Thursday, 1 December 2016

Countdown to Cheistmas - Chestnuts

Although (sadly) chestnut sellers can be seen throughout the year in Rome, December is when chestnuts really are in season. The wafting aroma of them roasting is a prelude to Christmas but there is so much more to these nuts than as a snack in a paper cone.

Mont - Andrea de Bellis

Merangue, chestnut puree & cream make Mont Blanc a delicious dessert at any time but the version at Pasticceria De Bellis is simply a work of art.

Marron Glace

Giulio Giulliani learnt the art of candied chestnut production in Switzerland and bought the skill back to Prati in Rome from where you can  purchase marron glace today, at the shop on Via Paolo Emilio. Another favourite spot to acquire these sweet delights is at Moriondo e Gariglio, the historic chocolatier, in the Centro Storico.

The finest chestnut gelato in Rome used to be found at Cafe Ciampini in Piazza San Lorenzo in Lucinda, Sadly a fire earlier this year resulted in the cafe closing down. 
Grom is a chain of gelateria, originating in Turin, with not only stores all over Italy but also in cities in other parts of the world. At the Via Maddalena store, in December, it offers seasonal flavours, including marron glace made with candied chestnuts from Piedmont.

Yes, you read that correctly, you can even find a chestnut beer! Trimani, near Termini station stocks Birra del Borga CastagnAle, a chestnut ale produced in Lazio.

Tuesday, 29 November 2016

Sant'Andrea al Quirinale

This delightful Baroque church, dedicated to St Andrew, was commissioned by Cardinal Pamphilj for the Jesuit order and designed by Bernini. It is said the architect liked to visit to sit and enjoy his creation, which he considered to be one of his most perfect works.
The church is designed around an oval, with the short side leading to the altar, decorated with gilt, bronze & lapis lazu. A host of angels appear to be holding the painting of 'The Martydom of St Andrew' by Il Borgognone ('the Burgundian), a French - Italian artist. Your eyes are then drawn to the white marble sculpture of St Andrew ascending towards heaven, seemingly floating through the arch above the altar.

Heaven is represented by the gilded dome, decorated with cherubs and leading upwards to the lantern and the dove of the Holy Spirit.
More doves can be seen within the  marble interior as they are the Pamphilj family symbol.

Inspired by the Pantheon, Bernini used four gigantic columns to separate the altar chapel from the main hall. The columns are made of limestone from a quarry in the Sabine Hills.

The clever way in which Bernini has used the small space and employed different art forms to convey a feeling of grandeur make this one of the most satisfying churches to visit in Rome.

Sunday, 27 November 2016

Winter Aperitivo

In summertime, aperitivo hour is all about terraces and rooftop bars whereas open fires & candlelight are needed during the cooler months. Here are some of our favourite winter venues.
Roscioli Cafe
The moody inner room of this hipster cafe is the perfect place to enjoy a well crafted cocktail or glass of champagne alongside Normandy oysters & charcuterie platters. A sophisticated take on aperitivo 

A crackling fire, slouchy sofas & shabby chic decor - what is not to like? Accompany your aperitif with a 'tagliere km 0' platter, a selection of salami & cheeses from the surrounding Lazio countryside.
Our visit last year coincided with the Zampognari being in town. These bagpipe playing shepherds wear the traditional costume of sheepskin vests, leather breeches & a woollen cloak. The tradition of bagpipes go back to ancient Roman times and the appearance of Zampognari in the city represents the legend that shepherds entertained the Virgin Mary in Bethlehem.
Whatever the story, the Zampognari who played for us at Etabli were generously rewarded with large glasses of wine, downed quicky before moving on.

Enoteca Spiriti
Overlooking an illuminated Hadrian's Temple, this contemporary wine bar has an inner room with a ceiling made from curved wooden slats salvaged from wine barrels. Stylish snacks, served by friendly staff, accompany your cocktail or wine of choice.

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Il Goccetto
Don't be confused by the name above the door which says Vino Olio because once inside this cosy enoteca, housed in a palazzo dating back to 1527, wine is the star of the show. There are many wines by the glass available as well as your choice of wines by the bottle that line the walls (the price on the bottle is marked up slightly if you drink in rather than take away) You can order small plates to accompany your wine . There is always a great atmosphere here. One of our favourites.

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Hotel Locarno Lounge Bar
Bring out your inner 'Gatsby' in this clubby bar, decorated in Art Nouveau style. An open fire makes a welcome refuge on dark nights and although the cocktails are expensive they are accompanied by delicious finger food snacks.

Monday, 21 November 2016

St Cecilia

St Cecilia was the daughter of a wealthy Roman family & a Christian from birth. She was promised to the pagan, Valarian, in marriage. She is said to have heard heavenly songs during her wedding and thus is regarded as the patron saint of music. Valerian subsequently was baptised & he and his brother made it their mission to bury Christain martyrs put to death on the orders of the Emperor. Cecillia, her husband and brother in law were also to suffer this fate. Cecilia's execution took place on 22nd November, now celebrated as her feast day.

The church of St Cecilia in Trastevere was founded over the house where she and her husband lived and the garden in front of the church contains a classical marble vase that may have adorned the courtyard of their home.

When Cecilia's tomb was opened in 1599 her body was found lying on its side with the wounds from the executioner's sword visible on her neck. The sculptor, Stefano Maderno made a drawing and later created the beautiful statue that lies beneath the altar.

Sunday, 20 November 2016

Sunday Lunch

Sunday lunches in Rome are family affairs. This September we were lucky enough to feel part of this tradition at Tavernaccia da Bruno in Trastevere.

We arrived early at this family run trattoria but were warmly welcomed and shown to our table whilst the friendly serving staff got ready to open up.

An elderly couple were shown to a table next to ours, set for six people. Dressed in their Sunday best they were obviously waiting impatiently for family to arrive. As soon as the grandchildren bounded in all tardiness was forgotten and excited chatter filled the room. This little scene made us miss our little grandaughter very much but we were instantly consoled by the food that appeared in front of us. 

We ordered the lasagne to start and, as it was going to be a little while before it came out of the oven, we were bought a complimentary plate of charcuterie to stave off hunger.

Our main course was suckling pig cooked in the wood fired oven. This had distinct Sardinian overtones and took us back to Ferragosta a few summers ago, which we spent at Su Lolla in Barumini, Sardinia. As part of the festive feast each table was presented with a small suckling pig that we had seen cooking in the courtyard.

Da Bruno's suckling pig did not disappoint, with moist meat and fabulous crackling, served with rosemary roasted potatoes.

Completely satisfied we made our way back across the river to laze under the persimmon tree in the garden of our rented apartment.

Wednesday, 2 November 2016

Recipes from Rome - Meat Free Monday

What better dish, when 'Meat Free Monday' also happened to be Halloween, than a pumpkin risotto.
As usual I turn to Rachel Roddy for inspiration and am using an aged cutting from Guardian Cook as a basis for the recipe.

The pumpkins pictured above were bought on a whim as they looked so autumnal. However the yellow ridged one was perfect for this dish, not least because, as Rachel says , the ridges make it super easy to cut into wedges

Next the wedges are tossed in olive oil & roasted until soft.

I thought I was being clever here by roasting with the skin on but actually it was a bit of a finger burning task to remove the silky flesh once they had come out of the oven.

The pumpkin was mashed and kept warm whilst chicken stock was heated and onion diced.

The onion was cooked slowly in melted butter until soft, and then was joined by risotto rice which was tossed around until each grain was coated. The wine was added & sizzled away to be followed by the stock, a ladleful at a time. Rachel suggested that this should take around 18 minutes which was absolutely spot on.

The mashed pumpkin was added to the pan, heat turned off and butter & parmesan stirred in.

The perfect rib sticking dish to be enjoyed before or after 'Trick or Treat'

Thursday, 20 October 2016

M is for Mother - Street Art in Rome

Street art is not new to the Romans. In Renaissance times buildings were decorated with frescoes, some evidence of which can still be seen today in Via della Maschera d'Oro.

'Googling' around the internet, looking for information on street art in Testaccio & Ostiense, turned up a tour offered by Rovescio. What a great find this turned out to be - the tour was one of the highlights of our trip.
We had arranged to meet our guide at the piazza in front of the old slaughterhouse complex which happened to be full of teens on a youth convention the day in question. However, we recognised the logo on Roberta's tee-shirt so all turned out well.

After explaining that we were a total blank canvas and knew virtually nothing about street art, we set off.
A short walk away was the 'Jumping Wolf' by Roa, a Belgian artist. This tribute to the She-Wolf, the symbol of Rome, also happens to be in the area of AS Roma's fan club whose symbol is  a black wolf. Roberta told us that the locals call it 'the rat' on account of its skinny appearance.

We had passed by our next work of art so many times without realising it.
Domenico Romeo is a Calabrian artist who studied graphic design and whose work features a cryptic alphabet that he designed . This piece is called 'Tribulation of a Meeting Point' and is based on the artist's need to talk to himself.

Continuing on our walk, we moved from to Testaccio to Ostiense. An industrial area in the 19th & 20th centuries, there are two reminders of that era here - the gasometers & the Centrale Montemartini, a former power station that now houses classical scuptures. Today, we concentrate on the art of the moment.

Herbert Baglione, a Brazilian artist, was commissioned to produce this work for the Outdoor Urban Art Festival in 2011.
The figures represent life, death, order & chaos. Roberta interpreted the thoughts swirling around the heads of the figures as being very linear in the male & layered in the female. Ha - just as I thought - men can't multitask!

Sten & Lex's home town is Rome and examples of their pioneering stencil art can be seen  on a former nightclub building. The subject is an unknown customer of the club but alongside him the doorman/bouncer is depicted.

J B Rock is an artist/rapper living & working in Rome. His work is another example of stencil art.

He also created the 'Wall of Fame', where each letter of the alphabet is represented by a person, some famous, others not. M is a picture of J B Rock's mother.

In contrast, on the opposite wall, is 'Black & White Power' by Sten & Lex. Here the subjects are anonymous. 

Perhaps the most well known example of street art that we saw on the tour was the old barracks building that was transformed by the artist Blu.

This was fascinating, with so much detail in each of the faces.

On Porta Fluviale, a single building contains two works by different artists.
'Fish'n' Kids' by Augustine Lacurci is a reference to the river port that was built here in the 1900's, and is painted on the front of the fish market. 

On the side of the building the American artist, Axel Void, created 'Nessuno', a work inspired by the Cantini ironmongers built here in 1914 to store the materials that would be used to build the Ostiense district. The woman depicted is based on the founder of the company & the figures in the circle on her shirt represent the workers.

Kid Acne is a hip - hop musician as well as an artist who uses words as the main object of his art. His work 'Paint over the Cracks,' is one of the largest examples of graffiti  in the city.

The abstract geometric style of Stefano S Antonelli was next. The white lines magically become one when viewed from the circle on the pavement opposite.

The colours and shapes of the surrounding area are reflected in 'Behind and in Front of the Wall' by Clemens Behr which is on a building overlooking the Settimia Spizzichino bridge.

The bridge is named after one of the survivors of the holocaust who lived in the neighbourhood. You can read Settimia's story here

The tour ends at Garbatella Metro Station where the American artist Gaia has created 'Nostrum'. This striking art work portrays a face emerging from the water and pays tribute to the migrants who crossed the sea to Italy. Unlike the other works that we have seen this one has had extra graffiti added to it ....not by the artist

As well as learning so much about a subject we knew next to nothing about we also enjoyed discovering the Ostiense area, where the names of the streets reflect their industrial past.
A Rovescio tour is highly recommended.