Tag Archives: Roma


In Rome, Giovedi e gnocchi.  It’s not a joke.  We decided to see what all the fuss was about…. except we’re broke and haven’t had a good gnocchi outside the AAR gates yet — so we just busted it out.  This is gnocchi a la Miles Grande.

First we roasted about 12 of Giovanni Bernabei’s floury (dry and flaky — so you can use less flour) potatoes in a static 180°C oven for about 35 minutes until they were cooked through.  Stick a knife in, if it goes in easily they’re ready.  We roasted the potatoes on little beds of rock salt so they aren’t touching the metal pan directly.  No pics for this, imagine it.

While the taters are roasting get your eggs and flour ready.  We used two whole eggs and 00 flour.  Use what you’ve got.  Finer flour has more gluten and just affects the length of the gluten.  Using other types of flour can affect the texture of the gnocchi.  Semolina is a nice choice as well, according to Miles.

When the potatoes are done, peel them immediately into a ricer and rice them onto a tray.  Rice means pass them through a thing that looks kind of like a garlic crusher but bigger and with larger holes.

When you’ve got them all riced, grab some egg and sprinkle it over the potatoes.  For 12 potatoes we used about one and half eggs.  We did not beat them first, just grabbed the yolks and whatever white came along for the ride.

Next, add flour little by little.  The goal is to add as little as possible.  As soon as it starts feeling like a dough, STOP adding.  Knead it a little until you can press your finger into the dough ball and see a little rebound.  That’s the gluten from the flour working its magic.

Cut off small chunks of dough and roll them out into half-inch rolls.  Grab the roll on the eft and cut off 3/4 to 1 inch pieces.  Throw them onto a flour-sprinkled tray.

Miles made a great sauce with some leftover pork chunks, carrot, onion, celery, parsley and chicken stock.  He kept adding stock and reducing until it was a bit thick and super concentrated.  And delicious.

Cook the little gnocci until they float in salted water.  They should be toothy but shouldn’t taste like uncooked flour.

The Meal in the Basement

Well it felt like it anyways.  Someone told us about this place that kind of looks like someone’s house or basement but people are always eating there.  We found it.  It’s right at the bottom of some steps in Trastevere and can be found here (this link will be coming as soon as i find where it is).  There are four tables, a stove and unlimited Beatles tunes.

We sat down and the food started coming.  We found out later the meal is pretty much fixed except for pasta and main.  It started with a puree of squash, fagiolini (beans), and bruschetta. And wine – all you can drink.  Next we chose pasta: I had the carbonara (bacon, creme and eggs).  For secondi I had a chicken dish that had been simmering in a pot behind us.  It was very tender and was cooked in some kind of vinaigrette concoction.  Yummy.  Dolci consisted of chocolates and cookies followed by limoncello and grappa.  I’m not sure I would go back here but it is definitely a fun experience and its all you can drink and it only costs 25 Euro per person.  Worth a look at least.

The Farm

After today I’ve decided I’m moving to a small farm in Italy and cooking and eating all day long for the rest of my life.  I was very lucky to be invited to come along and I would say it was a once in a lifetime experience but I’m not going to let that be the case….

getting to the farm

We arrived early and went for a tour with Giovanni, the farmer.  He showed us various plants and the bugs that eat them and explained why each bug likes each plant.  Then he went on to state his theory of the creation of the universe.  I think.  He was talking really quickly and my Italian isn’t exactly perfect yet but I think I understood most of what he was saying.  The part of the farm that we saw isn’t huge but supplies most of the food to the American Academy.  There are a lot of different kinds of leafy green lettuces and vegetables growing including cardoons and fennel (okay not sooo leafy).  We stomped around and tried the bits of leaves he handed us to taste.  Afterwards he’d say things like, this thins your blood or this is medicinal.  Blind faith.  We followed him back up the hill to the road and over to his villa.
tomatoes and more veggies

Giovanni showing a cardoon who's boss

rows of lettuce

Giovanni explaining why bugs like certain plants (i think)

The villa is under construction but the view from the large terrace was amazing and there was a small cooking shack with an open fire and a pizza oven ready for us to use.  We set to work.  I helped prep the meat, which consisted of tearing open the packages and sprinkling with olive oil and salt, and then spent a good amount of time eating and drinking.the pizza oven

the setup

The meal started with fennel salad, fresh sausage and little blocks of cheese (some kind of parmesan I think).  The pasta with some kind of meat was next and so good, followed by an endless stream of delicious pizzas.  Toppings included anchovies, tomato, mozzarella, parmesan, caramelized onions, lots of olive oil, spices and the potatoes I prepared yesterday.  All the pizzas were amazing and the dough was so easy to work with (compared to Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods dough).  I made a potato, onion and mozzarella pizza with a sprinkling of rosemary.  The meat was cooked over the open fire and sliced and we ate it with our hands along with the pizza.

pizza doughs

my pizza (terrible picture)

We had to take a stroll around the grounds after dinner to prepare for desert.  A huge cake, special for Halloween and a huge apple tart awaited our return along with espresso.

post-dinner stroll


A little later we said our goodbyes, crammed into the van and headed home, singing songs inspired mostly by two of the more musical kitchen interns.  I would do this every weekend…. so if you know anyone looking for a farm hand, email me.

the view

Cooking in a Real Kitchen at the AAR!

It was everything I could have wanted.  I only wish I could have spent more time in the kitchen doing anything — even just watching everything go down.  On Saturdays people are allowed to help in the kitchen.  At 7 AM.  I think I made it by 8…. I had a long night with my cousin the night before.  They started me on chestnuts: score them through the skin, blanch them, peel them.  Sounds easy but it’s not.  I’m surprised I didn’t slice my thumb off to be honest.  I have a newfound respect of the guys selling them on the street — theirs are peeled perfectly.  Get them in there.  Anyways, I did that for about an hour (which resulted in about 14 sad looking peeled chestnuts) until Miss Talbott pulled me over to her station where she wanted me to bread cardoons that she was drenching in eggs.  One hand for wet, one for dry.  Not thrilling but much better than chestnuts and I got to ask Mona some of my burning cooking questions, all of which have been erased from my memory by the excitement of the day.  And they say Saturday lunch is the most laid back meal to prepare.

half the kitchen

Next I began peeling potatoes to be sliced for pizza.  In between I took a break and learned to fry the cardoons.  I did it in a big pot of oil at around 180 degrees C.  I felt very important….  I’m pretty sure Mona gave me that job because it is close to impossible to screw up: make sure the temperature stays around 180, fry the cardoons in batches, take them out when they look done, sprinkle them with parmesan, plop them on a plate.  I had a lot of fun doing it.

the cardoon frying station

My Fried Cardoons

Back at the potatoes, one of the young chefs, Nick, taught me how to properly bake them to be used as a pizza topping.  In the past I would just slice them in the Cuisinart, spread them out on a pan in a thick layer, cover them in olive oil and sprinkle them with salt and pepper and bake them until they were soft.  Nick’s way was much more precise and produced a much higher quality result.  Here’s what you do: peel the potatoes and soak them in water.  Slice them at a constant thickness using a mandolin.  Cover two trays with parchment paper, sprinkle one with olive oil and salt and place the potato slices in a single layer on top.  Sprinkle them with more olive oil and salt and a handful of water from where the potatoes are soaking.  Place a piece of parchment on top and then another pan on top of that.  Bake until the potatoes feel soft and taste… good, about 8 or 10 minutes.  I burned my tongue so badly doing this, imitating Nick as he tossed a potato slice in his mouth directly from the pan.  I did six batches of these and then we got to eat!

Lunch was sooooo good.  There was a Panade, which consists of very thinly sliced toasted bread, white wine caramelized onions, and a few cheeses, stacked in three layers.  I watched another one of the chefs, Brian, sliced the bread using a meat slicer and then layer everything together.  Amazing — I’m going to have try this one at home.  There was also a pasta with lentil dish that was really yummy, a delicious roasted fennel and lemon dish served with olives, the fried cardoons and salad.  And wine.

The Panade

My favorite part of cooking in the kitchen was seeing how little timing things matters or is even mentioned – it’s all look, taste, smell, temp and feel; I need to get better at interpreting and understand all those things.  So much fun with so many talented young chefs!

Rome and the Uniting of Italy

At 9 AM we met at the front gate for a walking tour to and around the Vatican led by a few of the Rome Fellows at the AAR.  Our first professor gave us a quick summary of the various battles that had been fought behind and on Academy ground.  Surprisingly, there were a few — and it seems so peaceful now.  As we walked he gave a brief history of the unification of Rome including enthralling tidbits about Pope Pius IX, Giuseppe Garibaldi and Victor Emmanuel II.  He showed us the huge statue of Garibaldi atop the Gianicolo looking out over the city, the busts of many of his contemporaries and another great statue of his wife on a horse with a gun in one hand and a baby in the other.  He likened here to Sarah Palin — hilarious.

Along the way, we were also lucky enough to hear from a professor emeritus of fine arts at Harvard, James Ackerman.  He spoke to us about some of the architecture of some of the villas and large gates we passed under on our way down the hill.  We entered into the square in front of the Vatican from the side, led by Corey Brennan, the Mellon Professor-in-charge, so that we would not be distracted by Saint Peter’s as he explained the history and significance of the square.  We marveled for a bit and then walked down the road leading up to the vatican with the suppository looking light fixtures (not my comparison, obviously).  We ended up at the St. Angel Castle.  After walking back and forth across the bridge and peering up with wonderment at the Bernini and Bernini-student sculptures that line the bridge, we headed up the river toward the Aria Paci.

We chose a place called Gusto for lunch.  It’s actually a bunch of different places, all next to each other; they own the whole block.  We went to the one that serves a killer buffet for lunch.  We piled our plates high (below) and our waitress hooked it up with the bill.  There were 10 kinds of salads, shrimp, a white fish, some kind of roast beef, pork filets, two kinds of mozzarella, all sorts of grilled veggies and more.

We went in St. Peter’s the following day and it was everything I remembered.  It’s really hard to take in just in one day.  My cousin arrived in Rome and I met him and his crazy friend out later in the evening.  Rome is a different place at night – a great place.  We had lots of fun roaming the piazzas and campos looking for trouble.


We have arrived.  The American Academy in Rome (AAR) is housed in the Mckim building, a beautiful old villa-like structure in front of a park atop the Gianicolo.  It’s surrounded by embassies, more parks, other academies and sweeping views of the city.  The food here is delicious.  The kitchen is run by two ex-Chez Panisse chefs (as much as I know so far….) and also employs cooking interns on roughly five month cycles.  It that something you might be interested in? Yes, please.

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