Favorite Photos

Favorite Photos
Bernini's Ecstasy of St. Teresa

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Facciamo Cuocere! Let's Cook.....Italian!

Being an on again, off again “dependent spouse” has had it’s ups and downs. Accompanying a husband who has dedicated a major portion of his career to working for non-profit organizations has had it’s challenges, mainly a personal career path with lots of detours and stops (when forced into “hibernation” during those “dependent spouse” phases). On the other hand, it has given me extraordinary experiences. Living and working in third world countries like Bangladesh and Cote’dvoire, rich Arab countries like Dubai, developing tigers, India and South Korea, South East Asian countries like Singapore, Malaysia and the Philippines, and now right here in the heart of Europe, Rome, has given me an uncommon view of the world! My children have had major challenges too, undoubtedly they have had a very rich growing-up experience, but were definitely not immune to all the problems attached to being part of the “cultural nomad” generation.

One of the things that we have all taken with us from these experiences is the appreciation for different types of food. We all love to eat and one of the things we tried to do, wherever we were was to look for local restaurants to enjoy and more importantly, learn how to cook local food. As a family, you can say we are adventurous “food afficionados”.

In Rome, it is only my husband and I, my son and his wife live in Vancouver, my daughter in Boston and our cook of 23 years is not with us, but I continue the tradition. I have tried to cook Italian and I think, making a success of it.

One thing I have learned is that Italians, like the Chinese put great emphasis on the freshness of ingredients. My grandfather-in-law, a tai-chi master in his youth went to the market daily to buy the food they were going to have for that day. He did this until the day of his death, when he went to the market as usual in the morning and sat in his porch, where they found him when they went to call him for lunch. He was 95. Come to think of it, my husband's penchant for going to the market and or grocery must have been inherited! Here in Rome, I am trying to follow grandfather's way, I try to buy whatever (at least the main ingredient) we will eat for dinner on the same day.

So what have I cooked?

Osso Bucco!

The first thing I tried was osso bucco. I tried cooking this in two ways: I tried a recipe by Guida de Laurentiis, which I found on the internet. The important ingredients, the veal shanks and the white wine, but the recipe also called for onions, garlic, carrots, celery, a bouquet garni of rosemary, thyme, bay leaves and cloves, the dredging with flour.... you get the idea This involved a lot of work and ingredients, I’m not too fond of chopping, dicing mincing etc. which adds to the clean up after, which is also tedious and boring. My complaints aside, it was pretty good and my husband enjoyed it. But it was too labour-intensive for me.

floured veal shanks
 I was given a simpler recipe, Milanese style which I decided to try. The veal shanks are cut to about an inch thick and around 6 to 7 inches across. The recipe is as follows:

1 small onion chopped
Some butter
Olive oil
½ cup or so white wine
2/3 cup water ( I used broth the second time I made this)
Some tomato paste

And for the gremolada:
2 or so cloves garlic
A sprig of rosemary
2 or so leaves of sage
Zest of 1 lemon grated
Chop all of this together

My Osso Bucco Milanese
Dredge the shanks with flour and set it aside. In a dutch oven sauté the chopped onion in butter and olive oil until transparent. Remove these from the pan and brown the shanks in the butter, olive oil mixture, sprinkling the white wine over these. When the shanks are brown, return the onions to the pan, add the tomato paste and the hot broth (you may need a bit more of this) simmer till the shanks are tender. When the shanks are tender, remove them from the pan and add the gremolada to the sauce. Season and pour over shanks and serve with Arborio rice. I have cooked this twice already, very good and the amount of work involved...not too much.

Fried zucchini flower!

fresh zucchini flowers
 From the first time I tried it, I loved it, talking about fried zucchini flowers. I tried it stuffed and plain. I loved them both. I knew I was going to try this at home. Sticking to my belief that kitchen duties need not take over your entire life, I decided to do a plain version. The first thing is to remove the stamen of the flower. You do this by sticking your hand into the delicate blossoms and pinching the stamen to remove them. Wash them very gently and then leave them to dry.

fried zucchini flowers
 I found several recipes for the batter, in which these blossoms are first immersed in and then deep fried. I tried one with egg and I found it too heavy. I tried another that simply called for flour and water, which was ok but I decided to use beer instead of just water. That turned out very well and that’s how I’ve cooked my zucchini flower ever since.


My mother has this fantastic spanish recipe for tripe, Callos Madrilena, which has been a family favorite from my childhood. Here it is so much easier to do as the tripe comes cleaned and already partially boiled. I tried cooking this in Korea, failed miserably, basically because of the fact that the tripe was still in it's natural state and cleaning it stunk up my whole house!

I cooked Callos once since I came to Rome and even if my husband really likes it, I find it hard doing it again, basically because of the preparation involved. But I was given a recipe for tripe, Trippa Genovese which I will cook again and often.

Here is the recipe:

First boil the tripe in water with a little white wine vinegar for about an hour. Then let it cool and slice it.

About a pound of tripe
3 bay leaves
extra vigin olive oil
1 onion chopped finely
2 clove garlic chopped
chilli flakes
3-4 large ripe plum tomatoes diced
fresh basil chopped
fresh parley chopped
oregano flakes
mixture of pecorino and parmiggiano cheese

Trippa Genovese
  Saute onions and garlic in olive oil until transparent then add the tripe and chili flakes stirring around until coated with the oil, add the wine and simmer until half the wine has evaporated, then add all the other ingredients and bring to a boil and then lower the fire and allow to simmer for 30 or so minutes. After thirty minutes add a mixture of pecorino and parmiggiano cheese and simmer for an additional 15 minutes. Then taste and adjust seasoning. Serve with Italian bread or baguette. This recipe is even better the next day.

Horse, anyone?

As for my failures, there have been some but nothing as spectacular as when I tried cooking Cavallo (horse meat). There is a small space in the meat chiller counter of our supermarket reserved for horse meat, which has a deeper almost dark red color as compared to beef. I've seen them thinly sliced and in cubes. I decided one day to try the cubed one in a stew. Was told that cooking cavallo is like cooking beef, except that overcooking would toughen it. Boy were they right! Ever hear that expression "it's like eating leather"? Well that was exactly how it was. But undeterred, I will try again, this time will use the thinly sliced meat and cook it very briefly. Maybe the Japanese have it right, they reputedly eat horse meat raw! 

I have tried cooking some other dishes, which I will write about eventually, but one thing I haven't tried cooking is the dolce part of the meal. Next time my sister visits me, we might just do that!

Monday, July 4, 2011

In and Around the Colloseum

Ever since I’ve arrived in Rome, my favourite Metro stop has been the Colloseo on Metro Line B. This is because right outside the metro exit is a bus stop where loads of buses stop to take one to most parts of the city. And each time I’ve stepped out of that metro, the Coliseum has been there, silently beckoning me to enter. I’ve held back mainly because of the long lines of people waiting to get in. This day was different. I meant to go to the Trident area, but when I got out of the metro, I noticed that there were not too many people around the Coliseum and more importantly, no line waiting to get in. Because it was an overcast, breezy day, I decided right then to change plans and proceeded to the ticket office to purchase my ticket for the Coliseum. I paid 12 Euros for a 2 day pass that included the Forum and the Palatine Hill.

The Flavian Ampitheater as the Coliseum was originally called, was started by Vespasian, the first of the Flavian emperors, in 72 AD and completed by his son Titus in 80 AD. Vespasian was one of Nero's general who became emperor after a period of instability following Nero’s death. There was a struggle for power between 4 men, each of them supported by a different power base. Galba was supported by the senate, Otho by the Praetorian guards, Vittelus by the legions in Germany and Vespasian by the legions in Judea. Vespasian managed to take control of the empire and so began the Flavian dynasty.

Vespasian destroyed most of Nero’s Domus Aurea, his Golden House, which was built around the artificial lake on which the Coliseum was built. The funds for the construction came from Vespasian’s share of the booty acquired during the sack of Jerusalem and was meant to demonstrate an end to the days of Nero and indicating Vespasian’s desire to give Rome back to the people.

The Coliseum was meant to replace the makeshift stadiums erected in the Roman forum for gladiatorial games. It was erected by slaves, a lot of them Hebrews captured during Vespasian’s sack of Jerusalem. They used travertine blocks quarried from Tivoli and brought over 27km to Rome by the cartload. The structure is massive, being 165 feet high and 600 feet long and able to sit 50,000 people. There were multiple archways which contained statues and other works of art which were taken from the destroyed Domus Aurea and transferred to the Coliseum.

There were several stories of sitting spaces, the best seats, closer to the arena floor reserved for the emperor, the senators, the vestal virgins and the higher social classes. The higher the seats, the less important, until you reach the topmost level (today we call them nose bleed seats) where the slaves and the poor were seated. Some say that women were also seated here as befitted their gender. Certainly very different from the Hollywood versions where women were not only present in huge numbers in all areas of the Coliseum, but as enthusiastic as their male counterparts in their participation.

Entering the Coliseum, you follow arrows directing you along the tour route. I made a decision not to join a tour, preferring to view the site by myself and form my own impressions. Strategically placed bill boards give you basic information which is more than enough to give you an understanding of the place. The tour route presently brings you to a rather steep staircase which brings you to the main floor, that is to say the only other level that is still open to the public, which is about halfway to the top of the Coliseum.

Going Up!
 First thing you come across is part of the Nerone exhibit, where artifacts from Pompey and other sites are displayed. There was also a picture of a reconstruction of the area when the Domus Aurea was still standing. What was most obvious was the size of the place, the artificial lake right at the center and the massive Colossus of Nero, which was reputed to be larger in size than the Colossus of Rhodes.

A depiction of Nero's Domus Aurea with the Colossus of Nero
 When Vespasian tore down the Domus Aurea, he kept the Colosus intact, merely changing the head of the statue, removing Nero’s features and replacing them with a representation of the Sun God, Apollo. This statue survived to the middle ages (the base is what remains of the colossus today and can be seen on the Via Sacra). Through the years, the Flavian ampitheater became known as the Coliseum, some say taking the name from the colossus.

Depiction of the Flavian Ampitheater with the Colossus of the Sun God

The Coliseum underwent restoration in 1993 and then again in 2000 and after the exhibits, you see a portion of a corridor after the restoration, giving you a tiny glimpse of just how magnificent it was in it’s heyday.

Restored area

I have been inside a number of times before, when I was a little girl, with my parents, again when I was a teen-ager and once with my own family. So I was unprepared for the reaction I experienced when I finally stepped out into the interior of the Coliseum. The site literally took my breath away. The vastness of it, resembling a humongous bowl did not fail to impress.

Looking down, one sees what was hidden from the ancient spectators, the labyrinth where animals and men were kept until it was time for them to be, shall we say, “vomited out” (through the “vomitariums”, I kid you not!) onto the arena floor.

What was under the floor of the arena
These underground corridors were also connected to the Ludus Magnus or the gladiatorial school, where the gladiators lived and trained. They were able to travel to the Coliseum without being seen. Today the ruins of the Ludus Magnus can be seen between Via Labicana and Via San Giovanni in Laterano.

Plastic model of Ludus Magnus
The floor over this labyrinth of corridors, cages and waiting areas was wooden and was covered with sand (harena in latin) to absorb the blood and other fluids excreted and left over after every show. And so we have the origins of the word arena! The sitting areas were originally all in marble, but today only a very small portion of that is left.

Sitting Area in marble

Most of the shows were large productions, vanatos (animal hunts), reenactment of famous battles and muneras (gladiatorial bouts), where contrary to Hollywood perpetuated myths, thumbs down actually meant “let him live!”. There is no historical evidence that wholesale slaughter of Christians ever took place in the Coliseum although belief in this was perpetuated by pope Pius V (1566-1572), when he consecrated the Coliseum as hallowed ground. Today, the Way of the Cross on Good Friday led by the pope usually starts here.

The numerous arches that are now devoid of statues allow the breeze to constantly flow into the Coliseum and also provide beautiful frames for pictures of the surrounding buildings and gardens.


The Coliseum has withstood earthquakes, fires, modern day pollution and traffic noise, to stand proud and tall after 2,000 years. Lord Byron, who lived in Italy for sometime, wrote:
            While stands the Coliseum, Rome shall stand;
            When falls the Coliseum, Rome shall fall
             And when Rome falls - the World.

Will this prophecy, which was originally voiced by the Venerable Bede in the 8th century hold? Only time will tell, In the meantime, the Coliseum stands, for all to marvel at.... and sometimes serve as a resting place for a weary traveller.