Spring Travels — Rome

Aaron flew home from Portugal, and I continued on for another 10 days — first to Rome, then to Hungary.  I had no specific itinerary in Rome.  I decided to go there next for two main reasons, (1) central location, en route to Budapest and returning to Boston, and (2) the meat-centric cuisines in Spain and Portugal (and in Hungary shortly) are a challenge for this partly-vegetarian/pescatarian, and I was eager for the pastas and vegetables which I love in Italy.

My first visit to Rome had been in 2007.  During the week I stayed in the city, I frequently went to the restaurant, La Matriciana, favored by the woman whose apartment I rented.  It’s a family-run restaurant, and I always felt at home with the brothers, Fabio and Mauro, who run it, along with their father, Fortunato.  I became such a regular during that week that we memorialized the friendship with this photo of the brothers and me, along with Luigi, one of the regular waiters.

During my trip this March, one of my first meals was at La Matriciana.  You can imagine the surprise and delight when I showed up with this photo on my iPhone and showed it to them.  Everyone is a little “more mature” now, but the restaurant is ageless and as good or better than ever.  I ate there 3 times in my four days in Rome in March.

Eating and walking were my main activities in the city.  Another “must-do” stop was for rectangular, thin-crust pizza at Antico Forno Roscioli.

I stayed in two different hotels.  One was a former favorite, Hotel Mancino 12.  I stayed just one night to begin, because they were full after that.  However, that disappointment quickly reversed itself, for I then found IQ Hotel Roma, a much younger, hipper place — and one with excellent breakfast included AND self-service laundry facilities, of which I was by then in great need, since my three-week trip was carry-on only.  For even more serendipity, I quickly realized that IQ Hotel Roma was less than one block away from La Matriciana!

There were plenty of other good meals and splendid discoveries as I wandered around the little neighborhoods.  I also had a great deal of fun with the young barbers in town, as I definitely needed a haircut — though not quite ready for the modish styles prevalent in the area.  I loved Rome more than ever.

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Spring Travels — Portugal, Porto and the Douro Valley

We flew from Barcelona to Porto, Portugal, as a base from which to explore the wines of the Douro Valley.  The physical beauty of the Valley, the proliferation of grapevines everywhere, and the quality of the wines were astonishing. I would rank the Douro as one of the most beautiful landscapes I have ever visited.

As a bonus, I enjoyed colorful Porto quite a bit, as well.  Good hotel, very good food (including a great vegetarian restaurant), a visit to the Taylor Fladgate Port winery across the river, and a fine place for walking and exploring — Porto exceeded my expectations.

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Spring Travels — Spain

Aaron and I took off for Spain and Portugal in early March.  We had a few days in Barcelona, followed by three days in Priorat and Montsant, visiting wineries and the towns of Tarragona and Falset.  I won’t give you all the details, but here are some visual highlights — including food, wine, and local color.

Rendezvous in JFK for flight to Barcelona

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Before My Spring Travels

I was traveling in Europe for most of March and half of April, and I plan to tell you about food and wine highlights from there shortly.  But before I do that, let me throw in a few food/wine remembrances from the short period after classes ended and before my trips.

First, I need to set the scene.  February was a long time ago.  This is what it looked like from inside the enclosure on my tractor while snowplowing:

Cold, raw winter calls for sturdier foods.  Barbara had a good example, with a vegetable pot pie she made, topped with rosettes of mashed potatoes instead of the usual pastry.

This 2012 Lacryma di Morro d’Alba was just right with the dish.

I did some fresh pasta-making, such as hand-made Cannelloni filled with a fresh Spinach and Almond milk Ricotta blend.  These were baked, with some fresh vegetables strewn on top, along with a touch of tomato sauce.   A 1998 Barbaresco from the cellar was a most enjoyable companion.

Other hearty dishes included some excellent canned Portuguese tuna with beans and red onions, and a Spanish chickpeas, rice and black currants meal, baked in a cazuela.

On the lighter side was a lunch dish, featuring excellent lightly-pickled vegetables, inspired by superb fresh Daikon radish from a visit to Chinatown with student friends.

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Catching Up — Food at Home in May

I have some catching up to do here.  About three months’ worth.  Forget chronological order.  When you get this far behind, it does not matter.  So I’ll begin with the most recent, with a few meals this past week.

Barbara got us started with a wonderful and simple dinner — soft polenta, topped with zucchini and eggplant in tomato sauce.  It was perfect for one of these cool Spring evenings.

The next night it was my turn.  Pasta, of course.  I found a small package (250 gm.) of Gargagnelli from Abruzzo, for which I made a Ligurian-style vegetable sauce with zucchini, carrots, leeks, peas, and Pecorino cheese.  It was a flavorful as it was colorful.

The wine was a luscious Sangiovese, 2016 Rosso Della Torre by La Sabbiona, one of Nick Mucci’s growers from Emilia Romagna.  In fact, a few nights before I had met the winemaker at a tasting in Cambridge, featuring 7 of the families whose wine Nick imports.

Finally, I can share both lunch and dinner today.  I had cooked two batches of dried beans a few days ago; Borlotti from Gustiamo, and Caballero from Rancho Gordo.  These had been part of several dishes already (especially the white bean purée with the Caballeros), and it was time to finish the rest.  The solution was a Bean Salad, with many of my favorite ingredients, including leftovers that needed to be consumed soon.  Among the ingredients:

  • Caballero and Borlotti beans, cooked
  • raw red onion, chopped
  • Daikon radish, medium cubes
  • celery, thin-sliced
  • chopped mushrooms, marinated previously in olive oil and lemon juice
  • chopped cherry tomatoes
  • sautéed sweet peppers, small chunks
  • Piparras pickled peppers, sliced
  • thinly-sliced Castelfranco Radicchio
  • capers
  • red wine vinegar from Portugal
  • olive oil
  • salt and pepper

These get dumped into a a stainless bowl and tossed together.  The interchange of all the flavors over the next 15 minutes results in a great dish for lunch.

Dinner tonight was built on dinner last night, plus another recipe from Antipasti, by Julia Della Croce.  Each Spring our town library holds a huge used book sale, with contributions from all over town.  Barbara is an active supporter of Friends of the Library, and she spends many hours helping to sort the incoming books.  We bought Antipasti, after a sorting session on Sunday.

In keeping with our recent Emilian theme of Italian food and wine, Barbara had cooked a Swiss Chard and Spinach Pie for dinner the previous night, and we shared some of the leftovers tonight.  To that, I added a variation of another recipe from the book, Zucchini and Eggplant Rolls, stuffed with Almond Milk Ricotta whipped with chopped grilled Vidalia onion, and a little tomato sauce.  The wine was Tollara, also from Emilia Romagna, a white wine I have shared with you before, from Malvasia di Candia grapes.

Castelfranco Radicchio for Bean Salad

Rolled and Stuffed Zucchini

Zucchini and Eggplant Rolls

Swiss Chard and Spinach Pie

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More Tidbits…

Year end was a busy time for cooking.  Learned how to make pure levain bread — no added yeast.  Made one version with whole grains, plus olives and walnuts.

Puréed San Franciscano beans, topped with sautéed greens with salt and garlic — yummy.

I really love beans, especially in the winter.  This was a mushroom-bean soup that was very satisfying.  Hearty sustenance for wintry weather.

Several glugs of Puglia olive oil are essential to every meal.

How about grilled homemade levain with a red pepper-bean purée and some chopped red onion?

Sometimes I go back to cookbooks I haven’t examined in decades.  One of those was Cirò and Sal’s Cookbook from 1987.  This was from an acclaimed chef of a famous Italian restaurant in Provincetown on Cape Cod.

I had some small calamari to play with, so I made this dish, but without the cream (unnecessary in my view).  It was perfect!

Another day I had some leftover pasta that Barbara had made.  It had butternut squash and a good bit of cheese in it.   I chose to add some contrast to the rich flavors, using radicchio di Treviso and some almond milk, then roasting it in a very hot oven.  Crispy and good.   Barbara decided to add a French chocolate cake to the menu that night.  That was pretty special, too.

Of course, we must remember to stay in tip-top physical condition.  This tea towel says it very well.  Thank you, Lynn and Dave.


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Tidbits from the Past Three Months

I’ve been AWOL (Away Without Leave — military jargon) from my blogging for three months.  You can attribute it to my teaching activities, the holidays, sheer laziness, or all of the above.  In any case, too much has gone by for me to reconstruct any sort of cogent stories about what has transpired in the food, wine, and travel departments during that period.  Fortunately, I saved a few good photos, and an occasional recipe or two, so I will now provide tidbits of some of the highlights.

Portuguese Octopus

Found some at Whole Foods; cooked it as prescribed.  Enjoyed it immensely.

Year-End Goodies

Decorations for the holidays:

Turkey Pot Pie by Barbara, leftovers from Thanksgiving.

Baked Mussels with Tomatoes

With some Roasted Monkfish

Accompanied by a remarkable Sicilian white wine — recently discoved in my cellar, about 20 years past when it was supposed to be drunk.

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