Most Italians spend the Easter Holidays with their families and friends—they gather as a family for Easter and then the next day—Monday, (a National Holiday) in Italian called Pasqualina (little Easter), is spent with friends, usually outside for a picnic. Since we had just gotten in, I didn’t want to roast a leg of lamb (besides….just WAIT until I tell you about the oven in our sublet apartment), so we went out. About 30 years ago I had gone to a restaurant out on the Via Appia Antica; basically the countryside and where most of the catacombs are located. I wanted to see what had happened to it in all that time. So after trudging over to hear Pope Benedict XVI send his blessing and offer peace to the citizens of Rome and to the world (that was us and about 300,000 other pilgrims, an intimate gathering in the Piazza San Pietro). We snagged what looked to be the last cab leaving the city of Rome for the Ristorante L’Archeologia. (http://www.larcheologia.it/) This was quite a ways out in the country and more than a few times I wondered how we were going to get back, but the thought of someone else cooking for me made me get over this quickly. This restaurant is very famous for it’s outdoor wood burning ovens and it didn’t disappoint.
This is the outside kitchen and the oven behind. It sits right in the middle of the garden outside, I felt right at home. In almost all Italian restaurants you can see what they have that is fresh that day, by what is on display—in this case it is artichoke, asparagus, and puntarelle season here in Rome. And lots of citrus.
Servers take your order and hand them to the chef behind the counter, meanwhile everyone is invited to walk around and take a look at what’s cooking. There are two outside ovens. I wanted to jump back there and check them out.
We were seated in the garden in the patio:
They were offering oven roasted suckling pig, roasted lamb, and so many great things, but we opted to start with a pasta and then get a whole oven roasted turbot, boned tableside. Turbot is hard to find in the states and they cook it so well in Italy. Generally, it is my habit to eat my weight in fish while in Italy. Italians prefer to eat smaller whole fish, rather than the fillets and steaks that are so popular in the states. If you have ever had our Branzino in rock salt at LUCCA you know what I’m sayin’…
I was too busy gawking at the ovens to realize that our fish had arrived, or I would have shot a photo of the monster before the server began to filet….but you get the picture.
We decided after lunch to “walk it off” and start to walk back to Rome, thinking well, maybe, we can catch a bus (However, we had to have bought tickets in the city beforehand)…we were even thinking about playing the innocent Americans and just jump on a bus that came by….but none did. We kept walking. I figured that I was good for about a mile in the shoes that I was wearing, while mentally calculating how far away the closest metro stop might be. ‘Bout 3 miles if my memory served me. We were just about at the spot on the Apian Way where Jesus was said to have revealed himself to St. Peter as Peter was fleeing the city of Rome to avoid persecution (Domine Quo Vadis…Peter said: “Sir, where are you going?” and Christ said, “I am going to Rome to be crucified again” Peter returned to the City with hime and was martyred). And just as I was contemplating that and the fact that it was Easter, a lone cab pulled up behind us and asked if we needed a ride! Needless to say, we jumped in and I asked him to take us to the Coliseum and Forum (I figured that we would walk the rest of the way back to the apartment from there).
Of course as we were walking back, we had to go by the Spanish Steps. Remember what I was saying about clean rest rooms? Well, there is a McDonald’s at the Spanish Steps with the largest and cleanest public toilets in Rome (you heard it here first!), then we headed over to the Trevi Fountain with all of the other pilgrims. My motives were different, however; near the Trevi Fountain is possibly the best ice cream shop in Rome. It is called the Gelateria di San Crispino (http://www.ilgelatodisancrispino.it/index.php?lang=en). Now, most Americans think that when they go in they can only get one flavor of the ice cream in the cup, Italians know that you can get two or three, just ask. I got half Valrona dark Chocolate and half Caramel Cream. Elliott got Lemon Basil Sorbet with Coconut Ice Cream. I liked mine better.
Ok, enough of the travel log, back to renting apartments in Europe. I had mentioned earlier about the Italian “Bella Figura.” Bella Figura means that you always put on a beautiful front, no matter what (and no matter what is inside—think FIAT). The apartment that we have rented is absolutely beautiful, they have taken every care to make it look wonderful…. however, there is a reason that I always travel with an extension cord, adaptors, and a bathtub plug. There are two things in a European apartment that will become either your friends or your enemies: the plumbing and the electricity. You really have to be flexible and you have to have some basic knowledge. Always find out where the fuse box is and where they keep the plunger and the water heater. In this apartment, the kitchen is brand spanking new with a refrigerator, stove, microwave, washing machine, oven, and dishwasher. You should also know that even when an Italian refrigerator is plugged in, there is a switch (that looks like a light switch) above it that turns it on and off. The first day we loaded up the refrigerator and went out for the day and turned off the lights—we thought. We turned off the refrigerator and mostly lost everything we had just put in it. I replaced them with new items and cranked it up to medium. The next morning, everything was frozen. I put some bread into the oven to heat it up for breakfast and the electrical circuit blew. The refrig and the oven are on the same circuit and apparently, you cannot use both of them at the same time. Well, duh.
The instant water heater decided to also shut down in sympathy for the other appliances. We found the fuse box and reset the switch. Damn, if it didn’t happen again. We reset it again, and I climbed up on a stool to reset the water heater (which is hung high on the wall). And tried it again and blew it again. Ok, so that’s why that switch is on the wall: first you turn off the refrigerator, then you can use the oven or the dishwasher, when you are finished with the oven, you turn it off, then turn the refrig back on (but ya gotta remember to turn the refrig back on before you leave). Every Italian apartment has it’s electrical sweet spot, you just have to find them, and be very patient in the process. I have a collection of adaptors and plugs that I always bring with me—they don’t take up too much space and they really come in handy. Italy has one basic electrical plug and two different sized prongs, narrow and wide. Inevitably, your appliance with wide prongs will not fit into the outlet with narrow openings…..hence the adaptors. And the bathtub plug is self-explanatory, though I have been known to use a wadded up plastic bag in a pinch.
On the good news side, I found a wonderful kitchenware street vendor! Really cool stuff!
And I have been eating my weight in Spaghetti with Clams (Spaghetti con le Vongole Veraci)!