The hot and sunny summer this year brought an abundance of tomatoes. Out tiny city yard was just big enough to fit few bushes of Sungolds, some Roma, and a plant or two each of red cherry and big burgundy slicing tomato, which name escapes me now. It is dutifully noted at the bottom of the planter, but it is a jungle out there… It is a a container jungle, but far from being contained. The Sungolds are reaching the top of first story window, tied with – what else – ties made from Liberty fabric scraps. Slicing tomatoes are taller then the fence, all thanks to strictly organic fertilizer, which was only used once, despite best efforts to keep “schedule”. And this is how we roll in our tiny city backyard, if you squint hard enough you can pretend it is a country garden shack. Welcome.
This year’s culinary discovery for me was tomato confit. Mine is lightly cooked in oil with home grown thyme an some garlic, just so the skins burst. Tomatoes are peeled when cooled, and frozen whole with leftover oil on top, for winter pizza and pasta. The fragrance permeating the kitchen when I make it it just a bonus.
I did not expect to be so smitten by the food culture in Rome. I know, seriously, how was that possible? How many cookbooks on Italian cooking can be found in an average bookshop? How many cooking shows are out there? Well, I do have an excuse here – I hardly ever watch tv. But the true reason is different, and so prosaic…that is downright silly. Years ago, I worked in an American-Italian cafe as a cook. Menu was very limited, and while the wood oven pizza, which I had nothing to do with, was great, the pasta with alfredo sauce or shrimp scampi must have turned my taste buds off. I could not understand how anyone would gobble down so much pasta with plain cream, and keep coming back for more. If this was Italian cooking, I was not buying into it.
When I found myself in Rome this June for Bay and Orellana food photography and styling retreat, I headed for the familiar ingredients, to taste the waters. Pasta with porcini mushrooms? Bring it on, I have never heard of anyone ever ruining anything by adding porcinis, after all. Follow along for a feast of color, taste, and simple elegance. Rome, as I see it…
Stop 1: Cafe alfresco dining
Stop 2: Dessert hour at the Apartment
Stop 3: Alfresco lunch in the country
Rome has been a complicated destination for me, for years. The complicated kind of love…I remember days when I was in high school and one summer my brother and I tried to convince my parents to drive to Italy from our southern Poland home. We took the map, drew somewhat straight line, taking the Alps thankfully into account, and pleaded with all our might to head south. The car, a Polish Fiat, would probably survive the trip, my parents’ pockets, not so much. It was the old Eastern block days, when no one could travel outside of Eastern block, unless proved a significant amount of funds in dollars (!) available for each day. So… we went to Hungary instead, which I consider just as delightful to this day. But Italy…
Fast forward to my university days in Krakow and the first year exams in law school: the dreaded Roman Law. Widely regarded as the natural thinning process for first year students. I did pass, the second time around, but something wilted in me, I did not want to hear anything vaguely Roman…I mocked the innocent travelers to Italy mercilessly, despite having evidence to the contrary from my own brother and sister-in-law! Let’s just say, the ‘dolce vita’ was not doing it for me. Until this June. Sometime mid spring I saw photos from Sif Orellana’s and Signe Bay’s photography retreat which they held in Rome and I nearly wept. Soooo much beauty. So here I was, wide awake at 4 in the morning, signing up for their second retreat in June called “A Roman summer feast“. Stay tuned for food styling and photography storytelling post, but now let’s explore Trastevere, Rome. Off the beaten path, of course.
I adored Trastevere, from the moment I arrived. The trolleys, just like in Krakow, down to number 8, which goes along Viale di Trastevere. The piazzas, the churches, the flea markets…I chose to arrive early before my retreat and I stayed at the Villa della Fonte, just around the corner from Piazza di Santa Maria. Windows open, I soaked up the sounds of simple life celebrations.
In Trastevere, and later at the end of my trip in Monti, I have visited the most magnificent, spellbinding churches:
- Basilica di Santa Maria in Trastevere
- Basilica di Santa Cecilia in Trastevere – with a gorgeous 12th century Last Judgement fresco by Cavallini (in nuns’ choir, very limited hours!)
- Chiesa di San Francesco d’Assisi a Ripa – with Beata Ludovica Albertoni sculpture by Bernini above
- Basilica di San Pietro in Vincoli – with Michael Angelo “Moses” sculpture below
- Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore in Monti
My last night in Rome I spent in Monti, sitting on a tiny balcony of The Blue Hostel room and looking over quiet courtyards, rolling clouds and cats playing on a rooftop of a neighboring building. Peroni from a can never tasted better…I watered the potted jasmine on the balcony and went to sleep thinking about the planned morning adventure at Panella. And adventure it was, I recommend you folks brush up on the coffee lingo before you order. Let’s just say ‘cortado’ met with a blank stare. I have desperately replaced my order with macchiato, which got an approving nod. That and a buttery, flaky cornetto ensured that I will return. Promise.