Emma Cullen samples Italy’s culinary delights on a Roman holiday…
Rome: the Eternal City, home to the Coliseum, the Sistine Chapel and the Spanish Steps. It was the final resting place of English poet Keats and, of course, is a dining destination for foodies from around the world. Everyone knows that for the freshest pasta and the creamiest mozzarella, it has to be Italy. Both can be found in the capital along with the expected flavour-loaded, crispy thin pizzas, gnocchi that is light as air and glasses of Prosecco the size of your head. Delis are filled with freshest foods and abuzz with servers shouting orders, slicing meats and wrapping ciabattas.
The dishes across the city all follow similar themes, with a few subtle differences to the rest of the country. Romans love their butter, and truffle butter in particular graces many of the pasta dishes. It is of equal importance to the usual tomato-based sauces you might find prized on the menus in the south. You’ll also find an emphasis on fresh veg (in particular artichoke) and meat.
We went late in the year, which is a magical time to visit Rome. The sun gleams white gold against the grand architecture and the pavements are quieter, leaving you more time to stop and stare. In early November the streets are lined with stalls selling freshly roasted chestnuts, warming you as you walk past and filling the air with a gentle, thoroughly autumn aroma. Grab a cone of them and sit in the Piazza Navona and listen to the live music that floats through the air from Italian buskers. Then head to one of the most famous dining establishments in the piazza, Tre Scalini, and treat yourself to a tartufo. In my opinion, this is the ultimate place to indulge your sweet tooth. Tre Scalini is renowned for its secret-recipe truffle ice cream, made with 13 different types of Belgian chocolate. A generous scoop of the delicious ice cream arrives with an (un)healthy dollop of cream and a rolled wafer. It looks too good to eat.
Even breakfast was a flamboyant affair, with Champagne on ice for those brave enough for bubbly first thing, and my favourite choice: poached pears in a cinnamon and star anise-spiced syrup, topped with sliced almonds. Needless to say, I started each day with this and an accompanying cup of Italian coffee. I couldn’t wait to make my own dish based on these – you can poach pears in pretty much anything, so I plumped for a fragrant jasmine tea recipe with a hint of ginger to ward off any incoming January blues!
How to make poached pears in tea and ginger with sliced almonds:
Put a little honey and sugar in some water and added jasmine tea bags. Bring it all to the boil in a saucepan and then simmer. Add a little grated ginger to the mix and pop in halved pears. Let them simmer for around 15 minutes, until the pears are lovely and soft (but not falling apart). If you want to serve them warm, take out the pears and turn up the heat to reduce the tea mixture to more of a syrupy consistency, then pour over the pears and top with sliced almonds and a little thick Greek yoghurt. Want to eat it later? Simply keep the pears in the water mixture and pop in the fridge.