April 28, 2009

Spaghetti ajo, ojo e peperoncino

This is another extremely simple recipe from the Roman kitchen to yours. If you know some Italian I’m sure you’ll be surprised by the name of this recipe. Maybe you would recognize better aglio, olio e peperoncino. While aglio, olio e peperoncino is standard Italian, ajo, ojo e peperoncino is Roman dialect or romanesco. Both mean garlic, oil and hot pepper. As a matter of fact, these are exactly the ingredients we’ll use.

1 lb spaghetti
1-2 garlic cloves, minced
5 Tbsp Olive oil
1½ Tbsp peperoncino (red pepper flakes – or 2 small and fresh hot peppers)

Cook the pasta in plenty of salted boiling water. Just minutes before the pasta is ready, sauté the garlic with the olive oil in a saucepan over medium heat. Add the peperoncino. When the pasta is al dente, drain it and reserve about ¼ cup of the cooking water. Toss the pasta over the quick soffritto and add the reserved starchy water. Give a quick stir and serve!
Posted by Daziano at 7:45 PM | 17 comments  
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April 19, 2009

Bucatini alla gricia - a pristine recipe from Rome

This might be the easiest pasta dish to make! And this recipe is the real McCoy, in the sense that other traditional Roman dishes like bucatini all’amatriciana and spaghetti alla carbonara were inspired by bucatini alla gricia.

1 lb bucatini pasta
5 oz guanciale (Italian unsmoked bacon), diced
4 Tbsp pecorino romano cheese, grated
Freshly ground black pepper

Cook the pasta in plenty of salted boiling water. In the meantime, in a saucepan over medium heat sauté the guanciale until nice and golden. When the pasta is al dente, drain it and reserve about ¼ cup of the cooking water. Toss the pasta over the guanciale, add the cheese, some freshly ground black pepper, and the reserved starchy water. Give a quick stir and serve!

Pasta alla gricia is supposed to come from the town of Grisciano near Rome. The absence of tomatoes indicates its ancient origins: pasta alla gricia was eaten before tomatoes were introduced to Europe from South America.

Bucatini are like thick spaghetti with a transversal hole inside. Buco means hole in Italian.

The traditional recipe calls for guanciale, a kind of Italian unsmoked bacon (actually, cured and unsmoked pig jowl). However, New York City is the only place I know in North America where you can find guanciale (in one store in the middle of the meat district). So, it's only for this reason that you’re temporarily allowed to use pancetta or unsmoked bacon instead… but if you’re in New York, then you MUST get some guanciale! The same thing will apply to every recipe calling for guanciale.
Posted by Daziano at 9:06 PM | 25 comments  
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April 17, 2009

Fierce penne from Rome – penne all’arrabbiata

This is a super simple pasta dish to make and a perfect example of the Roman cucina povera. Penne all’arrabbiata means penne pasta in a rage… and their anger is expressed by being really spicy!

1 lb penne pasta
1 ¾ cup passata di pomodoro or good tomato sauce
2 Tbsp peperoncino (red pepper flakes – or 2 small and fresh hot peppers)
2 garlic cloves, minced
4 Tbsp olive oil
1 bunch Italian parsley, chopped

Cook the pasta in salted boiling water. Meanwhile, in a saucepan over medium heat and using 2 Tbsp of olive oil, sauté the garlic together with the peperoncino for a minute or so (be careful since we don’t want to burn the garlic). Add the tomatoes and the remaining 2 Tbsp of olive oil. Let the sauce cook for about 5 minutes, just until the pasta is al dente. Drain the pasta and toss it over the sauce. Give a quick stir, add the parsley, and your penne all’arrabbiata is ready to serve!

Instead of tomato sauce, you can also use about 15 oz ripe tomatoes (peeled, chopped and seeds discarded) or 15 oz canned San Marzano tomatoes (pelati).

If you want a less-angry version of penne all’arrabbiata, use 1 garlic clove and 1 Tbsp peperoncino.

In Italy, pasta is condita, which means seasoned with a sauce. That’s why you’d probably find traditional recipes a bit scarce in sauce by international standards.

So, there’s no cheese in this recipe? In traditional recipes, usually cheese is not added to a sauce when you’re using garlic.

Despite my love for Giada de Laurentiis, arrabbiata sauce does not call for pancetta or bacon. If you use pancetta then you’ll be getting something closer to pasta all’amatriciana. The use of onion is also a widespread mistake. In sum, onion, pancetta and cheese (even pecorino romano) are considered a sacrilege to the traditional recipe!
Posted by Daziano at 9:13 PM | 17 comments  
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April 15, 2009

Cucina romanesca – Exploring Roman cuisine

Roma è una città meridionale – Rome is a southern city – used to say my grandfather, proud of his deep northern Italian roots. You can really tell this is true when you look at what Romans eat. In Italy there are two different pasta regions: while in the North we prefer fresh pasta – pasta fresca – (and sometimes we prefer rice), in the South people use dried pasta – pasta secca. And Romans love dried pasta. In fact, they die for spaghetti! In Rome you’ll find the apotheosis of recipes calling for spaghetti: spaghetti alla carbonara, spaghetti cacio e pepe, spaghetti alla carrettiera, spaghetti alla gricia, spaghetti ajo, ojo e peperoncino... Romans love their spaghetti so much that they dispute with Naples the origin of spaghetti alla puttanesca! But Romans do not only love spaghetti. Rigatoni (such as in rigatoni alla pajata), bucatini (think of bucatini all’amatriciana) and penne (penne all’arrabbiata) are also dried pasta shapes Romans like.

Roman cuisine, and by extension the cuisine of the whole Lazio region, is also a cucina povera or peasant cuisine. No dairy products, almost no butter, no cream… so, carbonara sauce with cream? Heresy! And that’s also why you’ll never find fettuccine Alfredo in a trattoria in Rome. Actually, Alfredo sauce doesn’t even exist in Italy. So, if you visit Rome please don’t ask where you can have the “authentic” fettucine Alfredo or you’ll hear a loud “mai sentito!” (never heard of it!).

Also don’t expect garlic bread in Rome, because, you know, it doesn’t exist in Italy. However, Romans do have wonderful bruschette and crostini, which constitute a perfect starter or antipasto for your meal.

Broccoli is also a very Roman thing, but artichokes are the quintessential Roman vegetable: carciofi alla romana, carciofi alla matticella, carciofi alla giudia. Artichokes Jewish style or carciofi alla giudia is a dish that comes from the important Jewish community – a community living in Rome since antiquity but also including refugees from Spain after their expulsion in 1492 and from Naples, by then under Spanish rule. Another legacy of the Roman ghetto is the love for deep fried food: baccalà alla romana (deep fried cod) and fiori di zucca fritti (deep fried zucchini blossoms).

What about meat? Roman cuisine is a poor one, so what people could afford was the offal of butchered animals: kidney, liver, tripe, entrails… I assure you that most of the quinto quarto (or offal in Italian) tastes better than it sounds. So, if you are brave enough you won’t regret asking for coda alla vaccinara (oxtail) or trippa alla trasteverina (tripe).

Are you thinking of having pizza in Rome? Although pizza is something you should try in Naples, where pizza was born, Romans have their own specialty: pizza bianca di Roma (white pizza from Rome). If you’re in a hurry, don’t hesitate to try a piece of pizza al taglio (pizza by the slice): it was the Romans who created the idea of rectangular pizza that they cut in little squares and then sell by the piece. Whereas in Naples pizza has only two different toppings (marinara and margherita), Romans got more creative with pizza al taglio, offering it with more toppings.

Finally, whereas peasants couldn’t afford cakes or pies on a daily basis, there are some elaborate Roman desserts, usually deep fried doughnuts, that were prepared for holidays and special occasions: bignè di San Giuseppe, castagnole, maritozzi con la panna, frittelle zuccherate. But the Roman dessert I like the best, and I’m sure you will too, is gelato!!!


In Rome, there are two restaurants for American tourists that claim to be the creators of the non-Italian fettuccine Alfredo (or all’Alfredo). Both are the only places in Italy where you can have pasta with Alfredo sauce. Actually they don’t use sauce, but Parmesan cheese with lots (I really mean lots) of butter – and now you know: Parmesan and butter is not a very Roman thing at all. In one of those restaurants, Alfredo himself (well… Alfredo “the third”) comes to your table to serve a big portion of his fettuccine using a golden fork and a golden spoon… MADDAIIIIIIIIII!!! If you’re visiting Rome please choose an authentic Roman trattoria!
Posted by Daziano at 9:05 PM | 15 comments  
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April 13, 2009

Rome, capital of the world

April is the perfect month to write about Rome. According to legend, April 21 is when the imperial city was founded. Also, when you live outside Rome and especially if you live abroad, it is always at Easter when you have this special connection with Rome because of the activities the Pope performs. I’m talking about the broadcasting of the Via Crucis from the Colosseum, and then the Easter Mass and the multilingual Urbi et Orbi blessing (Urbi et Orbi means to the city – of Rome – and to the world).

It is hard to write just a few lines about Rome, the city that was the capital of the Roman Empire and then became the capital of the largest spiritual empire in history. That’s why Rome is known as the eternal city and capital of the world. It’s astonishing how all the hectic contrasts in Rome build a perfect harmony that allows us to enjoy a fabulous experience, full of history and passion: Rome is baroque, classic, sacred, profane, pagan and Christian. When you have the pleasure of visiting the Roman Forum, the Palatine hill or the Colosseum, or when you’re walking down the Via Sacra or the Via Appia, you can close your eyes and you’ll have the feeling of experiencing the birth of western culture.

According to legend, Rome has its origins with Romulus and Remus. However its historical roots are clear: the Etruscan, the Latin and the Greek worlds. In 753 B.C. Romulus, the mythical founder and first king of Rome, traced the boundaries of the new city around the seven Roman hills. The new city was chaotic from the beginning, with simple huts and narrow and dirty streets. However Romulus, who knew about conquest because he was the son of Mars – the god of war – and Rhea Silvia – a direct descendant of the Trojan fugitives –, together with his Latin fellows rapidly took possession of the Etruscan surroundings of Rome. The next step was obvious: conquering the known world. It was the Roman fate to command the nations: “tu regere imperio populos, Romane, memento”. The city got bigger and, because of the limited space, houses with several storeys were built. The streets were still narrow and because of the high density of the population and the poor quality of building materials, the hazard of fire was a constant threat. In fact and as you might have known, fires destroyed Rome on several occasions – “Nero’s” fire being the most famous one.

It was Augustus who, as emperor, received a Rome made of brick and left a Rome made of marble. He ordered and managed the renovation of the city. Rome could no longer have the appearance of a provincial city, and a new Rome had to be built to be a worthy capital of the new empire that had been forged. Rome was enriched with parks, temples, monumental public buildings and the Forum, the Roman version of the Greek agora, was consolidated as the center and meeting point of the city. The Forum was populated by merchants who offered the most varied of products. Later, new Fora were scattered around the city.

Trade was so important for Romans that entire large buildings were dedicated to commercial activities. A clear example is Trajan’s Market, which can still be seen surrounding the Roman Forum. This building had several storeys, which housed more than 150 stores: a veritable shopping mall of ancient times.

In the Palatine Hill magnificent palaces for the new emperors were built. These palaces were so grandiose that the word palace comes from the name of the Palatine Hill. At this point you might notice a big difference with the Greek world: the Romans exalted certain men over others. Romans not only built great temples, but also huge mansions and ostentatious mausoleums. The most important and influential Roman men were perceived as having a divine component. For example, the first work of Augustus in Rome was the construction of the Temple of Divus Julius, in commemoration of his adoptive father, Julius Cæsar.

Most of the people of Rome lived in insulæ, large apartment buildings of up to seven storeys with a very fragile structure. Juvenal, the Roman satiric poet, once wrote: “But here we inhabit a city propped up for the most part by slats: for that is how the landlord patches up the crack in the old wall, bidding the inmates sleep at ease under the ruin that hangs above their heads”.

But Romans were remarkable engineers, especially good at hydraulic engineering. Using a net of aqueducts (some of them still in use), water was brought in to Rome to supply fountains, bathhouses and public bathrooms. One of the pleasures of Rome still is to drink water directly from one of the thousands of highly decorated fountains. The rich had pipes that carried water to their homes and, around Rome, some villas even had central heating.

During imperial times, Rome had eleven public baths, more than a thousand fountains and pools, nineteen aqueducts, thirty-six arches, two amphitheaters and six circuses.

The Colosseum or Flavian Amphitheater was the meeting place of the common people. There, the inhabitants of Rome could forget their poverty and their problems, concentrating on the shows that were offered: the ludi or games where gladiators wrestled with wild beasts of every kind. The amphitheater was a Roman invention: the precedent for modern stadiums was born of the union of two Greek-style theaters joined together facing each other (amphi meaning on both sides in Greek). Although there is some evidence of Christians being executed in the Colosseum, the truth is that Christian martyrdom was held in the circus, the same place that hosted chariot races. The biggest circus was the Circus Maximus, with a seating capacity of 250,000 spectators. Today almost nothing remains of the Circus Maximus, but you can still have an idea of the size of it by looking at the park there now. Another circus was built under what is now Piazza Navona: actually the unusual shape of the square is due to the ancient track! On the Vatican hill there was another circus, right where St Peter’s basilica is found now.

While it is still possible to admire and recognize the wonders of imperial Rome, most of the things you see are just moribund pieces of a magnificent past. These ruins survived a destructive process caused primarily by looting and the practice of recycling marble. And not only barbarians destroyed the city: part of the marble you can currently see in Roman churches has an obvious origin. Moreover, the famous bronze figure of St Peter in the Vatican was made by casting ancient bronze statues. But this is not an indictment of the Church, because the Romans often acted similarly with the places they conquered. For example the Romans destroyed the temple in Jerusalem, and they brought to Rome what they found inside.

It was Pope Benedict XIV who saved the Colosseum from marble extraction for churches. The Colosseum was then devoted to the Via Crucis.

Note that there is only one building that remains standing and almost intact from Imperial Rome: the Pantheon. The Pantheon was built to honor all gods, and it was precisely this concept that saved it from destruction. With its large dome, in a way the Pantheon seems like a church and actually during medieval times it became a church dedicated to Our Lady.

Finally, when visiting St Peter’s Basilica (it was the Romans who created the idea of basilicas) you totally feel that the Catholic Church was the natural heir to the Roman Empire; even the images of saints are represented in such a way that, with very little imagination, you can sense a certain similarity to the Roman gods.

To a large extent our laws, our institutions and many of the languages spoken in the Western hemisphere (even English), all have deep Roman roots. Therefore, to know Rome is to know a little more of ourselves.
Posted by Daziano at 11:52 AM | 19 comments  
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April 8, 2009

Harrogate – so quaint I could die!

Last week I presented a paper at a conference on choice modeling in Harrogate, North Yorkshire. I had the opportunity not only to meet Dan McFadden, who won the Nobel Prize precisely because of his contributions to discrete choice models – which by the way is exactly what my research is related to –, but also all the other big names in choice microeconomics and econometrics of consumer behavior. I also met with my dear friends from Chile and Italy. Interestingly, both Chile and Italy have a bunch of very good researchers on choice modeling – a world that is largely dominated by the Anglophone academic community. The Chilean school is particularly prestigious, leading research in the area.

That being said, I was very happy with the location of the conference. Harrogate is a lovely (or should I say ‘loovely’?) and affluent SPA town with impressive Turkish baths, superb public gardens and parks, interesting 16th century pubs, and really nice architecture – mainly Victorian and Edwardian. Actually, it reminded me of some areas of Pennsylvania (but nicer).

Because of the warm and sulfurous waters, Harrogate became an important touristic destination of the European aristocracy, especially in the last part of the 19th century. People came to relax and enjoy the healthful benefits of spring water: salus per aquam (health through water). Rapidly a luxurious hotel and a nice Kursaal were built. The touristic vocation of Harrogate has perpetuated to the present. Currently, Harrogate is one of the most important exhibition and conference centers of the United Kingdom.

When in Harrogate you have to go to Bettys tea rooms. Bettys and Taylors of Harrogate is a lovely tea house – actually one of the Queen’s favorites. There, you can enjoy the full afternoon tea experience. Yorkshire loose tea is served in a teapot, together with another pot with hot water. Tea is drunk without sugar and with a touch of milk, and accompanied rigorously with raisin scones, homemade strawberry jam and clotted cream. You can also have a piece of cake (I had a delicious Yorkshire curd tart) and a sandwich (smoked salmon is a very good choice). Now, I want to have my afternoon tea on a daily basis! Since I grew up in Chile, it was a wonderful experience for me. In Chile we also have the tradition of afternoon tea, which we call onces or elevenses in Chilean Spanish (onces are served in the afternoon and not in the morning, when the British elevenses snack is supposed to be eaten).

Despite the fact that Harrogate has plenty of hotels, I highly recommend staying at the Acorn Lodge Hotel. A ‘loovely’ Bed and Breakfast offering affordable luxury, ranked 1st for B&B’s in Harrogate on TripAdvisor. Phil is an extremely welcoming host. And he prepares the most succulent full English breakfast (a tradition that we do not have in Chile or in Italy): eggs, crispy bacon, grilled tomatoes, sausage, sautéed mushrooms, beans and toast!

Posted by Daziano at 7:41 PM | 14 comments  
April 6, 2009

L'Aquila earthquake: solidarita' ai fratelli abruzzesi

Ai fratelli abruzzesi tantissima forza e coraggio!

Solidarita' ai fratelli abruzzesi: IBAN IT 22 O 03226 01606 000500074972
Conto attivato da SKY per l'Abruzzo e per sostenere le persone colpite dal terremoto.

L'Aquila earthquake
272 reported dead
1500 injured
10,000 buildings affected
50,000 people affected
L'Aquila is the mountainous region 50 miles North East of Rome. Rome not affected.
Posted by Daziano at 7:16 PM | 7 comments  
April 5, 2009

Colomba pasquale – Italian Easter dove bread

This recipe makes 2 loaves when using 17 oz capacity paper molds.

Colomba pasquale is a traditional sweet bread made especially for Easter in Italy. I personally believe it is the perfect excuse to eat panettone off-season. The texture and procedure are almost the same, with Colomba di pasqua being a little bit nearer to a French brioche. The process is long and hard to do by hand; however the result is just spectacular.

½ cup warm water
3 ½ tsp active dry yeast
1 Tbsp sugar
½ cup flour
3 egg yolks

Dissolve the yeast in the ½ cup of warm water. Add the sugar and wait until it doubles in size (about 5 minutes). In a bowl, mix the flour with the active yeast, and add the egg yolks one by one while mixing. The result will be a very sticky dough. Cover and keep it refrigerated overnight. The day after you’ll understand why it’s called sponge.

First dough
Sponge +
1 tsp yeast
1 tsp sugar
3/4 cup warm milk
1 ½ cups flour
3 Tbsp butter

Dissolve the sugar in 5 Tbsp of warm milk. Add the yeast and let it rise for about 5 minutes. In a bowl, mix the flour with the active yeast. Add the sponge and the butter, and mix using your hands. Let it double in size for about 2 hours, covered in a warm place.

Second dough
First dough +
½ cup sugar
1 Tbsp honey
3 egg yolks
1 pouch vanilla sugar *
2 pouches orange puree *

Zest of 1 orange
2 cups flour
Pinch of salt
8 Tbsp butter
* I use Dr Oetker brand

Take the first dough, press it with your hands, and then add the flour and all the other ingredients, except the butter. We’ll add the butter later. Work the dough with your hands for at least 10 minutes. One by one add each tablespoon of butter and continue kneading the dough. Take the dough, stretch it and then slap it on the table repeatedly for at least 5 minutes. I know… it’s an excellent way to keep stress away! In the case you’re wondering why we’re doing this, it’s because this process aerates the dough ensuring that the end product is nice and fluffy.

Shape a ball and let it rise for at least 6 hours, covered in a warm place. It sounds like this recipe takes a lot of time, and actually it does. But it’s more the waiting time than anything, and please let the yeast do its work. Meanwhile you can go to work, read a book or – if you live in Quebec City, where you still have snow for Easter – shovel out the entranceway to your house.

And there’s more…
Second dough +
1½ cups chopped candied orange and lemon peel
½ cup flour

Mix the candied orange and lemon peel with the flour, and then add it to the risen second dough. Spray the paper molds with oil. Shape two balls, then with each ball make two ovals and form a dove-like shape directly into the dove paper mold. Now – yes, you’re right – let it rise for a minimum of two hours (overnight is strongly advised). When shaping the doves you should not exceed half of the height of the molds. Let it rise until it has doubled in size.

2 handfuls blanched almonds
8-12 whole unpeeled almonds
1 egg yolk
1 Tbsp milk
1 pouch vanilla sugar

Make an egg wash with the milk, sugar and egg yolk. Brush the wash over the doves and sprinkle on the almonds. You can also make a glaze using an egg white and confectioner’s sugar.

Finally it’s baking time! Preheat the oven to 400F. Put a little container with hot water inside and bake the cakes at 350F for 45 minutes until nice and golden brown, and you’re whole house is fragrant. As you should have noticed, you need to start making this magnificent sweet bread at least 3 days before Easter. And trust me, all this work is absolutely worth it!


You’ll need some dove paper molds, which are made in Italy especially for baking Colomba di Pasqua. I found mine in Fante’s Kitchen Wares Shop right in the Italian Market in Philadelphia, PA. Hopefully you’ll find it in your local Italian neighborhood. If you don’t, shape the dove in a pan, as if you were making a bread loaf.

This is also an entry for the Happy Baking Easter event hosted by CindyStar. We expect you in large numbers!

Happy Baking Easter
Posted by Daziano at 8:18 PM | 20 comments  
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