Friday, September 13, 2013

Travels and Tastes of Italy - Rome

Every guide book on Italy will tell you: “ Beware of pickpockets and scams”, and honestly, getting scammed is part of the experience as long as it doesn’t cost you too much.  A guy working the Naples tolls into his own pocket rang every warning bell in my brain, I knew I was getting scammed as the 2 Euro toll cost me 12, unfortunately by the time I assembled all the gut feeling signs into a conclusion I was on the road, long past the tolls…. Oh well, it is part of the Italian adventure… thank god in was only 10 Euro worth….


Rome is Rome…. It is the city of cities, which endured thousands of years’ worth of history… grand, beautiful, dirty, touristy, spiritual, noisy, glitzy, chaotic, and very, very old…  So old in fact that when you are visiting the Coliseum and Palatine Hill you marvel at the splendor, the achievement, the advancement of that civilization…. How can it be that a civilization this advanced and evolved was simply forgotten, put to sleep for hundreds of years to be reinvented anew…
How can artists forget the craft of painting and sculpture, the engineers lose the ability to create magnificent buildings, build roads and bridges?  How could have the world plunged into the darkness of the middle ages?  And is our civilization doomed to the same fate?  Will archeologist uncover the I-pad a million years from now and marvel it’s advancement?  Will our skyscrapers invoke the same awe as the Roman forums?

Are all those tourists asking themselves the same questions or simply looking for a menu in their native language?

I swear, finding a decent place to eat in Rome is like searching for a needle in a hay stack.  The sigh of tour groups zipping through the main sites happily decentering upon any restaurant boasting a menu in their native tongue made me queasy.  I wanted something austenitic, Roman, not your 10 Euro compound Pasta / Pizza combo….

If you step away from the crowds just a bit and examine the menus with care you can still find great food in Rome. 
 It is known for its great fresh pastas, fresh to hold the richer sauces better… the wonderful Carbonara, the Amatrichiatta, the rich Bolognese….

And even here, the produce in season is the key….
End of August, beginning of September in Europe means mushrooms…. This is the time of year when my mother and I took a few days, just before school started and went away to pick Porcini.  This is the taste of my childhood, the taste that meant cooler nights, and shorter days, the crisp of new school uniform, the hearty soups during long cold winter….the strings of mushrooms drying on our balcony….it is a taste of fall…

The baskets of freshly picked Porcini were outside every restaurant   around the ancient center.  And when the waiter came to take my order I had only one request, I want those…. And keep the coming…

And they did... the beautiful fresh mushrooms, lightly grilled with just a touch of olive oil and garlic, slathered on toast of crispy bread, sautéed into a cream steak sauce…

If Romans did not have a dedicated Mushroom God, they should have… I would have worshiped him with delight.

There are many ways you can become homesick…. And with all of our love for travel after the two weeks were becoming restless, longing for the familiarity of our own beds, wider highways and stronger water pressure.  The glorious Italian food was growing tired and thoughts of Mexican and Sushi filled our heads…  For last lunch in Italy we came upon a Tuscan restaurant and happily devoured rabbit, hearty wild boar stew and suckling pig as the site of pasta and pizza was no longer bearable…. A last desert of fragolini with whipped cream and we were ready to park our tired legs on the plane home….
I have been forbidden from cooking Italian food for at least a few month but when I will make pizza and pasta again I will cook it while imagining the breathtaking views of the sea, the warm sunshine of Amalfi, the dizzying roads, the welcoming smiles of the people and the ancient streets…. And I bet a little of those thoughts will translate into my flavors….  Arrivederci, beautiful Italy, until we meet again!

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