Rome has at least 50 museums where you can see everything from paintings to pasta, and I’ve spent a fair amount of time in a majority of them over the years. But I’ve learned that when you’re traveling, it’s nice to step away from museums sometimes and do something a little different. Something different… something fun… something delicious. That’s what I did in between museum-hopping, boutique shopping and hunting down new gelato shops. There are many cooking classes to choose from in the Eternal City, but this one is conducted by a chef — Fabio Bongianni — not in a restaurant, but in his own home nearby the Spanish Steps. Come on now, how often do you get a chance to peek inside an apartment owned by a noble family that dates back to the Renaissance and Middle Ages? That family would be the Colonna family, who supplied a pope and many political leaders over the centuries and who are the owners of one of the largest private art collections in Rome at the magnificent Galleria Colonna.
So I signed up and even though I’ve shopped in many of Rome’s less touristy-markets, I had fun tagging along as Fabio began the day by choosing vegetables in the Campo dei Fiori market.
Next stop was the old Jewish ghetto for some meat.
And some fish too. Can you tell Fabio has a good sense of humor?
We walked to his apartment on via Gregoriana, passing by the monumental Trevi Fountain.
Fabio stripped off his good shirt, we all put on aprons and got to work…. cutting fish….
making two kinds of pasta – one with eggs and flour for the ravioli, and one with just flour and water for the cavatelli.
Some people worked on squishing cooked potatoes through a ricer for the gnocchi:
Rolling out the cavatelli took a bit of practice but people caught on fast:
We ended up with a tray like this:
The ravioli were stuffed with ricotta cheese, zucchini that were cooked and mashed, parmesan cheese and an egg to bind everything together:
Fabio was an expert at tossing everything in the pan.
The best part was the eating. Three primi: ravioli dressed with butter, sage and parmesan cheese:
Cavatelli with cherry tomatoes, sea bass, olives and capers and a sprinkling of bread crumbs:
potato gnocchi with eggplant, tomato sauce and fresh mozzarella cheese.
Meat and vegetables too – chicken cooked two ways — sauteed with a coating of breadcrumbs and olives, and braised in balsamic vinegar; baked eggplant, fried zucchini and ricotta “balls.”
For dessert, we headed to one of Fabio’s restaurants — “That’s Amore” and celebrated the birthday of one of the young and lovely participants with cake and coffee.
If you’re headed to Rome and are interested in taking a class from Fabio, click here for more information. He plans to move his cooking classes from this apartment however, so I can’t guarantee you’ll be eating in this lovely dining room — or gazing at the view of St. Peter’s from his bedroom. (Yes, we were all invited in. His wife is very tolerant… to a point.) But you’ll have a great time no matter where it’s held — and a delectable meal at the end.
Pour flour on working surface and make a fountain with a hole in the middle of the flour. Pour the water into the middle of the fountain then add a little flour at a time with the tip of the fork. Keep beating and when all the flour is mixed and you have a dough consistency, knead the dough by pressing and folding gently with your hands. Now, work the dough with palm of your hands – holding with the left hand and pressing with the right, then fold the dough over and turn. Repeat this process for 5 minutes. Let the ball of dough sit for 30 minutes in the fridge.
Take your ball of dough and divide it into quarters. Working with one quarter at a time, lay the dough out on a lightly floured surface and divide it into quarters again. Take a piece of the divided dough (now and 1/8 of the original amount) and roll it into a long tube 1/4 inch in diameter. Divide the tube into pieces 1 inch long with either a pastry cutter or a knife. Now this is the fun part. Using the edge of a butter knife or pastry cutter, with the device at a 45 degree angle, press on each piece of dough and pull across the length of it. You find that the motion causes the dough to curl up the edge of the impliment. If you don’t get it at first, don’t be discouraged. Just keep working with it using different amounts of pressure on the dough and eventually you’ll get into the grove.
Debone the sea bass and use the bones for your stock. Place the bones in a pan with 1/8 c of olive oil and one clove of garlic. Then add the onion, celery and garlic to the pan to Sautee for a few minutes. Next add 2 cups of cold water and 2 pinches of salt. You need enough cold water to completely cover the ingredients so add more cold water if needed. Simmer for 20 minutes. Then drain the stock and save for the later step.
Saute cherry tomatoes cut in halves in a pan with one clove of garlic. Cook until the cherry tomatoes start caramelizing then glaze with white wine. Cook the cavatelli in boiling water until it floats. Add the pasta to the pan with the cherry tomato and white wine. Add the chopped sea bass and fish stock then cook until the sauce reduces. Reduce until you reach a nice creamy sauce.
Remove from the heat and serve with black olives, capers and fresh parsley sprinkled on top.
One of my first entries when I started this blog several years ago was “Fourteen Reasons To Fall in Love With Rome.” One of the reasons was a gelato shop that’s no longer in business, and in trying to edit the entry this week, I accidentally deleted the entire post. That was reason enough for me to revisit the post, especially since I spent some time in Rome on my most recent trip. As you can see, the post is now “Twenty Reasons” rather than “Fourteen Reasons” but I could actually list hundreds more reasons why I never tire of the Eternal City.
1. The Fountains of Rome – You’ll see magnificent large fountains all over the city, including well-known ones like the Trevi Fountain, but this small one in the Jewish Ghetto, erected in the 16th century, called “La Fontana Delle Tartarughe” (fountain of the turtles) is my favorite.
2. Galleria Doria Pamphili – Who wouldn’t be enchanted by this large art collection housed in the enormous palace owned and still occupied by the princely Pamphili family, whose ancestors included Pope Innocent X. Among the many treasures here is a portrait of the pope by Velazquez and a marble bust by Bernini.
3. Gelato -My favorite new place for gelato in Rome is I Caruso at Via Collina 13, a little off the beaten tourist path, but not too far from Piazza Repubblica. A couple of other great spots are Giolitti, near the Pantheon, and Fior di Luna in Trastevere. Just stay away from those places selling neon blue gelato.
4. The surprise waiting for you as you look through the keyhole at the Knights of Malta. I hate to spoil it for you and unveil the secret, so you’ll have to go to Rome and see for yourself. It’s located in the beautiful Aventine neighborhood, at the Piazza Cavalieri di Malta, designed by Piranesi in 1765.
5. Trastevere – What many people call “The Real Rome” is a vibrant, noisy neighborhood of cobblestone streets and tiny alleys where you can easily get lost and be glad for it. Ignore the graffiti and the “dog people” – beggars who use dogs in their approach – and focus on the shops, the cafes, the restaurants and the churches, like the exquisite Santa Maria in Trastevere, one of Rome’s oldest churches, or the beautiful Santa Cecelia pictured below. Wander into one on a Saturday and you might find yourself witnessing a real Roman wedding.
6. Graffiti – Yes, there is lots of it here, but you have to look past that and find the whimsy, as in this case. Juxtaposed with a teensy red Smart car, it becomes an enchanting scene.
7. The Roman mosaics and the bronze sculptures at Museo Nazionale Palazzo Massimo alle Terme – This small museum not far from the train station is a gem — one look at the mosaic floors from the Roman era and you’ll wish you could order them — along with a toga — for your own home. The bronze statues, dating from the 2nd century B.C. of a Hellenistic Prince, and a boxer, made using the “lost wax” process, are nothing short of miraculous. They will take your breath away.
8. The coffee – The cappuccino in the picture comes from Rome’s famed St. Eustachio cafe. The truth is, you can get a cup of espresso or cappuccino that’s just as good, and a lot less expensive, at many bars in Rome. But it’s worth the pilgrimage to this noted spot if only because it’s around the corner from Borromini’s elegantly twisted spire atop the church of St. Ivo alla Sapienza.
9.The Pantheon – The oldest building in Rome that’s been in continuous use is this circular building that was constructed as a pagan temple. It was built nearly two thousand years ago and it still holds the record for the world’s largest, unreinforced concrete dome. It’s been used as a Roman Catholic church since the 7th century, and is also the final resting place for many notables, including Renaissance painter Raphael, and Italian Kings Victor Emanuele II and Umberto I.
10. The Temple of Hercules Victor – It’s often mistaken for the Temple of Vesta, but this jewel of a symmetrical building from around 120 B.C. is actually a temple to Hercules Victor and is the oldest surviving marble building in Rome. With its concentric ring of corinthian columns, it’s also my favorite ancient building, after the Pantheon.
11.The “Jubilee church” designed by Richard Meier –
The church of Dio Padre Misericordia was built as part of the initiative “50 churches for Rome 2000,” celebrating the new millennium. Situated in a working-class residential neighborhood, it rises triumphantly like three sails on the ocean,symbolizing the holy trinity. Unlike his controversial building housing the ancient Ara Pacis, Meier hit a home run with this stark, modern design, which really gives the sensation of being closer to heaven.
12. Music – You’ll find concerts and music in different venues all over the city, from churches to the Baths of Caracalla, a spectacular setting for grand opera in the summertime. During the rest of the year, opera lovers can high-tail it to the Rome opera house. While not as large as New York’s Metropolitan Opera House, it makes up in baroque splendor what it lacks in size. The outside however, is typical drab and bulky Fascist-style architecture.
13.The frescoes at Villa Farnesina – This Renaissance villa along the Tiber River in Trastevere was built for Agostino Chigi, a rich Siennese banker and treasurer of Pope Julius II. He commissioned artists including Raphael and Sebastiano de Piombo to decorate the walls and ceilings with expansive eye-popping frescoes. It became part of the Farnese family holdings in the late 16th century and now belongs to Italy.
14. Sauteed mussels and clams at “Le Mani in Pasta”- This simply prepared dish of tiny clams and mussels with a few shrimp tossed in, is always my favorite first course at one of my favorite restaurants in Rome — in Trastevere on Via Genovesi. It’s always full by 9 pm. the time dinner gets in full swing for Romans, so call for a reservation.
16. Ghirlandaio’s Cupid and Venus at the Galleria Colonna – The lavish Renaissance palazzo alone is reason enough to visit, but savor the artwork stacked on the walls, including ceiling frescoes depicting the Battle of Lepanto and Ghirlandaio’s Cupid and Venus. Several years ago, art restorers stripped off centuries of grime from the painting — and clothing too — that had been painted on Venus during more prudent times. Attentive fans of the film “Roman Holiday” may recognize the gallery and the painting in the final scene where Audrey Hepburn appears as a princess. Open only on Saturday mornings and located at Via della Pilotta.
17. Contemporary Art – Rome’s newest museum finally gives modern art lovers a place for design, art and architecture. Opened in 2010, the MAXXI museum, located in the Flaminia neighborhood of Rome, features works by 21st century artists, including this recent exhibit by Michaelangelo Pistiletto – paintings on reflective mirrored surfaces.
18. The bread and pizza at La Renella bakery. There’s almost always a line at this bakery on Via del Moro, where the scent of freshly baked bread wafts out onto the narrow streets of Trastevere. The bread is perfection and the pizza is too. Slabs of pizza that they will cut to your order – every kind of topping you could ever want — and many you’d never think of. All of them will leave you wanting more — pizza with olives and tomatoes, with potatoes and sausage, with zucchini flowers, anchovies and mozzarella, with prosciutto, arugula and on and on and on.
19. The Quirinale – Visitors can tour the opulent palace that is home to Italy’s president only on Sunday mornings, and hear concerts on occasion too. Things slow down in the summer, but during the rest of the year, you might hear a jazz vocalist, a harpsichordist, or a play set to Stravinsky music. All in the beautiful Paolina Chapel. And you might even get to shake hands with Italy’s President Giorgio Napolitano, as I did a few years ago, when he and his wife joined the crowd.
20. The Food Markets – From the well-known market in the campo de fiori, to lesser known ones (at least to tourists) like the ones in Testaccio or in Piazza San Cosimato, Rome’s neighborhoods hold a cornucopia of fresh fruits and vegetables. When it’s in season, you’ll see broccoli romano – looking like a work of art nestled amid its large leaves.
21. Unexpected Events – OK, so I lied, and made it a list of 21, not 20. But it made me happy and I’m including it for that reason. It happens in any city if you’ve got your eyes and ears open, but when you stumble across a festival, a parade or some other event you didn’t know about, it all seems so much more grand when ancient Roman monuments provide the backdrop. For me, this serendipitous bumping into a raucous gay pride parade on my recent visit was just the pick-me-up I needed to lift me from a melancholy afternoon.