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Return from Italy Part 2
Saturday, November 6, 2010
I love being quoted and given credit. Who wouldn’t? Here’s a little You Tube interview with a former intern, Alexis Brock, where she actually credits me with starting her career. She’s is now a sommelier and on her way to the highest degree in the wine world, Master of Wine.
I’m thinking that a trip to Chicago is way overdue for several reasons, but the food reason would be to visit Spacca Napoli, Jon Goldsmith’s Neapolitan pizzeria in the Windy City. Jon and I met by chance at Azienda Seliano several years ago. Who knew he was a fan of “Naples at Table,” which is how he came to stay at Baronessa Cecilia’s. I just happened to be there when he was there. After a couple of meals together, I was as impressed with Jon as he is with my work. Among other heavy research he did for his pizzeria, he spent an entire year in Naples learning how to make la vera pizza napoletana, the real deal, from master pizzaiole. Here’s a link to his blog and website, where he says I inspired a new dish on his menu.
As a bonus, while reading his latest blog entry, you’ll get to hear Massimo Ranieri, an Italian superstar, sing one of my favorite Neapolitan songs, ‘I Te Vurria Vasa.
MORE ROME RESTAURANTS
I really need to update my Rome restaurant guide on TheFoodMaven.com. I have so many new recommendations, including Da Bruno, which I wrote about last week. I also loved – at first bite, which was about a year ago -- Osteria Pistoia, in Monteverde Vecchio, the neighborhood just beyond Trastevere. It’s somewhat out of the way for tourists. It’s about 20 minutes by tram (1 euro) from Largo Argentina, the center of the historic center, and then a few blocks walk off the main drag, Circonvallazione Gianicolense. I spend time in Monteverde because my dear friend Iris Carulli lives there, and I often eat in the neighborhood because it is a nice middle-class area with good, very Roman restaurants that don’t cost as much as those in the high-rent historic center. It’s pretty much the same situation as New York. You eat in Midtown, you pay an arm and a leg for mediocrity. You eat in a borough other than Manhattan and you can eat better for less.
So, on my recent trip, I went back to Osteria Pistoia, at Piazza Madonna delle Salette, 13-14 (06.58203381). It is not a bargain exactly, but it is very fairly priced for such a stylish contemporary restaurant. We spent about $50 a person, including a good bottle of wine, Paternoster’s Synthesi, an Agilianco from Basilicata, which is available in the States, selling for more at retail here than we paid in the restaurant, $20.
Pistoiaserves Roman dishes that have been ever-so-slightly contemporized – cucinarevisitata, revisited cuisine, Italians might call it -- mostly in a good way. I have to admit that I generally prefer strictly traditional food, but I very much enjoy Pistoia. The recipes are tweaked just enough to give them new interest, and they are presented in a more contemporary style. Italians in general are very seasonal cooks, and here the menu changes daily, according to the market. Scrawled on a black board that over the year since I’d been there, the menu has grown to cover the entire length of the longest wall of the restaurant.It’s hard to read through – you can’t see the antipasti if you are seated near the second course part of the menu -- much less make a decision about. There are so many tempting choices.
We were four and took four antipasti to start. The tiny baby octopus, no bigger than an infant’s pinky, were served in “guazetto” in a gentle, simple brothy tomato sauce. The only tiny twist in a very good parmigiana of eggplant was that it was made with smoked mozzarella, which isn’t even really a twist, as I know plenty of Neapolitan cooks who’d add smoked cheese to their parmigiana when that’s what they have around. A “millefoglie,” of salt cod, what an American chef would call a “napoleon,” was a puree of the fish sandwiched and stacked between slices of potato and roasted tomato.
It is hard to find plain old spaghetti in a Roman restaurant (ditto, in New York), Bob’s favorite, so he had to make do with rigatoni for his very porky Amatriciana, not only strongly flavored with guanciale (cured pork cheek) but with crisped pieces of the thinly sliced meat on top. I had pasta and beans (I needed the --- uh, hum – roughage), which I was seasoned too tamely for me, but was much improved when I added a good hit of hot red pepper, happily provided by our very patient and delightful waiter.
(Let me digress a moment: Nearly 10 years ago, I wrote a story for the New York Times magazine about how spaghetti had nearly disappeared from most “fine dining” Italian restaurant menus in the U.S., although it still reigned as the most popular pasta shape in the world. Apparently, we have not yet completed that cycle. Bob and I are still waiting for spaghetti to make a comeback. Along these lines, my friend Michael Whiteman, the international restaurant consultant, has just published his food and restaurant trends notes for 2011 and leading the list is the comeback of Italian-American cooking, which certainly would include spaghetti.)
I am not going to go on with the complete Pistoia menu, because I have other Rome restaurant news for those of you who would never leave the historic center.
One of my favorite old-time trattorias, Sora Margherita, in the Jewish quarter since 1927, but not kosher, is holding up well, although it is now listed in so many English-language guidebooks (see them arrayed on the tables) that you will undoubtedly be in a room full of English speakers, as I was. Even my favorite waitress, Tiziana, has learned to manage in English. Only a few years ago, she didn’t know a word. I don’t care if Sora Margherita has become a tourist place. I still get the best artichoke alla giudea I know of. I follow that up with their crudely formed but delicious meat-stuffed agnoletti with chunky meat ragu, and a plate of sensational lamb scottaditto, a word that means “burn finger,” which gives you permission to pick up the hot meat and nibble it off the bone. Veal meatballs with peas is always another possibility.
Sorra Margherita has no sign outside, but to mollify the tourists, there is now a small blackboard menu outside and the door, which is now covered with a fuzzy red string curtain to make it obvious. That’s all that distinguishes the entrance at 30 Piazza delle Cinque Scole, which translates to Five Schuls Square, because there were at one time five synagogues here.
Whereas there used to be only one truly kosher (and truly terrible) restaurant in the Jewish quarter, there are now several new and snappy looking places supervised by the Beth Din of Rome. I didn’t get to eat through them, so to speak, but at Kosher Bistrot, Via Santa Maria del Pianto, 68/69, which is the absolute center of the quarter’s commercial strip, I tried a sandwich of unusually moist and well-cured goose thigh, the kosher answer to prosciutto, on a soft and yeasty square of Roman “white pizza,” a form of focaccia. I’d go back just for that, as a snack, and there were many other sandwiches, pannini, and other light fare, plus a few tables at which to enjoy the moment.
I didn’t have even a bite at the four-month-old, slick-looking and full-service (for lunch, dinner, cocktails, a snack) Sheva (the number 7 in Hebrew), across the street from Kosher Bistrot at Maria del Pianto, 1/B. Even using the excuse of research, I couldn’t fit in another bite after Sora Margherita. But I looked hard and critically and judging by the prepared vegetables on display, I will definitely give it a try when I am next in Rome.
WHAT I’M COOKING
My dear friend Rozanne Gold’s latest cookbook was just published. After I-forget-how-many 1-2-3 cookbooks, in which she created amazingly delicious food with only three ingredients, she has used a few more ingredients in her new book, Radically Simple, while keeping it, well, simple. Rozanne also has a new blog, too, where she’ll be sharing her more than 30 years of experience as a chef and home cook: http://rozannegold.wordpress.com. For instance, the Nov. 6 entry is about Cabbage and Noodles. By the way, Rozanne’s recipe is just like mine in Jewish Home Cooking, because we both learned to make it from the same person, her beautiful mother Marion. Here’s a recipe that I just bought the fresh ingredients for. It’s going to be a delicious week.
PORK LOIN IN CREAM WITH TOMATOES, SAGE & GIN
This is a riff on an Italian classic dish in which pork is cooked in milk flavored with juniper. You may augment the sauce by adding some dry white wine in addition to the gin. It's lovely with a platter of sauteed broccoli rabe.
12 fresh sage leaves 4 large garlic cloves 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil 1-1/2 teaspoons dried Greek oregano 2-1/2-pound center-cut pork loin, tied and lightly scored 1 pint grape tomatoes 1/2 cup heavy cream 1/4 cup gin, or more to taste
Process 6 sage leaves, the garlic, oil, oregano and 1/2 teaspoon salt in a mini processor to a fine paste. Rub all over the pork. Cover; let sit at room temperature for 30 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.
Heat a very large ovenproof skillet until very hot. Brown the pork on all sides, 5 minutes.
Scatter the tomatoes around the pork; cook 1 minute.
Pour 1/4 cup cream over the pork.
Roast 40 minutes.
Add the 6 remaining sage leaves, the remaining 1/4 cup cream, and the gin. Roast 15 to 20 minutes longer, until tender. (Arthur’s two cents: I take pork roast out of the oven when the center registers 145 on my instant-read thermometer. The internal temperature will increase at is stands.) Transfer the pork to a cutting board.
Place the pan on the stovetop and bring to a boil, adding more gin, salt and pepper until slightly reduced, 1 minute.