some sweet and salty food memories
This week, a little something different. I was so inspired by Buona Domenica’s newsletter asking for Italian food memories - and I absolutely devoured the comments. Serendipitously, another newsletter I follow, Elizabeth Minchilli shared a link to the comments from the New York Times recipe for carbonara, which is required reading (you won’t be disappointed).
The best carbonara of my life
So, I wanted to share some of my own food memories here. I’m so often snapping pictures of food- my daily espresso(s), a new pastry, a full bowl of pasta, the brightest of vegetables. The pictures tend to be low-quality and poorly lit, but I am desperately trying to capture the food and how I felt eating it.
A friend last night asked if I needed help with the menu - I assured her that I understand food very well.
Spaghetti that will make you close your eyes
Watching someone try their first cacio e pepe and carbonara and seeing them close their eyes to truly experience the flavor. Before they can swallow, they’re spinning their forks deep in the dish for the next serving. Meanwhile, I can’t wait any longer, and I exclaim that it is really just the pasta water, a few well-measured and well cared for ingredients, and perfect timing that makes it so special.
After a lovely stroll around Bracciano, a large lake near Viterbo, I hiked up from the shores to the centro. The way up was windy and hot- I was wearing my leather pants, so obviously I looked great and blended in with the Italians, but they were not the right choice for a near 65 and sunny day. As soon as I rounded the bend, I saw a flashy sign with slapdash slices of pizza that said PIZZA A SPICCHI in black letters that resembled my Nonno’s handwriting. I am used to seeing “taglio” for slices, so I was even more intrigued - and then I saw it was just one euro.
The shop was tight and compact, and run by an older couple, the man was cutting slices while the woman was stirring pots in the kitchen. I chose margherita, certo, and when I went to pay he said “Didn’t you already pay?” gesturing to the euro on the counter. I explained no, it must have been the person before me and he said “why did you tell me that!” and the woman said “you could have had free pizza!”
I would have paid far more for that slice of classic thin, Roman pizza. Best enjoyed in the piazza, watching the kids play soccer. Every bit of it tasted fresh, like I was biting into a late August tomato.
Cafe at tram depot
The first espresso I got in Rome deserves a spot, not just for the significance, but for how good it was. Crisp and acidic, just how I like it. I love the Tram Depot because it blends the best parts of Italian cafe culture: quick, easy shots consumed at the bar (in this case, a bright green tram near the Roma OStiense train station), and people-watching. The patio furniture is always packed with friends meeting up, the perfect place to eavesdrop
I learned to love amaro during the Christmas holidays. I remember my Nonno drinking a lot of sambuca as a digestivo, sometimes splashed in espresso and sometimes just on the side. Finally, I understood the need for a digestive after sitting around a full table in Naples, stuffed from course after course of fish.
Just when I thought that my stomach couldn't take it anymore and I would have to say basta! to the next dish, someone would pour the amber-colored montenegro amaro into a thick, vase-like glass. The smell is both sweet like syrup and a bit harsh like most hard alcohols, the texture thick and robust. It eases the stomach in no time, letting you dive back in for another round of food of course. How well designed!
Orecchiette in Viterbo
La Chimera is one of my favorite restaurants in Viterbo, and it was the first time that I fare una prenota (to make a reservation) for a friend and I. Set off corso d’Italia, the restaurant is down a few stairs and set in a warm, well-worn trattoria. Everything is stone or wood, and the waiters speak only Italian. Here is where I learned that Italian’s often say “oo-sa” instead of “U S A”, which explains why no one understood where I was from in the beginning.
The orecchiette, a type of pasta affectionately called orecchiette because of their ear-like shape, was divine. The pasta resembled little cups, holding the sweet saffron-colored sauce that had a welcomed piccante flair and huge crawfish. Served in a ceramic bowl, wrapped in foil, it’s always a treat to unwrap one of my favorite pastas.
“Pistachio cornetto, best enjoyed by starlight”
Perhaps every time I have had a cornetto con pistachio, but most notable at 3 am on a cold January night out with friends. Who knew it would be the perfect combination of salty-sweet, fresh baked by the notte panificio. We finished the evening clustering alongside the Viterbo nighttime (morning?) crowd for warmth, everyone clutching their warm cornetto of choice.
Come si pronuncia?
And this morning. I finally stopped by my neighborhood panificiera and waited in line with the regulars (they all seemed to know each other). I saw everyone else was getting this thin, muffin-shaped, glazed pastry – so, do as the locals do, and I ordered one too. When the baker brought it to me, I asked what it was and how to say it. “Ba-bà” she said, gesturing for each a. Friends and waiters alike will patiently tell me what a dish is or how to pronounce a word when I ask, repeating it slowly until I can mirror the syllables. A rum-soaked, airy dessert, the flavor was so astounding I said “oh my god” after my first bite (on domenica delle palme too, oops). The flavor was so deep and decadent and a perfect compliment to my milky cappuccino. I told the baker it was buonissima, and felt at loss for other words to describe the pillow-texture and sticky glaze.
Homemade all around
An easy Sunday lunch at a friend's house. The pasta was made and rolled by her nonna, the sauce by her mother, and the wine by her father. Everything complimented one another perfectly: the swirly, uneven, thick, golden spaghetti, the rich sauce, and aromatic vino. The chatter, the eye-rolling between my friend and her father, and the second (and third!) helpings made the meal.
Perhaps one of my favorite things about Italian culture is that - without fail - any time Italians gather around for either a ceremonious or casual meal, the conversation will always circle back to one thing: food. What did you eat yesterday? Who is going to cook, and how much? Maybe we could go to this restaurant, or that one? What are you going to eat next?
Who can blame them when the food is so good that words (in both English and Italian) seem to escape you?
Oh! And the best gelato to date…!
Ciao for now, and buon appetito!