Saturday, 27 July 2013

Kosher Delights

Rome's Jewish community is the oldest in Europe and one of the oldest continuous Jewish settlements in the world. Jewish traders first arrived in Rome in the 2nd century BC  and settled in Trastevere.
When Rome invaded Judea in AD70 the spoils of war not only included items from the Temple, but also Jewish prisoners of war, many of whom were forced in to building the Colosseum. The Arch of Titus in the Forum depicts the triumphant procession celebrating the invasion with the captured Menorah a prominent feature. 

Julius Caesar favoured the Jewish people as did Emperor Augustus, who scheduled the grain distribution so that it wouldn't interfere with the Sabbath.
Emperor Caracalla granted them the privilege of becoming Roman citizens. However, the recognition of Christianity as a religion resulted in Emperor Constantine limiting the civil & political rights of  the Jewish population.
In the middle ages their treatment varied from pope to pope. At this time the population began to migrate across the Tiber and settle around the square that is known today as Piazza Mattei.
The Jewish people contributed to the Renaissance as merchants, traders & bankers.  The Borgia pope ( Alexander VI)  allowed exiled  Spanish Jews to settle in the community & the Medici popes (Leo X & Clement VII) treated the Jewish people well. However, in 1555 Pope Paul IV decreed that the Jewish community should move into the ghetto, a restricted riverside area prone to flooding, or leave. For the next 300 years severe restrictions were placed on those that remained in the ghetto including the wearing of yellow caps & shawls when they ventured out of the district - a chilling omen of what was to come. The ghetto walls remained in place until the unification of Italy in 1870 when the rights & citizenship of the community were restored.

The obvious place to start a walk through the Jewish Ghetto is at the Synagogue.

This was the first building erected in the area in 1870 & was completed in 1904. It has a square dome to distinguish it from the Christian domes of the Rome skyline. The Synagogue contains the Museo Ebraico which documents the history of Jewish life in the ghetto. Since a terrorist attack in 1982 the area is heavily guarded by Carabinieri. In 1986  Pope John Paul II made a historic visit to this synagogue, the first pope ever to visit a Jewish place of worship. He apologised for the pain that had been caused to the Jewish people.

Across the road from the synagogue is the church of Santa Maria della Pieta.  Catholics built churches at each of the gates of the walled in ghetto in order to try and spread their faith to the Jewish people. The quote under the depiction of Christ on the cross that you see on the church is from Isaiah - 'All day long I have stretched out my hands to a disobedient and faithless nation that has lost its way' - in this instance the quote is misused to give an anti-Jewish twist.

On Sundays the Jewish population were forced to listen to sermons here which were designed to convert them to Christianity.

As you walk towards the ruins of Portico d'Ottavia you will cross a small square that is marked by a plaque on the wall.


On September 27th 1943, the head of the German SS in Rome demanded 50 kilos of gold from the  Jewish community otherwise 200 Jews would be deported to Germany or the Russian front. The demand was met but on 16th October 1943 Nazi forces entered the ghetto & rounded up 1,000 Jews, the majority of which were women & children, and transported them to Auschwitz. Only 16 survived

The small square is named Largo 16 Ottobre 1943

Ahead are the remains of Portico d'Ottavia. This portico was rebuilt by Augustus and dedicated to his sister, Octavia, in 23BC. The portico enclosed twin temples dedicated to Juno & Jupiter, libraries and public rooms and was a meeting place for the nearby Theatre of Marcellus.

The church that was built among the ruins is Sant Angelo in Pescheria - the name refers to the fish market that thrived here in the Middle Ages. A marble plaque is set in to the façade of the church. Fish that were longer than this plaque were given to the city's governors.
Make your way along Via del Portico d'Ottavia, passing  restaurants that specialise in Roman-Jewish cuisine such as Da Giggetto and Ba Ghetto, until you reach Via San Ambrogio on your right. This is a street that survived from the days of the ghetto & it is easy to imagine it teeming with people who lived here.

Continue along Via San Ambrogio until you reach the delightful Piazza Mattei & the Turtle Fountain. The turtles were a later addition to the fountain by Bernini. It is said that Bernini chose turtles as homage to the Jewish people - they are ancient creatures who carry all their belongings on their backs.

Take Via della Reginella from the piazza. On the corner is a shop, Peperita, which  specialises in chillies & olive oil both of which are grown on a Tuscan farm. The chillies range from a mild Aji  right up to a fiery Trinidad Scorpion!

Via della Reginella is another survivor from the days of the ghetto. Here you can see where the six floor buildings end and the elegant three floor buildings begin, marking the end of the ghetto area.

As you reach Via del Portico Ottavia you will find Mondo di Laura - the kosher cookie shop. Treat yourself or take some home as gifts. My favourite is Pepita - dark chocolate chip cookies with Himalayan pink salt.

A little further up is the Jewish bakery, Boccione. This is easily identified by the cinnamon scented air floating out of the tiny unmarked doorway. The speciality here is  pizza ebraica or sweet Jewish pizza made with candied fruits and nuts.
The same family have owned this bakery for generations. Members of the family were amongst those deported to Auschwitz who never returned.


At this point Via del Portico Ottavia becomes Via di Santa Maria del Pianto. It was in this area that the Duke of Gandia, son of Pope Alexander VI & brother of Cesare Borgia, was murdered and his body thrown in to the Tiber. The fact that the pope abruptly ceased all investigations in to the murder led all of Rome to believe that the murderer was no less than Cesare himself - dark deeds indeed.

Across the road is Piazza Cinque Scole. When the ghetto was created one of the restrictions imposed was that only one synagogue was allowed. The Jewish community cleverly interpreted this as meaning one building, in which they built a separate school  on each of five floors so that all were able to practise their different rites - hence 'Cinque Scole' or 'Five Schools'.
Nothing remains of the synagogue but a piece of the ghetto wall can be found in one of the courtyards. The white columns on the corner belong to the small Tempietto del Carmelo, yet another church in the ghetto where the Jewish people were made to listen to Christian sermons.

Returning to Via di Santa Maria del Pianto you will see Beppe e il suoi Formaggio . Inside is a veritable feast of all kinds of cheese, especially from the Piedmont area. The butter that you see is made from Beppe's own herd of cows.

Beyond the counter is a delightful dining area  - an ideal place for a spot of lunch. The perfect end to your stroll through the Jewish Ghetto.

Sunday, 7 July 2013

In the Steps of St Paul

We start our day with cappuccino & warm cornetti at Er Caffettiere, conveniently placed opposite the metro station. Not only is the cornetti delicious but we are standing above original Roman tiles - amazing!

We take the metro to St Paul outside the Walls which is a church that we pass on our way into the city from the airport every trip but have not managed to visit until today.
The church was rebuilt in the 1800's after a fire destroyed the original basilica in 1823.
The church is huge with a very grand entrance through a colonnaded courtyard.

Once inside it is impressive too.

Contributions from all over the world were received to help with the rebuilding after the fire, including malachite & lapis lazuli from Tsar Nicholas I.

The Paschel candlestick survived the fire and dates from the 12th century.
Beneath the altar you get a glimpse of the tomb of St Paul

Around the walls are portraits of every pope, starting with St Peter.

We particularly appreciated the information boards dotted around the basilica with text both in Italian & English.
To keep on the St Paul theme, we take the metro once more to the end of the line at Laurentina. We walk down Via Laurentina, passing some beautiful bouquets of roses , until we reach the Tre Fontane Monastery.
Within the monastery walls is a small church that was built on the site of  the beheading of St Paul , ordered by Emperor Nero.

The name Tre Fontane arises from the legend of the three fountains that sprang from the earth where St Paul's severed head landed.
Also within the monastery is the tiny church of Santa Maria Scala Coeli. In the crypt you can see the cell where St Paul was held before his martyrdom.
The Trappist monks who live here are famous for making liqueur, honey & chocolate. We can't resist trying the latter.
We return to the apartment & start to pack. Lunch is on the terrace with the caponata that we made yesterday.
Later we go out to visit the church of Santa Maria in Aracoeli. According to legend, Emperor Augustus ordered the building of an altar here after the Tiburtine Sibyl prophesied the birth of Jesus. It was built on the site of the Temple of Juno which housed the Roman mint.
The view from the top of the steps is amazing.
The church is home to Santa Bambinello. The original figure is believed to have been carved from one of the olive trees in the garden of Gethsemane but sadly this was stolen in 1995 and what we see now is a replica. The figure is said to bring comfort to the sick & dying.
Back once more to the apartment where we enjoy chilled glasses of Franciacorta on the terrace.

For dinner on our last night we have chosen Trattoria Monti. We visited this restaurant last year & loved the we do now
Cod fish carpaccio

Stuffed fried olives with artichokes, zucchini flower, fried vanilla cream & ciauscolo sausage

Roast stuffed rabbit

Tortello in a butter & sage sauce
 One last look at a floodlit Santa Maria Maggiore, then it is time to wish Rome goodnight & goodbye.
However, we did throw our coins in the Trevi Fountain so hopefully we will return.

Friday, 5 July 2013

Searching for Porchetta Sausages & Pasta Paddles

Monday 1st July

Inspired by Andrea  yesterday we have decided that we would like to recreate the whole meal for our son & his girlfriend who bought us the cooking class as a joint birthday present. To this end we need to find Porchetta sausages & pasta paddles!
Our first port of call is the Esquilino market. This proves to be absolutely fascinating as the market seems to be predominately for the ethnic community that have settled here. Exotic fabrics, fabulous fruits, spices and every kind of rice imaginable.

Fortunately for us we also find porchetta sausages!

We drop the shopping off in the apartment then out again for a caffe freddo at Antica Caffe del Brasile on Via Serpenti.

This is also known as the 'Pope's Cafe' as John Paul II frequented it as a student.
The freshly squeezed juices looked tempting too.

Next stop Delizie di Calabria to pick up mozzarella , olives  and dried oregano  , then tomatoes from Titta and olive oil from Podere Vecciano. Along with bread that we already have in the apartment we are all set to make our version of caponata for tomorrows lunch.
Lunch today is Panini from Gaudeo.
After lunch we set out in search of pasta paddles. We take the 117 to Campo di Fiori & there , on the first stall we set our eyes on, are the pasta paddles.Sorted!!
We walk along the river towards Ponte Fabricio, stopping at Gelateria del Teatro's new outlet just before Ponte Garibaldi. I choose my favourite flavour here - raspberry & sage.

We wander through the Jewish Ghetto, resisting the chocolate cookies from Mondo di Laura, until we reach Beppe e I Suoi Formaggio. This is a veritable shrine to cheese and we vow to return to sample aperitivo here. Today we settle for unsalted butter which come's from Beppe's own cattle in Piedmont.
We walk back through the delightful Piazza Mattei and pick up the tram from Via Arenula to Piazza Venezia, then the 117 back to the apartment.

After a quick change we are out once again, this time to Pincio, taking aperitivo with us.

Of course, the view is amazing.


Back at the apartment we create pasta carbonara with dried spaghetti, eggs, guinciale and pecorino. Simple but delicious.


Wednesday, 3 July 2013

Cooking up a Storm

Monday 1st July

Today we have a cooking class booked but first we need coffee. Cafffe Camerino (yes, it is spelt with 3 f's!) is close to the tram stop on Via Arenula so we fuel up there with cappuccino & bombolini as a change from the usual cornetti.

Tram number 8 takes us over the river in to Trastevere. Before finding the cooking class venue we have time to pop in to see our friend Roberto at Antica Caciara. When we were stranded in Rome in 2010 we visited Roberto every day, usually to pick up Panini but occasionally for ricotta, which comes in  dailyfrom the countryside. Roberto greets us like old friends. Today we are here for burrata and sun dried tomatoes (I'm trying to recreate Roscioli's famous dish!).

It is time to rendevous at the cookery school which is not to far away. When new arrive the table is set for twelve with home made jams to sample. We are a mixture of nationalities - American, English and Australian. Every one gets on well and we proceed to conjure up a four course lunch from the ingredients set out on the kitchen table.

The time flies by. We learn so much from Chef Andrea  (and he is not hard on the eye either - sorry Erica!)
 This is what we create

We have wine pairings with lunch and at the end Andrea explains all about the different wines we have tried.

After such a huge lunch it is time for a walk & where better than in Villa  Pamphilj We catch the 44 bus from the river side in Trastevere , then walk up to the park. It is hard to believe you are not far from the city in this green & pleasant space.

Part of the Trajan - Paul aqueduct is visible on the edge of the park.
The beautiful villa isn't open to visitors (I read that it was used by the Prime Minister to entertain guests - what a perk!)

Leaving the park we head to Via Piccolomini and an optical illusion. Seen from this end of the road, the dome of St Peter's appears to be huge.
 The closer you get, the smaller it seems!
Aperitivo time tonight is spent in 4 Civico, a bar in Monti that we haven't visited before. We are drawn by the fact that you can sit at the open window & be entertained by Monti life passing by. The interior décor is interesting too.


Dinner tonight is a simple affair, enjoyed on the terrace under the Roman night sky.