Of the 14 regions in the city of Rome, my favorite area to wander around with Rebekah is Trastevere, arm in arm, taking our time… strolling within its maze of narrow winding cobblestone streets. We like to get lost there. First we go to the Coliseum, stare in awe, and then we head for Trastevere to eat.
This is a taste of rustic Italy, where we first learned the meaning of the word “abbondanza”. This is the Italy of our deepest memories, authentic and imposing, like the looming Medieval fortified hill towns of Tuscany.
For us a pot of clams and pasta brings a certain serenity. Living along the coast of the Monterey Bay, we are always amazed at the abundance of the ocean… but at the same time, shellfish makes us ravenous. Sweet, meaty, briny… they embody the taste of the sea. Toss in some chewy spaghetti or some hair fallen from an angel to soak up their natural juices released when steamed, some tomatoes for a summery freshness, each chubby clam simmering in the lemon/garlic/butter/wine reduce sauce… and you have a little feast that is both simple and extravagant.
We first saw this gorgeous meatloaf (named Polpettone) in Tuscany, when we came across one of those big glass storefronts you find on the main streets in Florence, and the hill towns, with endless mind boggling dishes of food stretching from the doorway all the way across the wall, behind glass cases, with the whole store a dizzying aroma of umami goodness. When I tasted the amazingly complex flavors of this meatloaf, I instantly realized this was not my mom’s meatloaf.
For Rebekah and I, this dish is our most intensely romantic meal… it was the meal that began everything for us as a couple.
The first time I had this classic Italian-American delight was in New York at the Feast of San Gennaro on Mulberry Street in Little Italy. It was a savory revelation, an umami bomb inside some awesome hot toasted and buttered buns. I was hooked for life.
Early in the Tenth Century, the Moors of North Africa conquered Sicily and for more than 200 years they transformed the cuisine of this ancient, once Greek island. To this day, many of the classic Sicilian meals trace their origin to the highly sophisticated Moors, who brought with them oranges and lemons, rice and saffron, cloves and nutmeg, raisins and cinnamon, and crucially they brought couscous to soak up all those exotic flavors. We have always loved the aromatic and intoxicating spices and aromas of the cooking of North Africa, and this meal is a fusion of that exotic cuisine with this haunting and beautiful rugged land called Sicily.