Sunday, September 6, 2015

Della Terra Culinary Tour and the Best Food Tour in Rome

Location Today:  Pittsburgh, PA but mentally, Rome Italy
What I am cooking:  Eggplant Parmesan, 3-hour Bolognese, Sundried Tomato and Eggplant Spread
Upcoming Recipe on Thursday:  Easy Crostini
The Wishing Well in Rome
      My Italian frame of mind started last Monday when we embarked on a culinary tour of Italy at our favorite local Italian restaurant, Della Terra.  Chef Fiore Moletz has partnered with Barsotti Wines to create a four course tasting menu highlighting the food and wines of Italy's 20 regions and the first stop was Abruzzo.
     We started with a Crespelle, which was a savory crepe stuffed with ricotta and finished with  b├ęchamel.  The wonderful starter was light and a delightful beginning for what was to come.  The wine pairing was perfect; a 2010 Trebbiano that had a beautiful golden color and complimented the savoriness of the dish.
     Chef provided some education just before the second course.  Arrosticini is a grilled Abruzzo classic.  Small chunks of lamb are highly seasoned, skewered and cooked over an open flame.  For our dish, Chef Moletz grilled small pieces of locally sourced pork and served the petite skewers family style alongside grilled bread.  The 2012 Montepulciano, the principal grape of the region, provided a fruity backdrop to the juicy, seasoned pork.
     The pasta course was not only delicious but very inventive and the wine pairing was a total surprise.  The housemate semolina and egg pasta was cooked to a perfect al dente and vongole sauce consisting of small clams (from Pennsylvania!), tomatoes, parsley and garlic was light with a wonderful depth of flavor.  Joe Barsotti's choice of an Italian Rose was daring but it worked so well.  We are huge fans of rose wine and I loved that it was getting center stage.
       A slightly chilled Montepulciano which had been aged for 24 months in french oak showed the versatility of this wonderful grape and cut the richness of the fried nutella dessert ravioli.  Between each course, Chef and Mr. Barsotti provided short insights to the food culture of Abruzzo and its wines.   The evening was a lovely introduction to the region and I am looking forward to next month's "trip" to Valle d'Aosta.
     My mother-in-law asked me yesterday where we would be traveling to this holiday weekend.  I hated my response, "No where."  It stung just a bit to say that as this time last year, we were spending a wonderful long weekend in Rome.  We had rented a fantastic garden level apartment in the working class neighborhood of Testaccio.  In our private walled garden, we had ruins peering over at us as we dined alfresco.  Within walking distance of the center city, it was a peaceful alternative to the crushing tourism of the Vatican and other must-see sights.

     The area is rich in history and with no real tourists sites, it is relatively quiet and very authentic.  In Roman times, food for Rome was transported to the neighborhood in clay pots called amphorea.   The food inside such as olive oil or wine would degrade the pots so they could not be reused.  The pots were broken and thrown into a pile which over many, many years became a hill.  Even today, when walking by Monte Testaccio, you can see remnants of clay pots sticking out of the hillside.  The other cool attraction for literary lovers is the non-Catholic cemetery.  In this peaceful almost garden-like cemetery lies the graves of two famous English poets, Keats and Shelley.

     Let's get back to the food, shall we.  We had learned fast that when traveling with a teenager, there are only so many monuments or churches that be toured before the eyes start rolling back and sighs become standard conversation.  "Really, this can this church be any different than the last church?"  If I threw food into the mix, then chances are that Dear Daughter would have a good time and end up learning something...hence the food tour.  With a little bit of advance research, I came across Eating Italy, a tour company that specialized not only in walking food tours of Rome but had a food tour of our neighborhood, Testaccio.

Pizza and Suppli

     The group was small; no more than ten people.  After a quick introduction, we headed to our first location - Dess'Art, which we learned was THE place in Rome to get Cannoli.  Incredible and not too sweet, it was a great start to the afternoon.  Next stop was the incredible gourmet food shop called Volpetti.  Two brothers opened the store over 40 years ago and still work the counters and there is no way that you are going to get out of there without sampling something...and consequently, buying.  I left with prosciutto, cheeses and aged balsamic vinegar - the start of picnic.

     Over the course of four hours, we would tour the neighborhood sampling delights such as suppli (fried risotto balls), authentic Roman pizza, and gelato.  We learned how to know if the gelato was real or fake.  We learned why thick Roman pizza was sold during the day while thin crust, wood fired pizzerias were only open in the evening.  We lingered at the indoor food hall and actually made a quick bruschetta with the freshest tomatoes and sampled real buffalo mozzarella.  If that wasn't enough, we had  lunch at Flavio al Velavevodetto, with ample portions of three different types of pasta and glasses of wine.

     At the end, we really felt part of the neighborhood.  Over the course of the next several days, we would visit many of these locations again.  From our garden, we would glance at the ruins while enjoying our tasty morsels and dream of returning one day.
     Whether you are a foodie or not, I would highly recommend booking a three or four hour food tour when on vacation.  It is a great way to get acclimated to the area, learn about the culture and history and see some spectacular sights.  And when in Rome, book an Eating Italy food tour!

This weeks' CSA Plan:
Tomatoes:  Carrying on the Italian Theme, the Heirlooms were served with Burrata Cheese as a simple first course on Friday evening.
Eggplant:  With a simple marinara sauce simmering, tonight's dinner will be Eggplant Parmesan.
Onions:  Almost gone since I made both Marinara and Bolognese
Wax Beans:  Gone...with the steak dinner on Friday evening.
Red Skin Potatoes - They will keep in the pantry for perhaps a simple gratin.


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