Foodie Fun in Rome: Cooking with Nonna #weekendcooking @BethFishReads

One night during our anniversary vacation in Rome last month, we joined two locals and six other tourists for Cooking with Nonna (Nonna=Italian for “grandmother”) and spent an evening learning to cook Roman-style.

We booked this class after I convinced my husband that he really did want to cook his own dinner (just one night!) while on vacation. I was already thinking ahead to this Weekend Cooking post, so we both took a lot of pictures during the class. (Unfortunately, I didn’t take any notes, so we’ve forgotten a few details already.)

First we found our way on the Metro to the Appio-San Giovanni neighborhood of Rome where “Nonna’s apartment” was. It turned out that it wasn’t her actual home, but it seemed very homey inside.

photo of entry and building exterior

We all washed our hands, donned aprons, and listened as Nonna’s English interpreter explained the menu: Bruschetta, Antipasto, Spinach-Ricotta Ravioli, Saltimbocca alla Romana, and Tiramisu.

Interpreter standing by chalkboard with the menu written on it

As we went around the table and introduced ourselves, Nonna demonstrated how to make two different toppings for bruschetta – tomato and black olive. Then we had a glass of Prosecco each while we topped and ate our bruschetta. We learned that bruschetta is pronounced with a hard “k” sound, not a “sh” sound. Nonna also definitively explained the difference between bruschetta and crostini, which we have both forgotten now, because my husband thought it was something to do with the bread and I thought it was something to do with the toppings!

photo of brushetta on white plate with Prosecco glass and water glassNext we all took a turn kneading the dough for the pasta. (As a germaphobe, I admit to cringing during this class because several of us were using cameras and you couldn’t keep running to wash your hands after every photo. I just kept reminding myself that the pasta was going to go into boiling water before we ate it!) I was surprised at how long the dough had to be kneaded. I had thought pasta dough would be more like pie crust – the less handling the better.

Here is Nonna praising my husband’s kneading expertise. (My compliment from Nonna was that I had a “great smile”!)

photo of husband kneading dough with Nonna looking onOnce kneaded, the pasta dough was put aside to rest, and we prepared individual dishes of tiramisu for dessert.

After the pasta dough had rested enough, we learned how to run it through the hand-cranked pasta machine that Nonna clamped to the side of the stainless steel table. (No pictures of the ravioli pasta being rolled out because we were all put to work in two teams and kept busy the whole time. The dough was floured and put through the press several times before it was thin enough to start cutting out the round ravioli.)

Nonna put together the antipasto course as we looked on, and then it was time to eat! Once we sat down to eat the antipasto course, our work was done, and Nonna and her able assistant cooked the pasta and finished cooking the saltimbucca and they didn’t get to sit down until the second course was served.

Nonna prepares eight small plates of prosciutto, cheese, and veggiesIn the dining room, we chatted about our different Rome experiences, learned more from our two hosts about what to do and see, and enjoyed the wonderful meal we had prepared.

sitting around the dining room table eatingUnlike in the restaurants where you’re expected to linger for hours, we had to hustle out after taking the group photos. Some of the group were calling for taxis but we walked to the subway station to get a start on working off some of that night’s many calories.

photo of my husband smiling with sign alerting us to next train in one minute in Italian

We never felt nervous walking around at night in Rome, even in some of the neighborhoods that were described in the guidebooks as sketchy. So many people were out walking till midnight (and beyond, probably!) and even on a pretty deserted subway platform, it felt perfectly safe.

Lots of fun! I learned about cooking classes while traveling from a Weekend Cooking post a year or two back, so thank you to Candace of Beth Fish Reads for hosting this weekly foodie festival for so long!

Happy Weekend Cooking!

Weekend Cooking badgeLinked to Weekend Cooking, a weekly feature on Beth Fish Reads. Click/tap image for Weekend Cooking posts from other bloggers.

Deserves All the Big Praise It’s Getting: A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara

cover imageI’ve been very selfish with my library copy of A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara, and so I need to bring it back today.

A Little Life is my #1 favorite book so far this year, and I had so many pages marked with Post-its that I had hoped to write a review that would convey the power of this 700+-page novel that pulls you in and keeps you there.

But looking through the passages I have marked, I realize they’re too long – each sentence depends too much on what comes before and after and a single thought is continued over several paragraphs, so you can read an excerpt from the book on the publisher’s Web site instead.

Although written by a woman (the author of The People in the Trees, which I haven’t read yet), A Little Life is about the friendship of four men who roomed together at a Boston-area college (unnamed), then moved to New York City, where two of them were from, and hung out together in various configurations and apartments over the following decades.

They talk a LOT, so there is a lot of passionate, intellectual conversation – with each other, and also with other people who become important in their lives over time – about art and life. What may seem like youthful self-centeredness early in the book (which might be annoy readers who were annoyed by The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer – another long, very New York City, novel) is tempered by the overall tone of sad retrospection.

There’s a great deal of humor in A Little Life, but the compelling main character, Jude, has a hidden past, so even as people who come into his orbit are inevitably drawn to him, he tries to keep them from getting too close, which gives the whole story its air of tragedy.

If you like to get absorbed in big novels with lots of deep/witty conversation and observations about the lives of friends, family, and strangers seen on the subway, this is the book of the year for you!

A Little Life was short-listed for the Man Booker Prize and is a finalist for this year’s National Book Award. (Winner to be announced Nov. 17th). It doesn’t come out in trade paperback until January 26, 2016, so you’ll have to put the hardcover on your holiday gift wish list.

A Little Life
Yanagihara, Hanya
Doubleday, 2015
720 pp.
$30.00, U.S.

Other bloggers’ opinions (all excellent):
As the Crowe Flies (and Reads)
Book Chatter

Lonesome Reader
River City Reading

Less Is More: Rome’s Coffee Culture @BethFishReads #weekendcooking

Putting in a full work week after our big anniversary trip to Rome has brought it home to me that I’m not actually an Italian woman with the means to eat out all the time and the leisure to walk off multiple two- and three-course meals every day.

But, while returning home has meant less food at mealtimes, it also means more coffee!

stack of four books by Elena Ferrante and coffee in a mugMy cheap souvenir coffee mug from Rome and my great birthday gift from my husband. He didn’t realize I read My Brilliant Friend on the plane ride back, but now I don’t have to buy the other three!

Since we wanted to have a relaxing vacation, we decided to stay in one spot instead of traveling around. Of course, Rome has such a huge amount of art and historical and religious sites (and the Pope!) as well as numerous romantic spots (not to mention food! and wine!) that it’s already an appealing tourist destination, but something else that attracted me to the idea of Rome was hearing that it had a “coffee culture”.

So Romans are serious about their coffee? I pictured sipping brews from different coffee bean blends in the mornings at the counters of coffee “bars” all over the city, and sampling local wines with dinner (and lunch, as it turned out). What could be better?

Here’s where the importance of doing your research in advance comes in.  I did know that in Rome, caffè means espresso. Strong, black coffee — that’s great, just the way I like it. I even knew that espresso cups are very small compared to American coffee cup sizes, but we two caffeine-dependent travelers discovered to our dismay that you don’t even get those tiny little cups filled when you order “due caffè” (two coffees). Two sips and you’re done!

espresso in cup with a cannolo in backgroundTeensy-tiny espresso with a great big cannolo in the background! This is a tourist concession, too, because espresso is supposed to come after the meal, not with dessert.

Amusingly, we finally realized we needed to learn how to order two “double espressos” so in the second half of our vacation, when we had finished our (large) lunch at a restaurant near the Vatican, my husband valiantly asked for due caffè doppio, and we thought we were all set. But the waiter stumped us by asking in his halting English if we wanted it in a “bigger cup or regular cup”.

Since there was PLENTY of room left in the regular espresso cup for twice the amount of espresso, we said “regular cup”. To our dismay, we received two cups with the same amount of espresso in each as usual, just double-strength! Oh, well, I guess it gave us the extra boost we were looking for for our afternoon at the Vatican Museum and St. Peter’s!

Mouse over these photos from the Vatican and Vatican Museums to enlarge them or to read my riveting captions:

Eating Rome by Elizabeth Minchilli (see my last Weekend Cooking post) has a whole chapter on how to drink coffee in Rome and there are also many blog post with better pictures and full explanations and even a Kindle e-book on the subject, so I’m not going to go into detail here, except to say that we didn’t want to cave while we were there and start ordering “caffè Americano” all the time, although we did drink it greedily each morning from the “American-style” buffet breakfast buffet at our hotel each morning. (The big urn labeled “coffee” was espresso with boiling water added to fill up the urn.  Et voila! Caffè Americano!)

The Hotel Veneto Palace streetOur home away from home, the Hotel Veneto Palace on Via Piemonte

I knew from reading Eating Rome that the usual Roman breakfast is at most a croissant with your espresso, but the hotel provided a wide range of tourist-pleasing breakfast foods from granola and yogurt to scrambled eggs. We appreciated the effort to cater to American tourists, but I was usually still full from the previous night’s dinner which would start at the earliest at 8 p.m. and go to 11 p.m., so it wasn’t hard for me to have the Roman-style croissant breakfast, except, of course, for drinking multiple cups of caffè Americano instead of a single espresso. And except for the last day when I had TWO croissants – one plain and one  chocolate chip – very American!! It was also adorable and funny that – just as we Americans got things a little bit off when we tried to understand Romans and their habits – the hotel served up steamed hotdogs in place of breakfast sausage!

My adventurous husband was disappointed in me for shying away from trying to experience actual Roman coffee culture by going into the small, dark coffee bars crammed with locals who would be annoyed by tourists coming in and drinking coffee at their counter and trying to act like we knew what we were doing with our extremely minimal Italian! Each time we passed one, he’d suggest going in and I’d chicken out and say no, it was too crowded, or too seedy-looking, or not authentic, etc.

And so we’d end up at a sidewalk cafe once again, with all the other tourists!

But, hey, we WERE tourists, after all, however much we tried to fit in.


For more on drinking coffee in Italy:

How to Drink Espresso Like an Italian
How to Order an Italian Coffee in Italy
How to Order Coffee in Italy

Happy Weekend Cooking!

Weekend Cooking badgeLinked to Weekend Cooking, a weekly feature on Beth Fish Reads. Click/tap image for Weekend Cooking posts from other bloggers.

Suggestions from a Massachusetts Librarian


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox

Join other followers:

%d bloggers like this: