Monday, 22 February 2016

Violets and Verse

The opening sequence of the film 'Bright Star' shows a funeral procession moving across the front of the Spanish Steps. The funeral was that of John Keats, the Romantic poet who died on 23rd February 1821.
Keats and his friend Joseph Severn had taken up residence at the foot of the Spanish Steps. Keats was suffering from tuberculosis and had come to Rome to escape the English winter, leaving behind the love of his life, Fanny Brawne.
The house in which he had rooms is now the Keats-Shelley Museum and the library here is said to be one of the best in the world dedicated to the Romantic poets.

For us, however, it allows us a glimpse of how this tragic young poet spent his last days. The room in which he died, clutching the hand of his friend, has changed very little. The furniture is replica of course as the original would have been destroyed for, health reasons, after his death.
Thanks to the Landmark Trust, it is possible to stay in the same house in a similar room.
Stand at the window and listen to the chatter on the Spanish Steps and know that Keats would have heard the same. At that time this area was a magnet for Grand Tourists, artists and models.

 Today it is a popular spot for wedding photos.

The sound of tinkling water from the Barcaccia fountain will also not have changed.

Keats ventured above the Steps to the Borghese Gardens for healthy walks along the tree lined avenues. The view of St Peters dome from the Pincio  is much the same today as it was then.

Keats is buried in the Protestant Cemetery, where his tombstone declares 'Here lies one whose name is writ in water'

 In late winter/early spring the area is carpeted with wild violets, a flower which appeared in many of his poems.

'Fast fading violets covered up in leaves' (Ode to a Nightingale)

'Into her dream he melted, as the rose
Blendeth its odour with the violet' (Eve of St Agnes)

Saturday, 13 February 2016

Valentine Flowers


Red roses come immediately to mind whenever Valentine's Day is mentioned but they are out of season in February and therefore mostly imported from far off lands - not very environmentally friendly. Give me a bowl of yellow crocuses anytime, especially as they are the flower of St Valentine.
St Valentine was imprisoned by the Romans for failing to reject his Christian beliefs. While in prison he became friendly with his jailor and educated his blind daughter, Julia. He left Julia a letter to be opened on the day of his execution - February 14th. Upon opening it, she could miraculously see and the first thing she saw was a yellow crocus that fell from the paper. The letter was signed 'Your Valentine'

Rugby Widows

Oh how romantic, you thought. A weekend away in Rome over Valentine's Day. Little did you realise the ulterior motive - England are playing Italy in the Six Nations at Stadio Olimpico, with a 2.00pm kick off on.........Valentine's Day!
Oh well, at least you don't have to sit through the match with your Other Half. You can go shopping instead.
If you had unlimited funds you would probably not venture much further than Via Condotti 's designer stores but I'm guessing somewhere a little less high end might be in order.
Via Cola di Rienzo fits the bill nicely. This long, wide, tree lined street is packed full of shops, both popular chains and one-off speciality stores.

To reach here take Metro Line A to Ottaviano. From the metro station take Via Ottaviano to Piazza Risorgimento.
Diagonally across from you, in the right hand corner of the square you will find Duecento Gradi (Piazza Risorgimento 3). This is a good place to fuel up before shopping commences. The choice of Panini are excellent and the loos here are very good too!
Now you are ready to commence your stroll down Via Cola di Rienzo. Obviously you will be drawn to the shops that you like but here are some of my favourites.
First is Castroni (196/198) - an Aladdins cave of foodie items from all over the world. I love the ceramic spice jars which I buy as gifts (€4.50 - a bargain!)
There is a coffee bar in there too for your espresso fix .

If you see Pocket Coffee for sale here, snap them up. They are only available in the winter months and will serve as an instant surge of energy should your shopping spirits flag.

 Right next door to Castroni is Bertozzini Profumeria - a veritable temple to perfumes and cosmetics.

 A little further down on the opposite side of the road is Coin Excelsior (no.173) a department store with a basement supermarket that is the equal of Harvey Nicks food hall. It also boasts a Nespresso outlet complete with George Clooney.

 If you are shopping for teenagers back home then Brandy Melville & Subdued are next door to each other at number 136.

When you are shopped out continue on to Ponte Regina Margherita. Once over the river turn right & then left on to Via della Penna.
Hotel Locarno has the most divine Art Nouveau Bar where you can sip on a cocktail whilst waiting for your Other Half. Whether he is jubilant or despondent remains to be seen.

 All places mentioned can be found on this map

Monday, 8 February 2016

Recipes from Rome - Pancakes

At home, Shrove Tuesday is a day for making pancakes to use up the butter and eggs which are traditionally foods not eaten in Lent.
In Rome, however, we always have pancakes for breakfast at least a couple of times during our trip.
We use the Sweet Ricotta Pancakes recipe from Olive magazine. I usually weigh the flour, baking powder and sugar in to a plastic container and take that with us.
We make a point of visiting Mercato San Teodoro on a Saturday or Sunday morning and pick up some Peppovo eggs.


The star of the recipe has to be the fresh ricotta and some of the best in Rome is sold by Roberto at Antica Caciara (Via di S. Francesco a Ripa, 140A/B, Trastevere) The store was founded in 1900 by Roberto's grandfather and Roberto himself has worked there for over 50 years

The ricotta is bought in from the Lazio countryside early each day and is usually snapped up by lunchtime.
Obviously we don't have the luxury of a food processor in our rented apartment so we make do with a wooden spoon and an old fashioned mixing bowl.
Whisking the egg whites with a metal whisk is tedious but well worth the effort as the folded in egg whites result in a light & fluffy pancake.
The honey that we serve with the pancakes also comes from Antica Caciara. It is made on Roberto's own farm.
We finish the dish with whatever fruits are in season. In August/September this usually means figs.
At other times of year we go with what ever appeals to us in the market.

Sunday, 7 February 2016

Recipes from Rome - A Bowl Full of Sunshine

At first glance this Mexican inspired soup  from Delia Smith (recipe here ) has little to do with Rome but the main ingredient, chickpeas, are a store cupboard favourite of Roman Mammas.

On Tuesdays and Fridays trattorias throughout the city serve pasta e cecci - pasta & chickpea soup.
Our recipe begins the night before with soaking the dried pulses which are then ready to be simmered next day until tender.
Now comes the next Roman connection. Emporio delle Spezie in Testaccio is one of the permanent fixtures on our Rome itineraries.

This tiny shop is an Aladdin's cave full of spices from all over the world that are weighed out on old fashioned scales. Armed with a list we  manage to come away with a bag full of spices to replenish the cupboards at home. Sarawak black peppercorns and Norwegian smoked salt always make the list.

The spices in question for this recipe are coriander & cumin seeds. They are dry roasted, crushed in a pestle and mortar then cooked gently in butter along with chilli and garlic.
The drained chickpeas are blended with  cooking water, the spices, lemon zest and fresh coriander and simmered for 30 minutes. Voila! Mexican soup.
For a taste of Mexico in Rome try La Taqueria (Via Giacomo Boni, 26) near Bologna Metro Station. Many thanks to Linda Martinez from The Beehive who shared this lovely little find on their blog.
We don't usually seek out other cuisines when in Rome but will definitely make an exception for La Taqueria. Who could resist this bright d├ęcor! Sunshine colours indeed.