UPDATE: Well, what can I say? I loved reading all of your comments, all the things you love about Rome. I love the same things ~ the fountains, the gelato, the little restaurants tucked away on side streets. I also love the parks ~ Villa Borghese, Villa Ada (near where my aunts used to live). Such oases in the middle of the city. I hope we all have a chance to get back there soon. Thank you for participating. Our randomly chosen winner is Marsha! Congratulations!
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If travel to Rome is on your itinerary this summer, do yourself a favor and pick up a copy of Elizabeth Minchilli’s new book.
Eating Rome: Living the Good Life in the Eternal City is not a guidebook in the conventional sense; instead, it’s a highly personal account, part memoir, part love letter (to the city and its food, and to her husband, Domenico), part observation and commentary on Roman (and tourist) etiquette.
Don’t worry; there are plenty of lists and insider tips on where to get the best gelato and the best pizza. But the book also pays homage to other quintessentially Roman foods, from artichokes to zucchini romanesco, with a good bit of attention paid to offal, which the author unabashedly loves. The chapters cover topics from how to shop in the markets of Rome to eating in trattorie, from which foods you may or may not eat on the street to the true definition of the Italian aperitivo. Recipes are sprinkled throughout, along with “When in Rome” rules. And it’s funny. Here is Minchilli on regional coffee rules:
“In Rome, true Romans drink their coffee out of a small glass, not a ceramic cup. Why? Something about the temperature (it either cools off faster or slower; not sure which). But my husband, who is not from Rome, wouldn’t be caught dead drinking his coffee out of a glass. Why? It’s too Roman. Go figure.”
Minchilli is the author of six previous books on Italian subjects and the blog Elizabeth Minchilli in Rome. Although not Italian by birth (she married into an Italian family) she first fell in love with the country when her parents rather suddenly moved the family to Rome in the 1970s. She returned as a graduate student and more or less never left.
I asked Minchilli a few questions via email about her new book and life in Rome:
DM: This is much more than just a guide book. It’s a bit memoir, a bit love letter, a commentary on Roman life. Is this the book you started out to write, or did it change as you were researching and writing it?
EM: It changed a million ways in the course of writing it. I thank my editor, Michael Flamini, for having the brilliant idea of organizing the book into loosely gathered themes around food. This allowed me a lot of freedom to tell my stories in different ways.
DM: I really like the way the book is organized. It’s unconventional and yet, it makes total sense (especially to someone who has spent time in Rome). Can you tell us about how you came up with the various chapters?
EM: The chapters really sprang to life from different stories that were my own. Once I started writing my blog, these stories would come out, often prompted by cooking a specific dish, shopping for a specific ingredient or going to a favorite restaurant.
DM: You devote an entire chapter to the carciofo. Artichokes grow all over Italy, but they are mostly associated with Rome, where they are revered. Can you explain the Roman devotion to artichokes?
EM: Of course a lot of it has to to with taste. The artichoke is a very green/vegetably kind of taste that Romans love. Then there is also the fact that the season is so brief, which makes anything more attractive I think.
DM: How has Rome changed for the better since you first moved there? For the worse?
EM: For the better: there is a younger generation that is finally realizing what they have and making not only the most of it, but trying to invent something new. So you have places like Aromaticus, Mazzo and Litro looking at traditional ingredients and reinventing the entire idea of the formal restaurant or trattoria. The worse: so many of the small scale shops are disappearing. I know nothing stays the same, and we must move forward, but it is just so sad to see butchers, vegetable shops and other food vendors completely dissapear.
DM: What is the best method of transportation to get around they city, especially if you want to check out some of the more far-flung restaurants or food shops in your book?
EM: Rome is not really that big, and I am a big fan of walking. There are not really so many far-flung places in my book, but the few that there are are easily reached by bus or taxi.
DM: Which one neighborhood (other than Trastevere) should visitors explore beyond Rome’s historic center?
DM: What is the biggest misconception that visitors have about Rome?
EM: That it is big and confusing. Rome is actually quite small, and each area is a manageable neighborhood unto itself.
DM: What Roman dish would you recommend people try that they might not have heard of?
EM: Everyone goes right for the Carbonara. But before you dive into that one, try Alla Gricia, which is like Carbonara but without the egg. Or, if you prefer, Cacio e Pepe with guanciale. Either way its great and often overlooked.
DM: Are there any neighborhoods in the city that you have yet to explore or would like to get to know better?
EM: I have a feeling I should know Prati better than I do.
DM: What are you making for dinner tonight?
EM: My daughter Sophie just came back from a week in NYC, so she has specifically asked that I make a lot of vegetables. I can’t tell you what yet, since it all depends on what I find in the market. As always.
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I’m giving away a copy of Eating Rome: Living the Good Life In the Eternal City. To enter, simply leave a comment below telling me something you love about Rome; or, if you’ve never been, why you would like to go. Deadline for entering is midnight Wednesday, May 6. A winner will be chosen at random and announced next Thursday, May 7, 2015. (Giveaway applies to U.S. and Canadian residents only ~ sorry global friends; books are too expensive to mail!)
My plans to make one of Minchilli’s artichoke recipes was foiled when I couldn’t find good artichokes (this being Virginia). But I did have a pound of green beans on hand, so I made her Green Beans with Mortadella Salad, which I served with roast chicken.
This simple salad, from Elizabeth Minchilli's book "Eating Rome: Living the Good Life In the Eternal City," packs a lot of flavor, thanks to chopped tarragon, a good dose of citrus and the addition of diced mortadella. Here's what Minchilli says about it: "The trick to this dish is to prepare all the ingredients in the serving bowl while the beans are cooking. You want to add the beans to the dressing while they are still piping hot, so that they sort of cook the shallots and garlic, and coax the fat nodules out of the mortadella."
- 1 pound green beans, cleaned
- 1/2 cup diced mortadella
- 1 shallot, finely chopped
- 1 garlic clove, crushed
- 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh tarragon
- Zest of 1 lemon, peeled with a potato peeler and finely chopped
- Zest of 1 small orange, peeled with a potato peeler and finely chopped
- 3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
- 2 tablespoons fresh orange juice
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 1/4 cup chopped roasted almonds
Steam the green beans until tender. Meanwhile, place the mortadella, shallot, garlic, olive oil, tarragon, chopped citrus zests, and citrus juices in a large bowl and stir to mix well.
When the beans are tender, drain them and then add them, still steaming hot, to the mixture in the bowl. Toss well and season with salt and pepper to taste.
Let cool, toss again, and top with the almonds. Serve at room temperature.