Roman Daze – From notes to first draft

http://www.the-art-of-writing.com/2016/01/from-notes-to-first-draft-with-bronte-jackson/

How does a writer go from an idea/passion about Italy to writing a book about it?

Lisa Clifford is an internationally acclaimed author of many novels and non-fiction/historical books on Italy, her adopted country. Here she interviews me about how/why I came to write ‘Roman Daze – La Dolce Vita for all Seasons.

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Panettone or Pandoro? What to eat at Christmas.

I have suggested in previous posts (and explained clearly in my book ‘Roman Daze – La Dolce Vita for all Seasons‘), that Italians can often be neatly divided into two groups, in a variety of ways:

  • Those who take their annual holidays in the mountains v those who take their annual holidays at the beach (and neither the two shall meet! :))
  • Those who hail from the North of Italy and those who are from the South of Italy
  • Those who support the Roman football team ‘Roma‘, and those who support Lazio, the Regional Roman team
  • Communists and Fascists (who are friendlier to each other than those in the above two categories are)

Now I want to introduce two new categories.  Those who prefer Panettone as a Christmas dessert v those who prefer Pandoro.  Both are delicious, sweet cakes and are eaten only at Christmas time.  They both come in highly decorative, large boxes (sometimes Panettone can come wrapped in brightly colored cellophane instead of a box).  They only come in one size (large) and will feed between 10 – 20 people, depending on the serving size.

Italian Christmas cakes

Now some explanation about the difference.  Panettone is originally from Milan and is a high, airy dome of yellow fluffy goodness studded with candied orange peel, candied lemon peel and sultanas.  It takes many hours to make as the dough must rise and fall three times before it can be baked.  It is never attempted by home chefs and going out to buy the Panettone (or Pandoro) is a sacred Christmas ritual.

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Each household would buy up to 5 or 6 Panettone (or Pandoro) as each Christmas visit is accompanied with a Panettone (or Pandoro) for the host.  In this way Panettone and Pandoro are often swapped around frequently between households until Christmas day when one is finally opened and consumed as the dessert of the Christmas meal.  This can be anytime from Christmas eve to Christmas night.

Alternatives are:  as soon as they appear in the shops going and buying one and eating it immediately with a cup of tea, eating it regularly for breakfast leading up to and including Christmas day, eating it regularly for afternoon tea leading up to and away from Christmas day, eating it smothered in butter (for breakfast – Panettone only), smothered in ice-cream/liquor for dessert (Pandoro only).  But these are just my suggestions 🙂

I must admit to being a bit disappointed when i first unwrapped a Panettone and cut into it.  Delivered of its smart, brightly colored box with ribbon handle it looked like a large brown rock and not very appetising.  Looking inside it looked a little plain to me and not worth all the hype and excitement surrounding it.  I was used to cream, brandy butter, and desserts that were alight with flames as part of my Christmas dessert, and this looked like it was going to be a bit of a let down in comparison.  But like much Italian food, the key is in the simplicity, and the quality of the ingredients, along with the seasonal approach to food which creates a longing and anticipation.

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What looked like a door stop of a piece collapsed in my mouth into quite small mouthfuls as the dough was liberated from its airiness.  The tender, fluffy morsels were interspersed with just the right amount of sweet sultanas and slightly bitter peel.  Towards the bottom (my favourite bit), the dough became denser and more chewy.  A Panettone (like a Pandoro) is not served with a fork or spoon but is usually pulled apart with your fingers or held in your hand with a serviette and bit into.  Usually accompanied by a glass of prosecco.

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But what about the Pandoro?  Is there any room left for argument?  Plenty.  Pandoro comes from Verona originally and literally means  ‘Golden Bread’.  It is bread dough enhanced with lashings of eggs, butter and sugar.  It rises high and is in the shape of an 8-pointed star, dark golden on the outside and light gold on the inside.  It comes in a cellophane bag with a small packet of icing sugar.  Protocol requires that you keep the Pandoro inside the cellophane bag and sprinkle the icing sugar over it.  You then hold the bag tightly at one end and shake it therefore dusting the entire Pandoro evenly with the icing sugar.  You need to do this just before serving it as the moist outside will quickly absorb the sugar.  It looks like a Christmas wonder, all tall and dusted in white.  This is eaten in the same way and at the same time as a Panettone.  Now can you see the dilemma?  Luckily for me I love Panettone and my husband loves Pandoro so we always have to have one of each!

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The best things in Rome………..are free!

The title of this blog was supposed to be ‘ Top Three Spas in Rome‘ (watch this space for a later blog), but while doing research for that blog post I became outraged about the amount of ‘best things to do in Rome‘ articles requiring the spending of zillions of $$$. They included things like breakfasting on hotel rooftops and banqueting with 250 of your closest friends inside the Vatican palace ‘so you can experience the splendour that only Popes and royalty do/did’, while casually mentioning ‘you might like to also take in a few piazzas, the Trevi fountain and the Pantheon if you have time’. So I decided to change the topic of my blog.  I am passionate about my adopted city  because it is one of the most visually beautiful cities in the world, full of art and colour and life, it also is one of the most historically and culturally interesting.  And most of all I love the fact that nearly all of this can be experienced for free!  Yes folks it’s true, the best things in Rome are free!

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It is therefore a backpackers and budget travellers delight.  However probably because a lot of it is free, it seems that the Eternal city sometimes thinks its needs to embellish itself and add costly delights for travellers who don’t feel they are special if they don’t have to pay lots of money for something.  One of the things I love the most about Rome is that I can be minding my own business sitting around at the Trevi Fountain when right before my eyes Isabella Rossellini hops out of a taxi.  Or that I can be waiting for a table (not queuing, there is a big difference) at a well-known restaurant in Campo dei Fiori and ahead of me in the not-queue is Harvey Keitel.  Or that I can walk into Prada or Dolce & Gabbana or Versace on the Via dei Condotti and be treated like I, in my wildest dreams (and theirs), would be able to afford anything.  You could also find yourself out for drinks with any one of Italy’s international movie stars or politicians who frequent the vibrant aperitivo (pre-dinner drinks that often substitute dinner) scene in Rome’s tiny back streets.

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Rome is a great leveller.  Its streets and piazzas are open to everyone, always. It’s accessible a lot only by foot and so this makes it hard to create VIP experiences as opposed to public experiences. Rome is unequivocal, it can’t be cordoned off because Brangelina are visiting. Movie stars, models, zillionaires, dictators, mafia bosses, Prime Ministers mingle with the unknown, every-day tourist, back packer and refugee.

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Every year on my birthday (since I stopped being a backpacker and could afford to eat properly), I used to choose one of the fancy restaurants advertised in tourist magazines as being ‘the best restaurants’ to eat in.  The kind where you spend your weekly and sometimes monthly wage on dinner.  Year after year, hoping for an amazing experience, I was disappointed.  The food was always average, the service pompous (one year my husband and I had to sit near the toilets because he wasn’t wearing a tie – just a suit) and we mostly ended up stopping on the way home at one of our usuals to calm ourselves down with a real bowl of pasta and some local wine.  My point being that in Rome the best restaurants are always frequented by average Romans, even the very wealthy ones.

So when in Rome don’t spend your money on rooftop breakfasts in hotels or dinning in the Vatican museum with 250 0f your closest friends or in a fake Roman spa being pampered by Eastern Europeans or on ‘private’ tours (where in the end you will have to queue up and approach things on foot with everyone else anyway).  Here’s my tip for a fabulous Roman Day out and, apart from the inexpensive meals, it is all FREE!!!

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Begin at the nearest bar (cafe) to your hotel.  There should be one within 100 metres.  Order a cappuccino or a ‘cafe’ and a cornetto, possibly with an orange juice if you want to be healthy.  You will find the coffee is the best you have ever had, the cornetto (Italian croissant) will be light, and made that morning, the juice will be juiced in front of you and you will pay about the same amount altogether as the cost of one cup of coffee on a rooftop.

Then take your free map (get them at the airport, McDonalds or from your hotel).  Hopefully you have done some slight research (free on the internet) or have a cheap guide book.  Otherwise scroll through this blog to get to the ‘Top ten things to do in Rome‘, ‘Top ten places to eat in Rome’ etc. articles. If you are staying anywhere in the city of Rome (centro) everything will be in walking distance with plenty of opportunities to sit down, grab more coffee or juice, fill up your water bottle free at a fountain or just rest.  Start at one end of town and make your way down and then left and right as you please.  Take one to five days depending on your itinerary and energy levels and repeat in the evenings for a different view.  You can start anywhere but I have you starting at Piazza del Popolo.

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Marvel at the huge space in such a crowded city, cast your eyes up to the lush green gardens of the Villa Borghese on one side, and put it aside for another day.  Feast your eyes on the fountain in the centre of the Piazza, the churches all around it (one of which contains a Caravaggio) and the Egyptian obelisk (stolen by the Romans from Egypt).  Walk out of the Piazza and down the Via del Babuino and admire the antique shops (stop at Hotel de Russie if you want a spa – next blog).  Be entranced by your next view at the end of Via del Babuino which will be Piazza di Spagna.  Sit awhile on the staircase and admire the beautiful people and the view of Via dei Condotti, Rome‘s premium shopping strip.  Don’t forget to look in the window at Dolce & Gabbana half way down the Via Condotti, one of the best visual feasts outside a museum that you will see.

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At the end of Via Condotti you will arrive at the Via del Corso. Turn left and head towards the ‘wedding cake’ Victor Emmanuel Monument at the end of the street.  Admire the palaces and beautiful baroque buildings that line either side of this main street of Rome.  Shortly after you pass the houses of Parliament on your right, turn down a pedestrian side street on your left full of market stalls.  Follow it on to the end.  Gasp.  Get pushed in the back by other tourists behind you who don’t know why you have stopped.  Yes folks this is the Trevi Fountain, at the cross roads of three streets or ‘tre vie’.  All the more beautiful because it is contained in such a small space, wangle your way to the front and admire it sitting down for as long as you can.

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Walk back the way you came and cross back over Via del Corso to another pedestrian street full of restaurants.  Meander along the path following everyone else until you get to the Pantheon, another breathtaking moment but within a larger piazza.  Sit on the steps of the fountain in the piazza and take it all in before you head inside (for free) and view the perfectly round, 2000 year old temple, with a hole cut out in the middle of the roof that lets the sun in to highlight different sculptures around the room as the sun moves overhead.  How’s that for antique engineering??  Using your map move your way left (with the Pantheon to your back) towards Piazza Navona.

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Now at this stage if you really have had enough of Roman culture and need to recover, you could eat at the McDonalds which faces the Pantheon (and serves beer), therefore having a drink/burger with one of the world’s best views at about 100th of the cost of sitting at any of the other cafes that also surround the Pantheon.  I am only recommending this on the grounds of it being cheap and acknowledging that sometimes people need a break from antiquity (based on the experience of some of guests over the years).  Otherwise I would suggest pushing on and eating a slice of pizza, also for the same price as a burger, at one of the places around Campo dei Fiori, a bit further along in our walk.

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As you spill out into Piazza Navona and take a stroll around its race track type shape (yes it was originally a chariot racing track), admire the artists who display their wares and the magnificent fountain of four rivers in the middle.  At one end (on the other side of the toy shop) you can see the original entrance to the race track in Roman times, below street level.  Exit the piazza at the other end and cross Corso Vittorio Emanuele into cobblestoned streets that sell great pizza by the slice, and where you can sit down and eat for around the same price as McDonalds.  Take the opportunity here to have an ice-cream in the same area.  Campo dei Fiori will open up in front of you.  Stroll around the square, take in the history of this being the last place that the Vatican burnt someone at the stake for daring to state that possibly the earth rotated around the sun rather than the other way around……

If you follow most of the traffic going out of the piazza in the opposite direction from where you came in, you will eventually hit a street going off to your right which becomes a foot bridge over the river.  If you follow it you will find yourself in Trastevere, the oldest neighbourhood of post medieval Rome and home to its vibrant restaurant and nightlife.  Have an aperitivo, at any of the little bars (cafes) that line its tiny cobbled streets, standing up of course which will cost you a fraction of what it costs to sit down, enjoy the free bar snacks and choose your inexpensive restaurant to eat at for dinner!

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After dinner take a stroll along the river, meander throughout the Trastevere neighbourhood or go back the way you came for a completely different view of Rome.  We haven’t even touched the free St. Peters or Roman Forum or the many parks and gardens that are just waiting to be explored!  During your walk, or the next day, lose yourself in any one of the streets off this main beat. Sit and watch the local Roman traffic go by from a street cafe. Admire the marble columns, statues and painted plaques that adorn most buildings. Freely feast on the art inside most churches, and regularly look up to enjoy the free natural beauty of the skyline with its domes, starlings and magnificent sun sets. Now that’s something for free that’s worth paying for!

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The Italian Pantry: How to Italianise a corner of your kitchen

Happy New Year to everyone!!

As I am now on my Christmas holidays I am borrowing from another fantastic blog from Italy Magazine for this month.  Happy holidays and Christmas season to all.  Will be back blogging soon!

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After spending a year in Italy studying its cuisine, in 1954 Elizabeth David wrote what is still considered one of the most comprehensive, if not the first English book about Italian cookery. This seminal work is called simply, “Italian Food”. The book has been reprinted over the years and still sells many copies in the United Kingdom – a testament to the great research and writing of the author.

If you are a fan of Italian food and enjoy preparing it at home, Elizabeth David stresses the importance of keeping an Italian larder – or pantry, for our American friends! Another bastion of Italian cooking is the talented Antonio Carluccio, who himself in his book, “Simple Cooking”, said, ‘In your larder keep a little of everything you think you will need for making the dishes you like to cook and eat.’

Italian Larder

So let’s take a look at what is required for the essential Italian larder:

Pasta

Keep at least three types of pasta in your store cupboard, a ridged one like penne or rigatoni for thick and meat based sauces, a thin ribbon such as linguini for thinner and seafood sauces, and a small one such as stelline or corallini for adding to soups and broths.

Rice and Grains

Let’s not forget that even rice is part of the Italian culinary traditon from North to South. Buy some Carnaroli rice for the perfect risotto or Sicilian arancini or farro for a traditional Tuscan winter soup.

Extravirgin Olive Oil

It goes without saying that every Italian pantry has olive oil …and yes it must be extra virgin Olive oil!

 

Herbs and Spices

The Italian pantry would be almost empty without this important section and, although keeping fresh herbs all year round such as basil can be tricky, there’s no reason why you can’t grow your own and store the leaves in the freezer, as freshly frozen basil is superior to dried; however, do find space for a jar of dried oregano. Rosemary and sage can be harvested all year round, so consider a plant in the garden border or on the patio in a pot. Capers and chillies, fresh or dried, along with salt and black pepper complete the herbs and spice section.

Onions and Garlic

They are the mainstay of many Italian dishes and onions, whether white, yellow or red, are the unwavering base of most sauces. Garlic peeled and chopped or rubbed over toasted bread has that incomparable taste that conjures up memories of a rustic Italian osteria.

Beans – Tomatoes – Tuna – Anchovies 

A can of chopped tomatoes makes a simple pasta sauce in a hurry if you add a few herbs and some chopped pancetta; a can of either cannellini or borlotti beans are great for adding to soups and salads. Tuna and anchovies in olive oil are great in pasta sauces or salads.

 

 

Breadcrumbs

They are used in many Italian dishes for making cozze ripiene (stuffed mussels) or for coating a hammered veal cutlet or chicken breast. Instead of buying them, why not make your own in the food processor!

Wine Vinegar

Vinegar is handy for adding piquancy to sauces and to store vegetable antipasti.

Luxury items like balsamic vinegar and truffles are also a great addition to the perfect Italian pantry, however, if your budget won’t stretch to dried porcini mushrooms, a pre-packed mix with field mushrooms is perfectly acceptable.

There is one item of the Italian larder that you should make a considered purchase: Parmesan cheese. Always buy the best quality that you can afford; I prefer one that’s aged for at least two years, it will keep for months in the fridge and is well worth the investment.

Once you have Italianised a small corner of the kitchen, you’ll be ready to start cooking great dishes, just like Nonna.

– See more at: http://www.italymagazine.com/featured-story/italian-pantry-how-italianise-corner-your-kitchen?utm_source=ITALY+Magazine+Newsletter&utm_campaign=d36ce3753d-ITALY+Newsletter+-+December+5th+2014&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_7e828ebed3-d36ce3753d-402225#sthash.xQtaz8oI.dpuf

Top 10 things to eat in Rome!

As promised nos. 6 – 10 plus another one for dessert!  For context please read the intro to my last blog as this sets the scene for the precious food tips I am about to give.  All of these dishes can be found on the menus of the ‘Top 10 restarurants in Rome’ blog dated March, 2012.

6.  Saltimbocca alla Romana.  Veal done Roman style (literally means – jump in your mouth style).  There is a theme here……each of these dishes are called ‘alla Romana’ because of the fact that the dishes originated in Rome and are mostly not found outside of Rome.  Another reason to eat regionally and where ever you are, if you see something on the menu that ends in ‘alla the name of the place you are in’ then order it!

Saltimbocca alla Romana are thin, soft slices of veal sauteed lightly in olive oil and flavoured with proscuitto and sage leaves.  Any veal in Rome is divine and no matter how many times other countries’ butchers and restaurantuers tell me they have thinly sliced, soft veal, I’ve never tasted anything remotely like it outside of Italy.  The salty prosciutto and the strong pungent flavour of the sage work perfectly to bring out the subtle taste of the veal.  Highly recommened.

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7. Pollo all Romana.  Baked chicken Roman style.  This is a simple and humble dish and very traditional.  The flavours are amazing, subtle and sweet.  It is basically cuts of chicken (not breast) that have stewed most of the day with a variety of peppers (capsicums) of all colours, some wine, garlic, herbs and tomatoes and produces tender, fall off the bone meat surrounded in delicately flavoured juices that require Italian bread to soak them up.  If you like chicken or need some protein it is highly recommended.

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8. Fegato alla Romana.  Liver Roman style.  OK I admit I am a liver lover, even the shoe-leather type liver I grew up eating, so this liver dish is a real treat and I have often converted non-liver lovers to it.  The liver is very thin and delicate, and is fried using a bushel of white onions and olive oil so that it tastes almost sweet.  It is like eating a deconstructed pate.  Romans have been cooking offal for centuries and they have it down pat!

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9. Carciofe alla Romana.  Artichokes Roman style.  Vegetables are served as separate dishes in Italy and are not included as part of the main dish. They are worthwhile ordering just on their own though, perfect as a simple starter or instead of the main dish.  Carciofe alla Romana are artichokes cooked in Roman mint and garlic.  Roman mint can be found in any park or nature strip in Rome.  Just walking on a park or naturestrip disturbs the scent and you can then identify it.  It is different to other strains of mint and tastes a little sweeter and subtle than other varieties.  I am just intrigued by the fact i can have a local vegetable cooked in a local herb.  It is cooked by boiling it with the ingredients mentioned before and comes to the plate hot, soft and wet and flavoured with the squeeze of a lemon and some olive oil.  They are fantastic with a basket of bread as a light lunch with a cool glass of local Frascati white wine – yum!

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10. Puntarelle.  Little points (aka translation is useless just trust me).  This vegetable dish contains a riot of small green things that look and taste a little like celery, but come in the shape of a small squid or octopus (the ends are all curled up).  They are served with olive oil and flavoured with a few anchovies, vinegar and garlic.  They are fresh, tangy and divine to eat.  They are found only in Rome, in autumn, and are the ends of a vegetable that no one, not even a large amount of Romans I asked, knows the name of.  They are notoriously difficult to prepare and are therefore best eaten at a restaurant where someone else has had to chop, scrape, soak, slice, and marinate them.

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11. Torta della  Nonna.  Nana’s/Grandma’s cake.  This is essentially a custard tart topped with pine nuts and is found in every cafe and restaurant in Rome.  It is light and delicately flavoured with just a hint of lemon.  The pine nuts give it a crunchy texture and add taste.  If you really want to understand and appreciate the flavour of the pine nut I highly recommend the pinoli gelato, pine nut gelato, also found prolifically in Rome.

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I have now made myself so unbelievably hungry it is time to go!  Next week more about Francesca and less about food as we all give ourselves time to digest!

I will throw out a challenge though.  How many of you can make all of these dishes before my next blog?  Reports and photos required.  All recipes are found easily, and in English, by googling the names of them.  Buon appetito a tutti i miei amici.

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