Wine, Cheese, and much, much more

Pros and cons of living in Rome?

Con: Post Office.

Pro: Wine.

But wine alone can only take you so far, which is why wine pairings are so important.  Honestly, though, I don’t know the first thing about pairing wine with food.  I know what wine I like, I know what food I like, but I don’t know how to combine those two loves.

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So when City Wonder Tours invited me to try a wine and food tasting hosted by Roscioli’s sommelier, Alessandro, I didn’t think twice.

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Wine and cheese are a familiar pair, but when you’re talking burrata and mozzarella with semi-dried tomatoes? A whole new level.

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Aged tuna? A revelation.  PLUS caponata? Oh man. I am so particular about caponata, but this, with the fish, worked so well with the Nobile di Montepulciano Pietra Rossa (Cantucci, 2009).  I am also completely sold on visiting the Cantucci winery some day. But when you are planning on Rome instead of Tuscany, a tasting like this feels like the perfect solution.

wine tasting roma centro

We started with white, but moved on to reds quickly.  Alessandro was flexible and intuitive, having an open dialogue about wine and happy to adjust based on feedback.

With such a small group (never more than 18, but we lucked out with a friendly group of 5), it was a comfortable space to taste and to have a conversation about likes and dislikes.  Alessandro was great about explaining the origins of every wine we tried and every bite we took.

This is what I love about Italian wine and food: the history behind it.

amazing sicilian salumi

My favorite wine was the 2012 Silene from Damiano Ciolli, paired with pesto (always a favorite).  BUT my favorite food was a surprise: the capocollo di maiale nero dei Monti Nebrodi.  This is coming from the former (15 long years) vegetarian.

I don’t really care about prosciutto. Blasphemy, I know.  It’s a texture thing for me… and I like the flavor but can’t get behind the mouthfeel.

However, capocollo di maiale nero? Yes, please. More, please.  Unfortunately, Terra Madre seems to be sold out. A tear.  Luckily, living in Rome, I can head back to the Food and Wine tour for another fix.

Italian wine collection

6 wines, paired with 6 distinct bites, from all over Italy? In the end, it was a delicious afternoon right in the center of Rome.

roscioli roma vino

I attended the tasting with a friend thanks to an invitation from City Wonder Tours, but all opinions are my own.  For more information, or to book a tasty, boozy afternoon for yourself, go here.

 

 

 


Living in Italy: Getting a Codice Fiscale

I recently met up with R for aperitivo and a chat about life in Rome.

Over wine and Oasi della Birra’s buffet we talked about the poorly defined bureaucratic hurdles that one has to navigate when moving to Rome, or living anywhere else in Italy.

In addition to a visa, one of the things you need for life in Italy is a codice fiscale.  A codice fiscale is an Italian fiscal code that serves as a unique identifier, similar to America’s social security number.  The code is generated using your name, date of birth and place of birth.  You can find the formula used here.

You will find that you need a codice fiscale to do lots of things in Italy: rent an apartment, open a bank account, get internet set up at home… hell, you even need one for a gym membership.

The easiest thing to do, is to request a codice fiscale at your Italian consulate/embassy at the same time you apply for your visa.  Getting a codice fiscale at the Los Angeles Italian Consulate was the single easiest thing I ever did there. I showed up without an appointment and was handed a stamped document with my very own fiscal code in under 10 minutes.  This service is available at Italian consulates in the US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa.

Codice-fiscale1Image source

If you arrive in Italy without a codice fiscale, you can apply for one at the nearest Agenzia Entrata.

Since the code is based on your name, place of birth and date of birth, in a pinch you can also use online generators to estimate what your codice fiscale should be.  A few examples of these websites can be found here and here.

Finally, a codice fiscale is completely free. 

In the grand scheme of things, getting this code is one of the simpler bureaucratic hassles that Italy has ready and waiting for you and you should not pay someone to obtain your codice fiscale. Just make sure to bring a valid passport with you, as well as your permesso di soggiorno should you need to apply within Italy.

 


Airing Dirty Laundry

Spring is in the air!

The days are longer, and the weather is warmer.

Perfect for hanging your laundry out to dry.

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Which is exactly how my neighbor’s underwear ended up in my rosemary.

A truly Italian problem.

Buon primo maggio! For me, that means having a random (lazy) Thursday off to go for a run and possibly do some laundry. Though, I will be sure to securely fasten mine.

 

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Pickpockets in Rome

After 6 years in Los Angeles, where looking at someone the wrong way could lead to trouble, moving to Rome was a relief.  It felt safe.

And Rome IS safe for the most part– but there is also so much petty crime.  Pickpockets, break-ins, bike snatchings. If it’s not kept under lock and key, it will disappear.

As the summer crowds return, so do the pickpockets.  Though they manage a year round business of ripping people off, this is their high season.

I have seen multiple pickpockets in action, but it is always hard to react.  There is a surreal quality about the moment that always catches me offguard and I can usually only manage a belated “OH!” (The Roman equivalent of HEY!!!).

So here are some tips for not getting your stuff stolen when you come to Rome:

On public transport

Forget about blending in. You look like a tourist because you are speaking English and looking bewildered. I’ve been here nearly four years and regardless of how much longer I stay, I will always look like a straniera (foreigner).

The potential pickpocket has made you based on you shoes alone. Are you wearing neon Nikes into which you have tucked your pants? Wedge heeled sneakers with glitter accents? Perforated leather boots? I didn’t think so, Foreigner!

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Here I am doing the wrong thing while waiting for the metro.

Shift your bag and keep your hand slung over it. Pull it in front of you as you enter the train, metro or bus. Don’t ever keep the zipper out of your sight (e.g. behind your back).

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If you can avoid it once you enter the metro, don’t stand near the exit. This increases the possibility of a snatch and run as the doors are closing.  While we’re on the subject: Put your fancy phone away.

The scenario I see play out time and time again at Piramide (our photo location) and the Colosseo stop is this:
Oh, hum. This metro is a bit crowded and the stop is popular. But I have an itinerary! I must get to the next place on your list as quickly as possible. So let me wait politely while people get off and on, then be the last to enter. (This is mistake number 1: I never wait politely. I position myself in front of the door, and as soon as people get off, I am the first one to get on).

Oh it really is crowded. These nice young teenagers with babies are pushing me because they need to get on this metro too! With babies! Oh god, I don’t want to hit the babies! Let me focus on that. All I need to think about is getting on this train and not hitting the babies.

Why is everyone pushing me??

The pushing is the distraction. I usually see them work in groups of two or three. A girl on either side pushes you, while a the third girl sticks her hands in your purse/pockets.  You are so focused on getting on the metro and avoiding being pushed that you won’t feel it.  Then, as soon as they have your wallet, they get off the metro just as quickly as the pushed you ON TO the metro. The doors close. Off you go, minus all your cash and credit cards.

Please please please PLEASE trust me on this one: if the metro is too crowded- do not get on it. Just wait! There will be more. If you are determined to join the fray, the worst thing you can do is be the last person on– because there will be someone coming up behind you at the last second to relieve you of your valuables and then watch you ride safely off into the distance.

wallet rome metro

Here is the male version of what not to do.

But really: pickpockets have no problem getting all up in your personal space.  They are going to stick their hands all the way into your front pockets, and you will let them! It will be too crowded and overwhelming to stop them. So again: as you enter and leave the metro- be aware of your surroundings.

Once on, if someone (or a group of people) gets on the metro, and you see a bunch of Romans instinctively move away? You should consider doing the same. They will be much better at spotting potential pick pockets.

Keep your eyes on kids or teenage girls in groups.

If anyone is too close, move.  The unwritten rules of personal space are different in Italy, but there is no reason for someone to be smashed up against you– they are doing something shady. MOVE.

Don’t let your bag/pocket be covered. (This one is harder to explain, so bear with me while I try).  I’ve seen well dressed Italian gentleman pickpockets run a scam with a newspaper.  Opening the newspaper in the crowded metro so as to keep your bag out of view. While one guy rustles his paper, the other guy rummages through your bag.  OR maybe it’s a map instead of a newspaper. A scarf that some lady is spreading out? A sign begging for money that has just been slipped over your pocket.

And once you escape the clutches of public transport and are out and about: stay aware.  Protect your bag in crowds. At restaurants: do not put your bag on the back of your chair or on the ground. You should be able to feel it at all times i.e. on your lap, over your knee, between your feet. Same goes for all of your luggage and bags on trains, in train stations or at ticket machines. Watch them.

Rome is beautiful, and incomparable. You will love it here. But for the love of god, PLEASE watch your stuff.

 

 


Sicilian Easter Bread

As you might imagine, Easter is kind of a thing around here.

I am giving anything church related wide-berth as Rome is inundated with pilgrims, arriving for this weekend’s ceremonies as well as the upcoming canonizations of two previous popes.

But last year? Last year, I was climbing a volcano with my sister on Easter.

The volcano was her idea, but while we bounced from one island/ferry/mainland/Sicily to the next… we kept seeing these Easter breads.

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The Easter bread was my  (terrible) idea.

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The lambs were cuter, but still not tasty.

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These were better:

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In my experience, the bread is for admiring rather than for eating.

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Whole eggs baked INto bread is a bad idea, and possibly how I ended up with food poisoning.

Which is why our 10-hour brunch this year relied on Eggo waffles and scalloped potatoes.

Happy Easter, wherever and however you are celebrating!


On Porchetta and Aging

It was 78°F (25°C) today.It made me realize how much I have missed the sun.

Until I stepped outside, I couldn’t really remember what it felt like to be warm.  Winter is strange that way– that way it makes us forget.

I suppose that is a round about way of trying to say: I am floating a bit right now.

The sensation surely has something to do with the upcoming calendar milestone dangling on the horizon. (There is nothing quite like a birthday to make you take stock).

And when you are floating, there’s nothing quite like crispy, fatty, herby porchetta to bring you back down to reality.

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The first time I ever ate porchetta, I was a wee child of 25.  It was my first week in Italy, and my professor had suggested the class take a break from economics to drink wine.

We acquiesced, naturally.

We imbibed. Oh, how we imbibed.

We drank from a literal fountain of wine. Wine flowed, we staggered, and eventually I found myself sitting on a step shoveling porchetta and pizza bianca into my face.

In that moment, I thought: THIS is Italy. Italy is wine, and porchetta, and sometimes maybe, rarely, other commitments.  

But mainly wine and porchetta.

I was young(er) and naive… and not entirely wrong.

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Sometimes you just need to add in an XL supplì or two.

Actually, not two- just one. One carbonara supplì.

Egg and bacon and cheese. Heavy enough to stand up against the porchetta.

Weighty enough to dampen your self-pity at the thought of getting older.

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Older but wiser– which is why tomorrow I am smart enough to be off to Spain for a week of cava and celebration.

You can catch all that on instagram.

But for the porchetta, head here:

I Porchettoni (San Lorenzo)
Via dei Marrucini, 18
06 87860066

 


March is Crazy

March was a bit hectic.

At one point, towards the end of the month, I found myself on three continents in 24 hours. This was thanks to a rather out-of-the-way (and painful) 10 hour overnight layover in Dubai.

But I did it. I overcommitted myself, per usual. But I did it.

As they say around here: marzo è pazzo.  March is crazy.

I’ll use is to justify my wanderings, but what it means is: marzo pazzarello guarda il sole e prendi l’ombrello. March is crazy- watch the sun and take an umbrella.

I’m happy that on the first day of April, the temperature is noticeably warmer.  In March, the weather couldn’t make up its mind.

March is a beautiful time to be in Rome- the air has a hint of spring, but most nights still make you shiver.

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Even if the skies are blue and the thermometer edging up, it will rain. The sun will disappear and you will be caught unaware. It. Will. Rain.

Hot and sunny one minute. Chilly and pouring the next.

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Perfect weather for an affogato.

An affogato is hot and cold. Bitter and sweet. Gelato “drowned” in espresso,  managing to find a balance.

meta affogato

That’s what we did. We found a balance: strolling and shopping in the sun; and hunkering down for some serious comfort food during the showers.

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When you need a pick-me-up and don’t feel like waiting at Sant’Eustachio, head around to the other side of the Pantheon to Fiocco di Neve (“snowflake”) for an affogato allo zabaione.

Fioccodineve

Gelateria Fiocco di Neve
Via del Pantheon 51
00186 Roma
06 6786025


International Women’s Day

Happy International Women’s Day!

A day celebrating the ladies, that is not widely practiced in the United States, but which wikipedia describes as a “mix of Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day.”

In Italy, you’ll see men selling mimosa sprigs on nearly every corner. The affordable yellow bloom is often given on this day, with daffodils gaining in popularity.

Even though mimosa cuttings are omnipresent on March 8th, I have to admit that it still felt like a blast from them past when this lady rolled out of nowhere with her handmade basket piled high.

Women's day mimosa seller

Hawking her festive flowers for a euro a branch, just around the corner from the Pantheon.


Le Mani in Pasta

The thrill and the tragedy of expat life are one in the same: you are not from here.

The irresistible draw of “not-from-here” is what drives many to travel or settle abroad.

When you are an expat, you can take pride in your not-from-here-ness. You wear it like a badge of honor. You revel in it. You embrace the new experiences and drink up the anomalies of your adopted land.  You are not from here, but you choose to be here, and that is fabulous.

The tragedy of expat life is that you are not from here.

In being here, you are (by definition) far away from the friends and family who are there.  They are just a phone call away- but that phone call might need to traverse 6,000 miles and 9 different time zones.

So, while you try to grasp at the undercurrent of cultural references, not wanting to admit you are barely bobbing along on the surface, you find other people who are in the same boat. You rely upon them for moral support because they understand what it’s like to not be from here.

This leads me to the simple truth that I have been trying to deny: when you’re not-from-here, sometimes you don’t stay here.

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And so, on the occasion of an impending move, we gathered at Le Mani in Pasta to toast a dear friend on the eve of her new adventure.

We opted for family style: two primi (pasta, naturally) for four people.

The gnocchi alla radicchio had a smooth start with radicchio’s signature bitter bite.

Gnocchi Radicchio

The vermicelli con moscardini e carciofi cried out intriguingly from the chalkboard of daily specials.  In reality, the interesting combination of octopus  and artichoke fell a bit flat.

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But the beauty of goodbyes is that they offer an excuse for indulgences, which is how we found ourselves faced with the grilled shellfish platter.

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Scampi. Langostino. Lobster. Delicious.

Grilled simply. Sprinkled with bread crumbs. Served with lemon.

The secondo made up for any missteps with the primi. In all honestly, any disappointment in the pasta was probably the result of us being swayed by specials rather than sticking to classic dishes. Besides, good customer service goes a long way in a town like Rome, and the service at Le Mani in Pasta was excellent.

I’ll be going back.

I’ll go back to try more pasta. To order more fish. To toast the good times. And to drown any sorrows in plates filled with carbs.

Le Mani in Pasta
Via dei Genovesi, 37,
Rome (Trastevere)
+39 06 581 6017

 


Gnocchi in Rome: L’Arcangelo (finally)

Deep in the Trader Joe’s freezer section, between the vegetarian gyoza and marinated Mahi, you will find gnocchi alla sorrentina.

When I was 22, the ink still drying on my bachelors degree, I moved to a new city and into a one bedroom apartment. All by myself, for the first time ever.

Frozen gnocchi alla sorrentina became my comfort and my crutch.

I think I gained 20 lbs in the first 5 months.

So, I obviously had a taste for rubbery reheated gnocchi when I moved to Rome, and rubbery reheated gnocchi is exactly what I found.

gnocchi

I looked forward to Thursdays – Gnocchi Giovedi. And the gnocchi I found on Thursdays, advertised on blackboards around the city, was fine. Fine, not great. (Except for the gnocchi at Baffetto Due. That was inedible).

With my gnocchi radar engaged, when I came across L’Arcangelo on Parla Food in 2010, it instantly went on the To Eat list.

An opportunity finally presented itself when planning where to get a low key anniversary dinner. I opened Katie’s app.

“Oops!” I cried, tapping the phone number. “It’s ringing!” 2 people. 8:30. Thursday. Natalina.

L'arcangelo

Jimmy (the Irishman has given me permission to use his real name) humors me.  He humors me when I “accidentally” make reservations and he humors me when I suggest we walk from Testaccio to Prati.

Finally settled into our seats, celebratory prosecco popped, we passed on the 13 euro (!) supplì and enjoyed the complementary cacio e pepe polenta instead.

Polenta cacio e pepe

Gnocchi di patate all’amatriciana me. Rigatoni all’amatriciana for him.

Poor Jimmy’s dish was a bit dry, but my gnoccho was perfect. The guanciale crisped, the pecorino liberally dusted, the gnocchi both fluffy and toothsome. I inhaled it and then lingered over bollecine and reminisces.

gnocchi

Some day, if I live in the US again, I will probably buy Trader Joe’s frozen gnocchi alla sorrentina once more. I will be harried and harassed and short on time. And even though it’s not very good, I will enjoy it because it will remind me of being 22 and thinking I knew everything.

But for now, in Rome, I will take advantage of L’Arcangelo.

L’Arcangelo
Via Giuseppe Gioacchino Belli, 59,
00193 Roma
+39 06 321 0992