Archives for category: Rome

I can’t believe I have only a week left in Rome. After that, I’m off to Sicily with my family for a few days, then back to Rome for a couple days to finish packing and then…home. But Rome is home too, and the thought of leaving makes me way too sad, so let’s stop talking about it.

The real issue is that I have only a week left to figure out how to bring the Pantheon home with me. I figure I can disassemble it, pack it, and reassemble it in my backyard (Mom, would that be cool?). Because although I can (barely) live without the pizza and the pasta and the pidgeons, I’m not sure how to go back to living in a place where I cannot see the Pantheon at least once a week.

Rome is not exactly short on beautiful monuments and sights. In fact, one of the things I love most about this city is that all of its beauty and history is laid out in the city itself, no museums required. But out of everything, all the fountains and piazzas and churches, my favorite sight by far is this one.

The name “Pantheon” comes from the Greeks, and means “to every god”. The building was commissioned in the year 126 A.D. by Marcus Agrippa as a temple to the ancient Roman gods. The writing on the front, M-AGRIPPA-L-F-COS-TERTIUM-FECIT, translates to “Marcus Agrippa, son of Lucius, consul for the third time, built it.”

What we actually see today is not Agrippa’s Pantheon, but Hadrian’s. Hadrian rebuilt the structure on the site of Agrippa’s original temple, but retained Agrippa’s original inscription on the front.

Since the Renaissance, the Pantheon has been used as a tomb, housing renowned individuals such as the painter Raphael. The building is still used as a church, however, and masses are still held inside.

Its dome still holds the record for the world’s largest unreinforced concrete dome, and if you are lucky enough to be there on a rainy day, you can go inside and watch the rain fall through the oculus – it’s magical.

But let’s be real. It rains all the time in Rome, so getting to see the Pantheon in the rain is awesome, but not at all impossible. You know what hasn’t happened in Rome in the past 26 years? A significant snowfall. Not just a little flurry that is over in 30 seconds, but big fat snowflakes that blanket the cobblestones and cause the Romans to behave as though the Apocalypse is imminent.

That happened last Friday. I woke up to the aforementioned big, fat snowflakes, grabbed my friends, and ran to the Piazza della Rotunda to check out the Pantheon in all its snow-covered finery. Amazing.

One of the reasons I love this building so much is because it is simultaneously imposing and unassuming. Unlike the Colosseum, or St. Peter’s, there is no grand thoroughfare leading up to it, announcing its presence. It is more than happy to be tucked into its little neighborhood, thus allowing people to simply stumble upon it and stare in awe. Words just don’t do it justice.

As if this place wasn’t magical enough, the other night I was waiting to meet some friends in the piazza, and saw a lone cellist sitting in the only pool of light between the columns, filling the whole place with music. I’m. Not. Leaving.

Merry Christmas from Rome! Last night, on the way to midnight mass at the Vatican, I snapped a bunch of pictures of Rome in all its Christmas finery. Enjoy, and have a wonderful holiday!

Nativity and tree on Piazza Venezia (in front of Il Vittoriano)

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Italian flag lights on the via del Corso

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View of Piazza Venezia from via del Corso

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Lights on via dei Due Macelli (leading up to Piazza Spagna)

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Under normal circumstances, the only time the Spanish Steps are this empty is at around 4am. Normally this place is packed with people, both locals and tourists, and is one of the most popular (and, as a result, most inconvenient) meeting places in Rome.

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Beautiful lights on Via dei Condotti, perhaps the most expensive street in Rome. The street, which connects to via del Corso on one end, and the Piazza Spagna on the other end, is named for the conduits that once carried water to the Baths of Agrippa. Modern Italians with addresses on this street include Gucci, Prada, Valentino, Ferragamo, Armani, Fendi and Dolce & Gabanna. I’m pretty sure I get a little poorer just window shopping on this street.

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The via del Corso ends in the Piazza del Popolo

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Christmas tree above Piazza del Popolo

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Here we are! Christmas tree in Piazza San Pietro

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Nativity scene at St. Peter’s (sans Baby Jesus, because it was not yet midnight). I had to do some impressive elbowing and some moderate foot-stomping to make my way to the front to get this picture. Do as the Romans do, right?

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We did not have enough Papal pull to attend the actual mass inside the basilica, so we stood in the square with the masses and watched the whole thing on one of several screens stationed throughout the square. Please notice Santa Claus fleeing the scene!

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St Peter’s nativity scene post-midnight, now with Baby Jesus. It’s officially Christmas!

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View of Castel St. Angelo on my way home – not Christmassy, but still kind of spectacular

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Last, but not least, the tree in the Campo di Fiori

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Buon Natale!

p.s. Tomorrow I am leaving for Spain at the ungodly hour of 6:45 am, and I won’t be back until New Year’s, so my next post won’t be until 2012! Happy holidays!

It has been a while since I’ve posted anything new, I know. I have a good excuse. I was home for a whirlwind ten days that, in reality, felt like 10 seconds. I got to see my family, whom I had not seen in 3 months, including my little sister, who I had not seen in 4 months, since she spent part of the summer in Oxford being brainy and fabulous, rather than staying home, being bored and helping me pack for Italy.  She is growing up entirely too quickly for my taste, and it has gotten to the point where I can no longer help her with her math homework, because I barely understood that stuff when I had to do it. It feels like only yesterday she was learning about binomials and I was screeching terms like “FOIL” at her constantly, throwing crumpled pieces of paper at her when she messed up (please note, my tutoring services are available for hire).

I took advantage of my brief time at home to hit up as many of Ithaca’s Greatest Gastronomic Hits as I could, excluding all the Italian joints (with one notable exception*). I made it to Wegmans, Boatyard Grill, hibachi at Kyushu, multiple pizza bagels at CTB/Ithaca Bakery, Tamarind, arancini at Ciao*, and, of course, the heavenly deep fried potato wedges at my favorite restaurant:

I didn’t bring my camera home with me, and what we have here is a picture hastily taken with my phone. It had been three months since I’d had those potato wedges, and I wasn’t about to waste time taking a decent picture of them. Sorry I’m not sorry.

I did do some baking at home, taking advantage of long-forgotten luxuries like counter space and convection ovens and food processors and measuring cups. I made three (yep, three) key lime pies using this recipe that has never failed me. I made homemade poptarts filled with Nutella (post coming soon), and chocolate cupcakes with chocolate frosting for my sister’s bake sale.

Even though I couldn’t pack up my friends and family and bring them back with me, I was able to smuggle a little bit of home into Rome, in the form of a few comfort foods:

The cast of characters includes Annie’s mac&cheese (because everyone keeps saying it’s so much better than Kraft, but so far I just don’t see it), Kraft Easy Mac (in case I still don’t see it), Reese’s peanut butter cups, Lipton cream of chicken cup-a-soups (in case Rome ever does remember that it is almost November, and starts cooling down accordingly), Heath toffee bits for baking (and snacking while baking), apple pie spice, and real cheddar cheese so that I can make my own mac&cheese once I run out of the offending Annie’s and conciliatory Kraft.

I also brought back a measuring cup, measuring spoons, a zester, a mini cake pan, and my pastry bags and tips. Oh, and my old electric hand mixer that will be ready to retire soon, because I’m sure it (much like myself) would rather retire in Italy than in Ithaca anyways.

Ciao!

Pasta is like a blank canvas. It can adapt to all moods, all ingredients, and all seasons. You can open your pantry/fridge and start pulling things out, add some pasta, and just like that, what was once a motley crew of ingredients is now a meal.

Of course, as in any civilized society, there are rules that one can choose to either obey or disobey. For the most part, the rules are pretty intuitive, and at the end of the day the dish will probably still be delicious, even if you do pair capellini with meat sauce like some kind of unstoppable maverick.

I’m  not such a rebel, and anyways it’s still way too warm for meat sauce. I’ve been buying zucchini non-stop since I’ve been here, and using it primarily as a pizza topping and a side dish. Then I came across a Roasted Zucchini Pasta on Ezra Pound Cake, and I couldn’t believe I had never thought to combine my two addictions into one amazing meal. How (fu)silly of me (sorry, had to!)

I didn’t actually roast the zucchini, I sauteed it in a pan with some onion, sliced garlic, dill and crushed red peppers. Also, I didn’t use goat cheese or parmesan, but opted instead for some herb cream cheese that I had hanging out in my fridge. It turned out to be delicious, with a little subtle tang from the cream cheese.  Next time, I’ll definitely try it with the goat cheese though!

But look, there is more to Italy than delicious food. Especially here in Rome, history is everywhere. Even beyond the big tourist attractions, you can find little pieces of antiquity scattered in the midst of all the modernity. What I love about this city is that history is never sacrificed for the sake of building something new; they quite literally build around their ruins. One such example is Il Teatro di Pompeo (Theater of Pompey).

Considered the original Roman theatre, this site is most famous for the assassination that took place right here. The victim’s name? His followers called him Caesar, but his friends probably just called him Julius. Actually, if memory serves, they probably called him Julī , as per the rules of the Latin vocative case.

Nowadays, this site occupies the heart of the Largo di Torre Argentina. Surrounding it, however, are shops, restaurants, and a major bus and tram stop. Every morning as they board their buses to work, countless friends, Romans and countrymen can check out the location of the murder that has been so immortalized through art and literature. But they aren’t the only ones who love to gaze at these ruins:

The ruins of the theatre have also become a cat sanctuary, home to many Roman gatti. And you thought Broadway was the only place you could see Cats onstage!

Creamy Fusilli with Zucchini recipe (adapted from Ezra Pound Cake)

  • 1 cup dried Fusilli pasta
  • 1 zucchini, chopped
  • 1/4 white onion, chopped
  • 1 tsp. crushed red peppers
  • 1/2 tsp. dried dill weed
  • 1 clove garlic, sliced (minced or grated would also work)
  • 2 oz. cream cheese
  • salt to taste
  • olive oil for sauteing

Set pasta to boil. In a separate pan, add olive oil, then zucchini, onions and garlic. Saute for 1-2 minutes. Add red peppers and dill and continue to saute until zucchini and onions reach desired level of “done-ness” (I prefer both a little crispy, but if softer consistencies are desired, then allow both to cook for longer).

Once pasta is cooked, drain, but reserve 1-2 Tbsp. of pasta water in a separate dish. Combine pasta and sauteed vegetables, and immediately mix in cream cheese. The heat from the pasta and zucchini will melt the cream cheese. If pasta still seems a little too dry, add pasta water in small amounts until desired consistency is achieved. Add salt to taste.

Shocking revelation: finding a decent slice of pizza here is not a daunting task. It’s only too easy to step outside, walk a few feet, and find yourself at a place like Il Forno Roscioli, where you can get many different kinds of pizza al taglio (by the slice) for 2-3 euros a slice. Included in that price is the added satisfaction of watching the guy behind the counter use a giant cleaver to hack off your slice, when you and I both know that a pizza cutter or a pair of scissors would achieve the same effect.

There are two ways to eat pizza here. Pizza in pie form is typically reserved for sit-down dinners at restaurants. For lunch, pizza is sold by the slice, usually folded over like a panino and wrapped in an impenetrable fortress of wax and parchment paper. Sometimes I am too impatient to free the pizza from its papery prison, and that is the story of how I spilled a lemon granita all over my flip-flops! In the grand scheme of things, pizza trumps granita, and so it was all worth it.

But sometimes, I want to make pizza my way. With a little garlic, or some pesto maybe. A simple dough, a little homemade tomato sauce with garlic, rosemary and crushed red peppers, some freshly sliced mozzarella, and pesto from the Campo di Fiori, and I’m pretty much set.

A little spinach, or some caramelized onions next time would make this even better. I sliced the mozzarella pretty thinly, because I don’t like very cheesy pizza, but some of it ended up getting too dry in the oven, so next time I’ll leave it a little thicker. Other than that, no complaints…

…well, just one. When you make pizza at home, you are less likely to eat it while walking around. Which means you miss out on sights like this:

I am submitting this recipe to the Holiday Recipe Swap hosted by My Baking Addiction and GoodLife Eats, sponsored by Red Star Yeast! Be sure to check out the other delicious recipes that were submitted!

Pizza Crust Recipe (from Smitten Kitchen)

  • 1 1/2 cups flour
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 3/4 tsp. active dry yeast
  • 1/2 cup lukewarm water
  • 1 Tbsp. olive oil

Combine dry ingredients. Add water and olive oil and form dough into a ball.

Dump dough onto counter, making sure to get any residual flour from the bowl out as well. Knead dough for a minute or two. 

Grease bowl using cooking spray (or olive oil if desired). Return dough to bowl, turning dough around bowl so all sides are coated with grease. Cover bowl with saran wrap and let rise for 1-2 hours, or until dough is doubled in size.

Once dough has risen, sprinkle rolling surface generously with flour, keeping extra on hand. Knead dough a few times to deflate, then roll to desired thickness, sprinkling more flour when the dough sticks. Top with sauce and desired toppings and bake at 350° for 15-20 minutes, or until cheese bubbles and crust is golden-brown.

Pizza Sauce Recipe

  • 3/4 cup Pomi (or any other brand) tomato sauce
  • 1 clove garlic, grated or minced
  • 1/2 tsp. dried rosemary
  • 1 tsp. crushed red peppers
  • salt to taste

Heat tomato sauce in saucepan over low heat. Add garlic, rosemary, red peppers, and salt and simmer for 5-7 minutes. Remove from heat and spread on rolled out pizza dough. Top with cheese, pesto, and extra crushed red peppers, bake and enjoy!


On the site of what used to be Josephine’s Bakery sits The Perfect Bun, promising to satisfy ex-pats in Rome who are fed up with cannolis and sflogiatelle (like that could ever happen) and want a true American cupcake.  I found out about it because I was sick of cannolis and sflogiatelle and wanted a true American cupcake.

The website promised cupcakes, sticky buns, scones and…BAGELS. All of a sudden beautiful images of pizza bagels started swimming through my mind and I decided to check it out. In addition, the site said that the bakery has its own grocery section, containing American products that are next-to-impossible to find in the eternal city. My mind switched from pizza bagels to thoughts of light brown sugar and Kraft mac&cheese (I’ve got the blue box blues, you see), and I was totally sold. As if that weren’t enough, it is two blocks away from my apartment. I love it when I have to burn so few calories to consume so many!

Once I entered the shop (after accidentally walking past the non-descript, unmarked door twice), I was greeted with a cute little display of special-occasion cakes, made-to-order. So pretty, but I came for the cupcakes and bagels, folks. Moving right along.

The cupcake display case didn’t disappoint. There were 5-6 different varieties, including lime, vanilla, something with apples (the names were in Italian and I don’t remember the exact translation) and, of course, cioccolato. Unfortunately, the bagel rumor proved to be false, and I bought two cupcakes to console myself – the apple-something and the chocolate. I then turned my attention to the grocery section.

No light brown sugar, only dark brown sugar. That’s two dreams dashed. They do carry potato chips, Ziploc bags, canned chili, ketchup, mustard, maple syrup, and peanut butter, among other things. They also, unbelievably, carry Indian products. No Kraft mac&cheese for me, but I can buy all the curry vindaloo I want. Blasphemy.  Nevertheless, its good to know they have some of the essentials from back home. Let’s talk about the cupcakes.

I’m very picky about cupcakes, especially with regards to the frosting. I found the frosting on the apple cupcake to be a little too heavy, not the fluffy, light stuff I was hoping for. The cake itself was delicious though, and if they removed the icing, they’d have a seriously yummy muffin on their hands (and in my belly).

The chocolate frosting was also a little heavier than I was expecting, but I tend to be more forgiving of chocolate frostings, and thus will allow it. The cake was yummy and moist, and satisfied any and all cupcake cravings that I had been having. I didn’t get to try the sticky buns this time, but once the pain of the bagel/Kraft disappointment wears off, I’ll go back and check them out.

The Perfect Bun
Piazza del Paradiso 56
Rome, Italy, 00186

 

St. Peter’s square/basilica and I go way back. My first trip to Rome was in April of 2005, right after Pope John Paul II had passed away. I happened to be reading Angels and Demons at the time, so of course I was extremely knowledgeable about all of the steps that were being carried out at that very moment to elect a new pope. Of course, conclave or no, no trip to Rome is complete without a visit to Il Vaticano, which technically involves leaving the country. On any given day in St. Peter’s square, you will find hundreds of tourists snapping pictures of the famed basilica, or standing in absurdly long lines to gain entrance to the most important church in Christendom.

April 2005 was a little different. The basilica was closed, so there were no lines, and as a result the number of tourists lingering around was significantly reduced. There were rows and rows of folding chairs, largely vacant, and a haunting rendition of The Litany of the Saints playing over loudspeakers. Inside the Sistine Chapel, the College of Cardinals was in the process of electing their newest leader. I, of course, explained all of this to my family while surreptitiously looking around for abducted cardinals and canisters of antimatter. At my mom’s insistence, we took seats and listened to the prayers for a little while.

All of a sudden, other people nearby started exclaiming and pointing in the direction of the chimney of the chapel, where smoke started to appear. When everyone realized it was black smoke, the excitement died down (black smoke = no pope), and I resumed my reading.

Sometime during all this, the square slowly started to fill up with people from all over the world, often congregated into groups according to their nationality. Many of these groups were waving signs or flags, hoping and advocating for their country’s cardinal to be the new pope. Still the square was not that crowded.

Suddenly, people started exclaiming and pointing again – sure enough, more smoke. This time everyone was really hesitant for a minute, then someone shouted “bianca! bianca!” and then everyone flipped out. White smoke = POPE!!!

Within minutes, what seemed like the entire population of Rome swarmed on St. Peter’s square, even filling the Via della Conciliazione, the road leading up to the square. Bells started ringing and people were laughing and crying and snapping pictures like nobody’s business. This went on for maybe 30 minutes, then the big window in the center of the basilica opened, and everything went silent in anticipating of the big announcement.

Habemus papam.

And that is how Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger of Germany became Pope Benedict XVI.

Ok, now back to this trip, St. Peter’s 2011. Sadly, PapaRatzi was absent, spending his summer at Castel Gandolfo, as popes are wont to do. I guess I will have to catch the German Shepard next time.

Inside the basilica are numerous paintings and sculptures of religious and historical importance, as well as confession boxes and altars (it is a real church, you know). Perhaps the most famous sight inside the basilica is St. Peter’s baldachin (top left), designed by Old Reliable himself, Gian Lorenzo Bernini. Also of note inside the basilica is Michelangelo’s Pietà, of which I was only able to get two very blurry pictures.

Of course, when Michelangelo wasn’t busy creating famous sculptures and painting certain ceilings, he liked to try his hand at fashion design.

Here they are, those sexy sworn sentinels of Vatican City, the Swiss Guard, in the latest Ready-To-Wear line designed by Michelangelo himself.

Next time, I’ll visit the Sistine Chapel, although you won’t know because photography is verboten (tell that to a certain badass, photo-snapping mother of mine).

And because I hate to leave without mentioning food even once, check it out:

chocolate pasta!