assisi is built on a hill, once you arrive at the train station, you have to catch a bus (or a taxi) to get to the actual town. Our first stop was the basilica di San Francesco.

The basilica was built in 1228, and is divided into two parts; the upper basilica and lower basilica. The upper basilica contains a series of frescos depicting the life of St. Francis. The lower basilica contains chapels, as well as a series of frescos depicting the life of St. Catherine of Siena (the other patron saint of Italy). Below the lower basilica is the crypt, where St. Francis is buried. Visitors are able to walk around the crypt, but photography is not allowed, so if you want to see it, you’ll have to go there yourself!

Once we had had our fill of St. Francis, we turned our attention way up to the fortress at the top of the hill, called the Rocca Maggiore. I should mention at this point that it was foggy and rainy, and for that reason I have no photos to show for our beautiful (and painful) hike up to the top.

From the top of the Rocca Maggiore, you can see everything (or you can take a few obligatory photos and then squeeze your eyes shut and pretend you are not up so high). The above picture is a view of the basilica of St. Francis, as seen from the top of the Rocca Maggiore.

This is one of the remaining outer walls of the fortress. You can actually walk inside this wall to get to that far tower. While you’re doing that, you can take advantage of the fact that the weather has driven every sane person indoors, thus leaving you and your friends all alone in a giant castle. Now is a good time to start pretending you are Indiana Jones.

Our next stop was the basilica di Santa Chiara. When we got there, the whole piazza was completely obscured by fog, as were all the breathtaking views of the countryside. Luckily for us (or probably because of us), the sun came out within 2 minutes, and the views were amazing. Inside the Santa Chiara, you can see the tomb of the saint herself. More interesting than that, however, were the display cases that contained the actual clothes that Santa Chiara and San Francesco wore! They even had a pair of San Francesco’s stockings that had a few drops of his blood on them (according to legend, St. Francis was the first Christian in history who received the stigmata), and a few locks of Santa Chiara’s hair – she was a curly-haired blonde, if you’re curious.

San Francesco, Rocca Maggiore, Santa Chiara. These are basically all of the main things to see in Assisi. But what did we eat in Assisi?

On our way down from the Rocca Maggiore to the Santa Chiara, we were soaking wet, shivering, and starving. We wanted food and shelter, and our standards and expectations were low. We stumbled into the first restaurant we found (I never actually caught the name of it, sorry!), and we were so excited to see pizza margherita for the low, low price of €4.90. Once again, we were all reminded of just how expensive Rome really is. In Rome, you won’t find a pizza margherita (always the cheapest, most basic pizza on any menu) for less than €8. And even then, there’s no guarantee it will be good. This pizza was GOOD. The crust was impossibly thin, and the cheese:sauce ratio was perfect. Well done, Assisi.

With the weather showing no signs of improving, we wanted to linger in the restaurant a little longer. In order to avoid dirty stares from the waitress, we decided we’d better order something else. Enter cioccolato caldo (hot chocolate). I think we were all expecting something similar to the milky, drinkable concoctions we get back home, but what we were brought was completely different. The best way to describe it would be piping hot chocolate pudding, only better. I suppose if you really wanted to, you could pick up a cup of this and drink it, but a spoon is really a better approach. It was rich and chocolatey and amazing – the perfect cure for a rainy day.

After we were done seeing the Santa Chiara, the rain had let up, but it was still a little chilly and gray, and we had a couple of hours to kill before our train. Pastries and cappuccino just seemed like the obvious solution, you know?

We walked a little ways up the Corso Mazzini (which seems to be one of the main streets in Assisi) before we found the Gran Caffè. They had a decent selection of gelati (but that’s not what we came for, people), and a seriously impressive pastry selection. They also had an adorable seating area in the back, and we each picked our beverage and pastry of choice, and took a seat in the cozy back room. I chose a cannoli and a cappuccino, and while the cannoli turned out to have lots of weird neon chunks of candied fruit inside, the cappuccino was perfect.

On our way from the pastry shop to the bus stop, we stumbled upon a free olive oil tasting. Right in the middle of one of the piazzas, a friendly old man was toasting pieces of bread, rubbing them with garlic, sprinkling them with salt, dousing them in olive oil, and handing them out to anyone with enough elbowing skill to manage to get to the front of the crowd. The Italians are good at elbowing. We were better.

Once we had each consumed a disgusting delicious amount of olive oil, we finally caught our bus, only to discover that we had missed our train by a few minutes. Luckily, there was another train in a couple of hours, and we finally made it home exhausted, sore, stuffed, and shivering – all in all, a great day!

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.