Tag Archives: rome sustainable food project

Working in the Garden

The RSFP’s garden at the AAR is a constant source of controversy.  Luckily, as interns, we just work in it and don’t have to deal with any of the ridiculous, annoying politics that stipulate importance of appearance over practicality and purpose.

On Wednesday we typically work in the garden weeding, seeding, planting, harvesting peppers and lettuce, transplanting or picking fruit.  This week was particularly exciting because our beets grew enough so that we could thin and move them so that they can grow even more into big yummy beets in the soil.

Chris thinning, weeding and transplanting beets

tidied up beets

We also were finally able to plant starts for Venezia and Oak Leaf lettuce that we had seeded about a month ago.  Lots of lettuce to come.

our newly planted babies: venezia starts

Aesthetically, they aren’t beautiful but they look very professional and they serve an incredibly important purpose in the health of our lettuce and starters.  I’m talking about he tarps.  And the best part about them, you can’t even see them from outside the garden because the hedge blocks them from view.  So who really cares?  We’ll all just have to learn to love them.  They come with the lettuce.

the highly controversial plastic tarp covers

And, of course, Andrea showed us how to pick Quince like a boss.

Andrea monkey picking quince

Week One and Done

Heat, jetlag, 9-hour days, swollen ankles and espresso shots.  That pretty much sums up the first for week for me.  It’s my first time working in a kitchen other than the ones in my and my friends’ homes and it’s definitely different.  Still fun and delicious, cooking in a commercial, industrial kitchen (8 burners, two pasta boilers, a tilt-skillet, double ovens, piastra, multiple prep stations and a dish-washer) felt pretty intimidating at first.

My new roommates and fellow interns assured me I would be fine.  The first night, Lizzy, a seasoned private chef from England living in Switzerland, and I hiked down into Trastevere for dinner together.  We chose a nice enough looking place and ordered Pizza con Fiori di Zuca and Tagliata con Insalata di Rugala e Pomodoro.  We were both so hungry that either of us probably would have been satisfied by kabob but the pizza and steaks were fine.  Definitely couldn’t compare to the next night’s dinner with all the interns and Mona at a Sardinian spot on the Gianicolo called .  The meal was simple and delicious.  I had fish egg pasta, a taste of scamorza (fried cheese), calamari fritti and contorni.  The restaurant is family run and Mona encouraged us to work there on our days and nights off.

When 4 AM rolled around on Monday, the 6th, I wasn’t really nervous or intimidated anymore, just excited in anticipation of all the food I was going to get to cook and eat.  I love to eat and, having eaten at the Academy for a full week a year ago, I was salivating just remembering the lunches and dinners I had the pleasure stuffing myself with.  Just as a quick preface to the week, my only complaint is that I do not have enough self control during staff lunch to keep myself from stuffing myself.  It makes everything after 3:00 pretty tough, unless it’s topping and tailing fagiolini (green beans) during which sitting is acceptable.  But I’ll get to that.

From 4-6:00 AM I reviewed and re-reviewed my AM Intern responsibilities.  At 6 I put on all my cooking gear: undershirt, loose jeans, clogs, chef jacket, backwards Cal hat.  I grabbed my extra sharp knives, notebook and camera and headed across the street to the kitchen located in the back of the main American Academy building.  My first task, taking inventory.  At times tedious, taking inventory is often confusing, but interesting, education and necessary.  It seems to be one of the ways Mona and Chris come up with the daily lunch menus.  Other morning tasks include filling salt containers, bowls with yogurt, and bowls with grana, slicing meat for panini, peeling and cleaning onions and garlic, lighting burners and picking up most of the deliveries that come in.  That last part is actually pretty cool, especially when the deliverer is Giovanni Bernebei, the farmer outside Roman city limits from whom the RSFP receives huge crates of food each week.

I have only worked the lunch shift so far and have helped to prepare so many delicious dishes. Whenever anyone is making something I want to learn how to make I’ll watch.  I’ll list a few things I’ve prepared and have watched others prepare:

  • Lots of salads like Insalata di pomodoro e Peperoni
  • Bruschetta Pomodoro
  • Roasted Tomatoes
  • Lots of meat and cheese slicing for panini
  • Ricotta Ravioli
  • Sliced pork over rughetta with salsa verde
  • Cepolle – fried pollenta balls with induja sausage in the middle
  • Sauteed escarole, chard
  • Roasted Eggplant
  • Boiled carrots and fennel
  • Roasted Fenne with roasted purple onions
  • Melanzane Puree with pizza bianca
  • Fagiolini with endive and red onions and shaved fennel
  • Cavetelli – pasta
  • Orzo Salad with zuchini, green beans and pesto
  • Fritatta with leeks and chard
  • Matriciana Pasta al cepo – with a little handholding… (this is made with guanciale!)
  • Faro con pomodorini, zcchine e onion
  • Potato Salad

I wash and tear a lot of greens and I’d like to think I’m getting pretty good at it.  By tearing I mean making bit size pieces of lettuce.  I also really enjoy using the meat slicer; I like to see how thin I can slice prosciutto.  Getting thinner.

A few words of warning: I love it here and I may never leave.

Stay tuned for infrequent updates and maybe even a recipe or two!

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!