As soon as I stepped off the airplane it was that essence of Rome that wafted all around me. The combination of (and please don’t be offended) a slight odour of pollution, the warm inviting smell of the Italian cigarettes (between cigarettes and cigars) and the damp humid air entered my nostrils at once, causing me to flush and swelter with emotion. I hadn’t been back in six years and to be here again was so exciting. Like finding your favourite lost toy.
So five of us have settled in an apartment very near Saint Peter’s Basilica or, as most know it, the Vatican. I chose this area on purpose: as my brother settles in with his in-laws across from the Coliseum , they have an incredible view every morning there is no denying it but I have the markets, specialty fish stores and incredible butchers to shop from. No paying five Euros for coffee in this part of town!!! It is a local neighbourhood and a fun one at that.
We have been here for five days and have accomplished so much! My father is a valuable tour guide. You want to see the real Rome? Then come with us. He grew up right here on Via Dei Serpenti, right down from the Coliseum.
Since our arrival, we have been alternating our nights out for dinner. We always eat at the traditional trattorias which dish up such home-style Roman cooking like deep fried olives (stuffed with pork), roasted whole rabbit with rosemary, veal scaloppini with fresh lemon and local ricotta cheese that is so rich and creamy it makes Devon cream look dull. Tripe Alla Romana, if you don’t know what that is, is tripe in a homemade tomato sauce. Spinach with pine nuts and freshly sautéed chicory. Large carafes of fresh local wine and arugula grappa. Spicy and bitter all in the same breath.
Today, two days before the wedding, we were invited to go to Lariano and have lunch with the former chef that I worked with and who is also my dad’s best friend of 44 years. He lives in the Castelli Romani, which are the Roman hills. In and around this part, just outside of Rome are some of the prettiest lakes you will see in Italy and boast the reputation of producing all the delicious, fresh wines that the Romans live on. Not the kind of wines that are complicated and lengthy in flavour but fresh and bright. The only wine that you can serve in a tumbler and it’s perfectly acceptable!
We trekked up the mountains to Lariano, which is a small town very near Castell Gandolfo. In case you don’t know, that resort town is the home of the Pope’s summer palace. Ernesto, my dad’s friend, has the cutest little cedar house in this town right behind his cousin’s house. So cute in fact, it is picture postcard perfect.
So here we are in this mecca of the simple Roman food scene. We arrived at this little house only to be greeted by the lemon, orange and mandarin trees, as well as tomato bushes, 18 different potted herbs, strawberry bushes and my personal favourite : oleanders. Bay leaf hedges up to my ears. Celery plants and apple trees, and of course, white peach trees. Peaches that grow bigger than your fist. Very sweet and minerally in taste.
Now I have learned that to eat at Ernesto’s house will stop you from eating or even looking at food for two days afterwards. Today was no different and I did to be fair- warn my fiancé on portion size. I told him the two rules my family lives by when we eat at Ernesto’s: no bread and eat only one quarter of what is on your plate.
We started out with a plate of local antipasti which is fresh salami, mortadella, and baby Bononcini. Puff pastry stuffed with tuna and olive oil and sautéed artichokes. Fried fresh green olives stuffed with lamb and pork. Second course consisted of short rigatoni in a cream and veal sauce with fresh peas. Third course was beef tenderloin in a thick Barolo sauce, a roasted chicken in fresh lemon and rosemary with roasted Roman potatoes. Tripe in a thick tomato sauce with local pecorino. Roman lentils with sage and wild boar sausage. Homemade meatballs in a savoury thyme sauce. The finale: fresh porcini mushrooms simply fried in a little olive oil and drizzled with a touch of salt. When Ernesto said that he forgot to make dessert, I almost cried with relief. My dad immediately took some Tums. The funny part was that I had forgotten about the cheese course. Fresh ricotta with a local cherry jam spread on top. I was very happy that I wore my Lulu Lemons.
Then there was the wine. First, we sampled the local merlot that Ernesto collected for us for the wedding. I think that the wine was blended with another grape. Smoky and peppery with lots of bright berry fruit and a rich savoury acid. Very smoky and flinty. Amazing. Two Euros for five litres. Equally amazing. The white that we drank (also for the nuptials) was an Arneis that had a silky/oily texture and bright citrus notes that tickled your tongue. To top off the day, however, we were very excited to see the next bottle that he pulled out: Massolino Barolo 2004 vintage!!!!! It’s the Barolo that I have on the Enomatic machines at Vin Room right now. I had been pouring the 2003, previously which was a little hot, rich and smoky. This one had a rich texture, violet nose and mineral aftertaste with a cooked cherry flavour core. Heavier with a crisp acid and meaty palate. I was in love.
Then Ernesto took out the Barbera that they produce as well- a 2009 vintage. He gave this to usas a gift to us to drink with our friends that night. I have never had the Barbera before. Leaner in style and flavour with a brighter fruit core and a bit chewy. We finished off with Nonino Grappa and a homemade Limoncello his cousin made that was very perfumed on the nose, reminiscent of white flowers and fresh green shrubs.
Cold espresso anyone? By the time I was finished I was rubbing my stomach and hoping that the mineral water would calm it down. Thank God for coffee!!!!