Sunday, March 27, 2011


What comes to mind when you think of Italian food?  Pasta?  For sure.  Tomatoes galore? Garlic? Gelatto?  Definitely.  The food surprise for me from this trip was the Italians’ variety of artichoke varieties and preparations.  Say carciofi (“car-CHEE-oh-fee”) fast in Italian.   My first evening in Florence, I sought out this appetizer, on the recommendation of my friend Patty in Williamsburg, carpaccio de carciofi.  These are fresh small artichokes, thinly sliced, dressed in olive oil and topped with parmesan.  This was so incredibly delish and fresh and tender, I can’t tell you.  How do they slice these???

Please click on the photos for larger view and don’t forget to comment on the Hat Post this weekend to enter to win!!


I took the train to Rome the next morning, and the artichokes continued to pop up everywhere, on every restaurant menu in multiple dishes, and frequently also on display, in front of restaurants, arranged casually with lemons in a crate~

Or in the window, artfully arranged instead of flowers~


By the time Saturday morning arrived, after several days of eating artichoke dishes, I finally got to see what I was long waiting for, the full array and fantastic display of artichokes at the Campo de’ Fiori market in Rome.  As with the rest of Europe, the area of origin is written for each product.  Lazio is the region which includes Rome, so you will see many of the artichokes here bearing the Lazio name.  Truly, Roman Artichokes~


Beautiful all, violet tinged, smaller and more delicate and sometimes thornless, unlike our prickly globe artichokes.  


There was such a beautiful variety, but I was late for my cooking class after a few chats at the market, so it was snap snap snap before off I went across the Tiber.


Wonderful, set off by citrus in the background; Carciofi Romani; these about $1.50 each. 


Most of the varieties available are smaller than those we see here in the States; the impression was fresh and tender~


One vendor had the entire plant wrapped up as if just cut that morning; this gives the full sense of the plant~ the small tender shoots at the bottom and the big globe at the top~


Many vendors in the market sold the artichokes already trimmed.  I noticed this also in many small food stores around Rome.  Hey, I thought if I trimmed an artichoke a la Julia Child I was ahead.  These were even more amazing.  Here they are at the market, bobbing in lemon water~


There is an art to this, and I will address that shortly, but here you can see a professional Roman trimming an artichoke~

Roman Style prepared artichoke…

And then, it is rather unceremoniously dumped into a rather grotty bucket of lemon water, on the cobblestones~

IMG_4422In Rome, I took a 5 hour cooking class from Chef Andrea Consoli, who owns a restaurant in Travestere in addition to teaching cooking classes.  I can’t say enough good things about this class; it was fun, it was instructional, it was informative. It was all a cooking class should be.   More on Chef Andrea later, but what was so impressive to me was that he “made sense” of what I had seen at the markets and on the menus, and gave me the insider’s view.  Andrea taught us that the prize artichoke is the Violeto, a small and generally “choke-less” artichoke~  IMG_4376

For our cooking class, we made for "starter”  Roman Style Artichokes.  We used the Violeto or “chokeless” artichokes, which Chef Andrea is explaining to us here should be trimmed down by about 1/3 to eliminate the inedible parts~


The stem is also trimmed…IMG_4581

We trimmed the tough outer leaves, and used the paring knife at this angle, using just the sharp tip, to trim off the inedible part of the leaves~IMG_4582The top and stem are quickly rubbed with lemon to prevent oxidation.  This is the same manner in which you find the artichokes for sale around Rome~


This is a vendor from Campo de’ Fiori, who displayed everything in baskets or on on fern leaves, or both.  Amazing….



For our cooking class, we stuffed the trimmed centers with Roman mint a very mild mint perhaps closer to our parsley;


Steamed they in olive oil and water~


These were fantastic; I ordered them two other times in Rome at restaurants and asked if the artichokes were Violeto or the larger globe type with choke, called Chimaroli or I think Chimari.  Both times the “Carciofi Romani” I had in restaurants had the choke or “fur” as Chef Andrea says.   Here is the dish as we prepared for our cooking class; the entire piece was edible, tender and delish~


Back in Florence, we had Carciofi Friti, or fried artichokes; see pic below.  Again, no choke, no fur.  This was AMAZING.  My niece who is studying in Florence this semester says this is the dish she asked her home-stay Mama to prepare for her for her birthday recently.  I tried it here with “baby artichokes” sliced in 8’s and dipped in egg and sprinkled with flour.  Total disappointment.  I’m chasing these artichokes down in France next month; France has Violeto too…


Meanwhile, back in the States, I have started to ask around to the farmers.  What kinds of artichokes are grown here?  It seems we love the big huge fat furry globe ones.  Believe it or not, there is a California Artichoke Advisory Board.  You can see a list of  artichoke varieties HERE.  The Italian varieties seem to be missing, but I will be cooking these in France this spring.  Though I dare say, the French don’t celebrate the artichoke the way the Italians so.   Also check out a few Saveur dishes HERE.

This is making me hungry.  It’s too bad I have two “frost bitten” furry chokes from yesterday’s market to prepare tonight, but they will do. 

When in Rome, please do eat all the artichokes you can manage. They are great for your liver and for reduction of cholesterol.  As with most of the foods in Italy, there are certain hidden health benefits, in addition to just eating “fresh” or “seasonal.”  

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Men of Rome

I asked all of my close friends what I should bring them from Italy. Many of the ragazzi responded, “bring me an Italian hottie!” As I appreciate the Sartorialist Blog, I camped out Friday at lunchtime to take a few shots with a telephoto lens at the base of the Spanish Steps. I wish I could edit, zoom and crop, but these are the raw pics.

I am sure I have seen this gent before, he is the head of some major house; dang…..why don’t the guys in the U.S. look like this!

He worked the Steps like they were a catwalk, top button buttoned, perfect spread collar~


Enfin, a grimace, but he was not looking at me….chubby tie, blue lenses, perfect scruff;…setting the standard….


Italian men love hair in the wind, scarves, aviators…..


I saw these kinds of scarves in Florence for $500. Again, lots of hair, better to run your fingers through~


Italian hair, intaglio pinkie ring and perfect suit, with two buttons on the sleeve….


I have many photos of this guy, in perfect khaki style with tuxedo stripe on the pant; he was on the phone back and forth for 45 minutes…..note again the facial scruff…..


It seems the best accessory for an Italian man is a cell phone. Even the police are on the phone!


This guy had two phones ringing at the same time. Do I answer this one?


Or this one?


There was little hands-free, Italians love the phone pressed to their ear~



Outside of the Gucci store down the block they were on the phone and posing while on break...they knew I was taking their photo and loved it...dang don’t they look great! And they know it.


There was a little theatrical nature as well, with a “Roman” among the crowd, for photo ops….



While we are discussing the men of Rome, let’s not forget the Swiss Guard at the Vatican. This gracious Guard spoke perfect French, Italian and English. Even in those yellow and purple tights~


I welcome a return to the classics; to dressing in three piece suits. Don’t these men look great? This is not France, this is not the U.S.; welcome to Italy~


Oh and lest you think I only shot pics of men, they were the stars, but there were women such as this; how does she manage the cobblestones? I do not know, but she was the top….


I took so many photos, these are but a few. The expression, the gestes…. the scarves and sunglasses….


Young or old, the Roman men exude style….

IMG_4295Even the livery drivers, everyone is on the phone….


Don't forget to check my post yesterday with a fantastic French Hat Giveaway......

Romantic Hats & A Giveaway

The first spring & summer hats are arriving next week, and the natural color (here below at right) is featured in the April issue of Romantic Homes Magazine. This hat is Max Chic and you can wear it two ways, with the brim folded up, or down; click to see the full image, s.v.p.~

hats These hats are made of raffia, in Madagascar of course, and they feature a very fine pin stripe. You will find this exact hat at the Paris Ready to Wear show~

hat natch

One size fits most, $49. Hard choice, natural or black?? Note the pretty bow at the back~

hat blkWe will stock a wider color range this summer, but for spring we are starting with the black and natural. The wide brim is perfect as it keeps all the sun off your face and shoulders while framing your face perfectly. Beach? Wedding? Casual weekend? Honestly, I have never seen anyone look “bad” in this hat. Even if you don’t think you look “good” in hats, you will love this one~hat detThey also squish flat for suitcase packing. I'm going to offer two of these hats for giveaways. One, right here right now~ leave a comment here with preference for black or natural; I will have a great giveaway shortly with a Fantastic Blogger, which will include choice of hat and choice of coordinating basket. For those who have already placed orders, your hats will ship next week!hat two tone

My giveaway will run until next Thursday, March 31 at midnight. I'll ship worldwide. I'll get back to another Italy post tomorrow...

Friday, March 18, 2011

Impressions of Italy

It’s tempting, or maybe expected, to make generalizations after a vacation, as everyone asks, How was the trip? How was Italy? This week I was reminded that, like France and to some degree the U.S., Italy is a very regional country, carefully preserving their local traditions. Each area I visited represents its own patchwork of culture, reflected in the food, the cadence of life and the language.

Thinking of my trip to Florence and Rome, I can’t help but respond to the question of “How was Italy?” by asking myself which Italy, and whose Italy? Rome was positively monumental, and everything I expected~


{Fountain of the Four Rivers, Piazza Navona, Rome}

The sprawling city is beautiful at night, but felt clogged with tourists, motos and poor air quality by day. Still, the Vatican Museum, Scavi Tour under St. Peter's and Villa Borghese were amazing!


{detail of the Four Rivers Fountain, Rome}

I spent several hours at the base of the Spanish Steps with my telephoto lens, photographing beautiful Roman men, imaging what their lives might be like. This will be tomorrow's post! Beautiful hair, just enough facial hair scruff, wearing a confident attidude and perhaps a three-piece suit and overcoat....


{Friday, lunchtime, Spanish Steps}

According to Chef Andrea, who guided us through a 5 hour cooking class, most Romans eat out only once each week and like to eat well at home, but not get their hands dirty. As such, there are abundant artichokes and certain other foods in the market which are fresh but semi-prepared; I will do an entire post on Italian Carciofi or artichokes~


{artichokes, Campo de' Fiori market, Rome}

Leaving Rome for Florence, the pace slowed considerably, but that seemed fine after 12 hour days hoofing it around to see all the sights. As with Rome, I found many people in Florence did not speak English, except in most restaurants. My first attempt was limited Italian or French, and surprisingly, many Italians speak perfect French, as did this gentleman~


{vendor in the Mercato Centrale, Florence}

One of the highlights of this trip was our pasta-making class in Chianti, just outside of Florence. Wilma is a beautiful, earthy Italian woman with a fresh pasta shop, and she showed us how to make all kinds of delicious pasta~


{Wilma preparing to serve us the fettucine al zucchini we had made}

As expected, the food was consistently fabulous throughout Italy, though it was often expensive. I took photos of just about every dish that hit the table; here bruscetta in Florence. According to Chef Andrea in Rome, if you pronounce it brew-SHET-ta you will have 3 euros added to your's pronounced brew-SKET-ta but I call it delicious~


In addition to the food, the star of the show was the light. We had sun in Rome and some rain in Florence; but when the sun comes out and falls on the ancient buildings of Rome, the white marble facade and tiled Duomo of Florence and the dozens of shades of ochre seen everywhere, the effect is magical...


{5pm, Church of Santa Maria dei Fiori, Florence}

In Florence, the amount of antiques for sale seems to be inversely proportionate to the ubiquitous cheap leather goods available. Sunday I went to the monthly "antique market" in Florence, and I was disappointed by what little was on offer; in fact, aside from a handsome 19C wire jardiniere, which I passed on as it was $440, this is the only thing I found of any interest~


{"she does not like the rain, so she hides here,"
her mistress told me, in French}

After our pasta class, we took a short drive to a wine and olive oil producer nearby. Yet again, another version of Italy. The proprietess is Swiss-born, and speaks German, Italian, French and English fluently. Regardless of "which Italy" we talk about, there is constant reference made to the classics; I'll have more examples to show you, here are a few~


{view from the Villa Spoiano, Tuscany}


{Trastevere, near the Vatican, Rome}

A common thread to each region of Italy seems to be pride~ in their history, food, traditions, and pure authenticity. In whatever language we found in common, Italians make it clear that they love their little corner of the world. This week they celebrate the 150th Anniversary of the unification of Italy. In dozens of shop windows in Florence, beautiful displays were made, evidence of their love of country, no matter how different the local traditions are from the rest of Italy.


Check back tomorrow for photos from the Spanish Steps; I'll be posting for the next two weeks regarding all that I saw and did and learned on this trip.