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Maureen B. Fant

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Posts posted by Maureen B. Fant

  1. ..., I would suggest that if you believe these three really know what technique is all about, I would say that we are on different pages.


    As someone with no classic technique at all, I ask this question in all innocence and with genuine curiosity (i.e., no sarcasm). Could you give some specific examples (naming names even) of where/how/why the lack of French technique is a problem in an Italian kitchen. Why can't there be two parallel schools? You yourself said (didn't you?) that the French can't cook pasta and risotto. There is plenty of Italian technique, or don't you count something like the making of paper-thin Emilian tagliatelle because its origin is the home kitchen, not the professional?

  2. Can't find much about this restaurant except having seen its 1 star in Michelin.

    Not always sure about Michelin in Italy but their ratings do seem reliable. Having looked through many of the others recommended on egullet it looks like many of them seem to have quite a few "off nights" and as I am there for one night only, I want to make sure it's a good one.

    Would be delighthed to have any other consistent mod/high level recommendations as well (La Pergola is too high unfortunately.....and the chef is German anyway I beieve)

    many thanks to anyone that can help

    Don't knock Heinz Beck, the Bavarian chef of La Pergola, because he's German, but you didn't ask about La Pergola...

    L'Altro Mastai is a superb restaurant, one of the top restaurants in Rome and one of the small handful of high-end places appreciated as much for the food as for the ambience. I've only been there once, but everything was perfect in a very modern, understated way. Michelin would probably give it two stars anywhere but Rome.

    So if you want a reliably excellent restaurant in central Rome, have no fear -- to the extent that there are any certainties. But what was your question? Reliably excellent or reliably excellent and typical?

    The top places are not typical. I haven't been in quite a few years, but I think Piperno might be a good idea for you -- classic, typical, the Jewish repertoire of fritti (highly typical and wonderful), excellent service. Checchino dal 1887 is the other classic, offering the rest of the typical Roman menu (typical is not the right word; traditional is better), essentially home cooking, very unfancy, but superb wines and service and gracious hosts whose family has been serving food on the premises since before 1887.

  3. ... He uses pasta, butter, garlic, cheese, no cream.  She describes alfredo sauce "the sexy, Roman way" as using (for one pound of pasta) a stick (quarter pound) of butter, 1 cup of cream, and handsful of good grated parmesan.  ...  This discussion is about cream vs. none. 

    I feel like the last person on the planet who has never seen Mario Batali on television or read a word he's written -- though I saw him in person at a panel thing at the NY Public Library and was appalled at his Italian-language errors. In any case, cream is not original to the recipe for "fettuccine al triplo burro," which is the original Italian name of fettuccine Alfredo. But cream is at least on the same team as butter and cheese. But Mario calls for garlic????? And nobody has objected?

  4. Service is always important, especially in Italy, where the general standard is high [..]

    What is your point of reference in making this statement, Maureen?

    I can't say I agree, but I'd love to hear your take on how the general standard of service in Italy compares with that of other countries in which you may have lived or spent a significant amount of time.

    The only other place I eat regularly besides Italy is Manhattan, where you can still find well-trained pros (who don't call the customers "guys") in some places. Otherwise, wherever I travel I wish there were an Italian waiter to explain and guide me through a meal. A good Italian waiter seems to take a real interest in what you eat and will steer you away from ordering things that, say, don't go together. This sort of rapport is, admittedly, easier to establish if you speak fluent, idiomatic Italian, which I do, but really it's not necessary. The Italians are great communicators if you somehow show you care. So I like the intimacy, but I also like the formality. They don't kneel. They call me "signora". They don't tell me their own likes and dislikes or anything about themselves. Most important, I've learned a lot from Italian waiters about Italian food -- because they care enough to inform and even correct. I haven't learned a thing from waiters anywhere else. When I went to India, I was dying for an Italian waiter everywhere we went. I wanted explanations and help constructing a meal, but my questions -- are these two things good to have together? that sort of thing -- seemed incomprehensible. Sure, there are a lot of surly waiters in Italy, and tourists, especially, often encounter in-your-face comedians, etc., but the professional Italian waiter at his best (and they're still almost always male) can really make the difference between a memorable meal and one that just misses the mark.

  5. Gusto. You have to be kidding me. The most inept service imaginable in the Osteria. Go at your own risk.

    Oh, come on. How big of an issue is service, really, when you stop in somewhere for just some wine and a few cichetti?

    It's a wine bar, not a restaurant with the slightest aspirations of formality. Granted, I've only been once, but the service was fine.

    Service is always important, especially in Italy, where the general standard is high, and my experience with a friend at the Gusto osteria at lunch a few years ago, both of us fluent in Italian, was something out of the diner scene in Five Easy Pieces. We were practically in tears before we understood whether we could order from column B or column C or I forget what. In the end, we didn't get the variety we wanted and at least a third of the cicheti we wound up with were not very good. I was swept along with a group there for dinner about a year and a half ago (a Sunday or we'd have gone elsewhere) and found the service better but the food bad.

    The very new, very attractive Gusto bar on another side of the piazza is also terrible -- this based on tea and sandwiches one afternoon in early September.

  6. After a very long and fascinating process of selecting places to eat dinner during our mid-November week in Rome, we have settled on a number of classic places.  Reservations are in place at Piperno, Checchino dal 1887, and Armando al Pantheon.  A few others are pending (notably La Matricianella). 

    But the biggest problem is finding a good place to eat on Sunday evening.  After trying to find out who's open when (there is often conflicting information on the net), I've narrowed our choices to the following:  La Buca di Ripetta, L'Orso 80, Taverna degli Amici, and Antico Forno Roscioli.  Ditirambo had been on the list but a friend and frequent visitor to Rome advises us that it has slipped a bit of late.  After studying the various websites, menus, and reviews available online, I'm still not certain.  So, I'm posting to ask anyone with experience of any (all?) of these places to help me sort them out.  Anything you can tell me would be most welcome.  Thanks!

    Buca di Ripetta was always a good old place, but I haven't been since it changed management. Orso 80 is awful. Taverna degli Amici, if that's the one is Piazza Margana, is nice. Roscioli would be the restaurant, not the forno. If so, it's nice but a bit too international for me. Standby for Sunday eve is Al Ceppo, in Parioli, a wonderful upmarket place (not in fanciest category). Giuda Ballerino is very good. It seems far out, but it's reachable with one subway from Piazza di Spagna. Il Fico is open (near P Navona). With all due respect to other posters, I think Gusto is awful, both the upstairs fancy restaurant and the Osteria, and I'm not the only one who thinks so. Likewise, our one trip to Il Bocconcino was a disappointment. The food was pretty good, but the service and scene amateurish. We really wanted to like it too, because we can walk there.

    Others that are open on Sunday evening:

    Dal Bolognese (P del Popolo)

    Al Bric (Campo de' Fiori)

    Vinarium (in San Lorenzo)

    Uno e Bino (also in S. Lorenzo)

    Tram Tram (also)

    Al Presidente (Trevi)

    Checco er Carettiere (I think)

    La Campana

    Vecchia Roma (P Campitelli)

    Giggetto al Portico (but skip since you're going to Piperno, which is much better)

  7. Ok, so we're not traveling until April, but I'm starting to start my research.  We're planning to stay in Italy for one week, based in Rome.

    I wanted to know if those familar with Rome can give me an opinion on the neighborhood of Trastevere.  We have the opportunity to rent a house on Via dell’Arco di San Calisto.

    I understand that there are a lot of shops and markets there, as well as some decent restaurants.

    Once we establish where we'll stay, I'll launch myself in to food and fun in the rest of Rome :)

    Thanks in advance!

    If you have the slightest interest in peace and quiet, make sure the windows are triple glazed. As for food, you would be very near Ristorante Paris, a classic for the Jewish repertoire, plus some Quinto Quarto and fish. Otherwise, Trastevere has good food shopping and lots of places to eat, but not a lot of really good places and many really bad ones. I am not so jaded as to deny it has a certain charm, but it is NOT out of the way (you can walk to the center and Testaccio and there is plenty of public transport) and NOT untouristy, except in comparison with Piazza di Spagna and Campo de' Fiori. There is an outdoor market in Piazza San Cosimato, not very large but pretty good, and many good shops all around it. It would probably be a lot of fun staying on Via Arco di S. Calisto for a week, but don't imagine it's going to be a real Roman neighborhood.

  8. We're going to Barcelona this weekend, first time. We have reservations for Saturday lunch at Cinc Sentits and Monday dinner at Alkimia. I think that will be our max for fine dining.

    And if we go to CS, should we have the tasting menu (which you need to reserve ahead)? I said not, feeling we might get antsy on a Saturday afternoon with a succession of small plates. We are not generally that into tasting menus anyway. But if the voice of experience says otherwise...

    Many thanks.

  9. I appreciate all the feedback, but I return to my observation:
    I recall when the only restaurants in America that had black pepper mills were Italian
    but now
    there was/were no black pepper mill(s)
    in Italy.


    I think we need a first or second generation person's input.

    I too recall pepper mills in Italian restaurants before they were common elsewhere, but not in pizzerias, and in any case a pizzeria in Florence is hardly the place from which to generalize a trend. I have never seen anyone anywhere add black pepper to a pizza, while red pepper flakes, being a pretty much southern thing, can be expected, pizza, too, being originally a southern thing. Here in Rome, pepper mills are walked around nice restaurants, but the only foods fresh pepper is considered really important on are Tuscan-style soups. Sometimes you are offered the choice of red and black pepper.

  10. Do you find this phenomenon of misinformed regional pride common in your part of the world?

    My part of the world is Italy, and I scratched my head about this for about three minutes before I realized what the answer was: Italians rarely recommend a restaurant as offering the best of any particular food. They simply say it's impossible to get the best in a restaurant and that you would have to taste their mother's version.

    My (Roman) husband and I heard this just one too many times, since we KNOW the best fagioli con le cotiche are his mother's. So we had a competition, four friends' mothers' fagioli con le cotiche -- very friendly and informal, just a series of dinner parties. But sure enough, our horse came in first, by a mile.

  11. Volpetti sells it ready cooked with diced cooked vegetables, which I like very much. I wouldn't think it suitable for risotto, but it's good in pilafy-type dishes. I bought a box at the supermarket (apologies to Ferron) and made a shrimp recipe more or less off the box, which was quite good but tasted more American than Italian.

  12. When in Italy, what's your favorite brand of Italian coffee?

    I'm asking because we are in the throes of deciding what brand to use in our new restaurant, and would love to hear some biased opinions!

    Grazie mille!

    We start our day with Lavazza Gold, but I don't knock Illy.

  13. Waitstaff work so hard I hate to complain, so let's say my list applies to the style of service they're taught (or not). I prefer to file individual lapses under Nobody's Perfect.

    My list: kneeling, sitting, condescending, mispronouncing, calling my friends and me "you guys," calling my mother (!) and me "you guys," parking the wine across the room and not keeping the glass filled, reaching across me to take/remove things, being invisible when I need something, generally acting as though I'm probably as new to fine dining as they are, telling me about themselves, asking me about myself, and speaking inaudibly. I read in a book that tips increase the more the servers say "for you"; but it doesn't work with me.

    Also, when I was a child in NYC I knew all the ethnic everythings, but after decades in Italy, I hardly even know what lemongrass is. But I do know a lot about food. Should it irritate me that servers blithely rattle off names of ingredients that probably two years ago nobody in North America ever heard of? Would I feel condescended to if they explained on their own initiatative? Is there a happy medium?

    Was it Thomas Jefferson who said people get the government they deserve? Do we get the service style we deserve? Judith (Miss Manners) Martin writes perceptively about Americans' reluctance to appear to be served. Hence the kneeling, sitting, and first names?

    I've found almost all the above behaviors in a number of countries (except the "guys"), but overall I must say I love the Italian style of service, where the ideal is a sort of complicity between you and the waiter (or whoever is serving) because your dinner is important to everyone. (The thumb in the fettuccine, anywhere in the world, must be considered an individual lapse, not part of a style.) There's a familiarity, yet with boundaries. And I've found this at three-star La Pergola as well as at family trattorias. I also very much admire the Danny Meyer style of service -- smooth, competent, friendly but never over-familiar, always informed.

  14. Sorry to be the myth-buster once again, but the serving of olive oil and bread is not at all a new habit, ...

    As to Italy, serving olive oil with bread has been a la mode in Sicily and in Campania at least since the 13th century, and later came into fashion with the Medicis in both Rome and Florence.  True, the habit never made its way to restaurants but was and still is traditional in many homes.  With regard to France, bread was often served with olive oil during the reign of Adolphe Duglere at Cafe Anglais (take a good look at Babette's Feast and you will see olive oil on the table and at least the General dipping his bread into it).


    I will look forward to re-viewing Babette with that in mind. And as for ancient peoples, of course they combined bread and olive oil. Everybody combines bread and oil. They're delicious together, and salt is certainly a component of bruschetta. But if you can give me chapter and verse for dipping in antiquity, as opposed to simply combining, I'd be much obliged, since ancient cuisine is an interest of mine and I would put the citation to use.

    I wouldn't dream of contesting your assertions about later uses, but again, are we talking about dipping or just combining? It would certainly be incredible if a hungry (and probably well-off) person had never poured out some oil and saturated a piece of bread in it. But my question was how the widespread practice of dipping in oil got started in contemporary America since it is absolutely not normal practice in contemporary Italy, so I'm assuming it didn't come from here. It may be practiced in those parts of Italy where it's considered unhospitable not to stuff your guests till they burst, but the contribution to New World Italian food of those areas antedates the dipping bowl by generations.

    Other points (and I apologize I haven't figured out the multi-quoting yet):

    Manni oil -- yes, that's what I was referring to. They do that at La Pergola in Rome, but last time I was there, if you wanted to dip, you used your butter plate. It was expected you would pour drops on your bread to taste the precious oil, not consume 400 calories of it and spoil your appetite. And you definitely don't put stuff in oil that costs more than your wine.

    Yes, bread is served early in the meal and you nibble it dry to stave off hunger pangs till something else arrives. Properly it's served after the pasta, but that's theory, not practice.

    I can think of one case of dipping something in oil, pinzimonio. This is served as an antipasto or occasionally as a salad, and in Sardegna it concludes the meal. It consists of raw vegetabes, more or less trimmed, and good oil, salt, pepper, and vinegar as an option (many people don't use it). Each diner has a teensy bowl (sets of these are sold) and mixes his own dressing. If there's any dressing left after the vegs are gone, you can pour it on bread or do a "scarpetta" (in this case, morally a dip).

    I sometimes put Manni oil in a tiny pinzimonio dish and designer salt in another and set them out with a mini-colander of tiny tomatoes and toothpicks as an alternative to olives with the aperitivo before the guests are seated. But if anybody stuck a piece of bread in that oil I'd faint. A tiny tomato will grab only a couple of drops, but bread will soak up the whole dish. If somebody wants to taste the oil by itself, I let them put some drops from the bottle on a little piece of bread or, better yet, give them a spoon.

  15. Perhaps this is where I can finally find out how-when-where this dipping practice got started.

    The dipping of bread into olive oil while waiting for a meal is something I have never seen in Italy (where I have lived for 28 years), except in restaurants trying to keep their American tourists happy. Bread is eaten plain unless you are making bruschetta or unless you are comparison-tasting oils (or some such), and then the oil is poured over the bread, not into a (wasteful) dish. Putting stuff in the oil would be even more alien, unless, possibly, again for the purpose of tasting. The only time the bread goes into the oil, as opposed to oil being poured onto the bread, is to "fare la scarpetta"--mop up what's left in your plate after eating something else. In fancy restaurants butter is occasionally served, and at least one super-fancy restaurant I've been to makes a show of opening a small bottle of boutique oil at the table, but you are supposed to pour drops of it onto the bread, to taste the oil, not dip to grease up the bread.

    I hesitate to use words like always and never, but I'm pretty sure it's safe to say the practice did not come from Italy. So how did it get started?

    I have a theory (based on nothing) that around the time the new wave of Italian restaurants (as opposed to Italian-American) were opening, restaurateurs found the customers (who had grown up on buttery garlic bread) balked at the basket of plain bread and asked for butter. The oil would thus have offered a compromise between the butter the customer wanted and the plain bread the restaurant wanted to serve. Anything in that?

  16. I've tried cooking pasta e fagioli... but it didn't really strike my fancy.

    It took me a while to warm to it, and I still usually prefer pasta in restaurants, but when your audience is expecting a primo on the terrace and the kitchen is down a lot of stairs, it becomes very appealing. It's important to use really good tomatoes and really good pasta and plenty of robust oil.

  17. There's a deluge of fresh borlotti (cranberry) beans in my part of the world. Any ideas for me on how to fix these beauties?

    Borlotti are a summer fixture here in Rome, and my Roman mother-in-law is the Bean Queen. She cooks them in the pressure cooker, and has now convinced me to do the same. She soaks them even if they're fresh, but of course not very long. Just put them in a bowl of water for a bit while you're doing other things. Just cover with water, no salt till they're done, and cook on minimum heat for 20 minutes after the water boils. (It's much the same without the pressure cooker, but the skin is more tender with.) Then drain, not too dry (reserving any liquid for soup), dress with good red-wine vinegar and oil, salt and pepper, and there you are. Thin-sliced sweet red onion (we have Tropea in summer) mixed in is perfect. Some good Italian tunafish next to them makes it a complete meal.

    Then there's pasta e fagioli, which in summer is made with fresh borlotti and served room-temp or cold. Cook the beans as above, but with a bit of extra water. Separately make a tomato sauce with about a pound of tomatoes (amount not important) to two pounds unshelled weight of beans. In Rome onions are used with beans, not garlic (garlic for lentils). So, make a soffritto with extravirgin oil, onions, carrot, celery, simmer the tomatoes, add some chili and a bay leaf. Then add the beans and all their liquid. Near serving time, add enough more water to cook the pasta. Check the salt. Bring to a boil. Add about half a package of pasta (large-diameter ditalini are best, or broken up linguine), cook till it's done, and basta. Serve with a bottle of good extravirgin oil and let each diner pour some on his plate. You can also pass a little dish of red pepper flakes.

    We also freeze fresh borlotti and use them all winter. I also freeze them cooked. You can do all the above with frozen borlotti, but usually I put them in the minestrone.

  18. Here in Italy there are no pecans unless somebody buys them in the US and brings them over, but there are wonderful walnuts in the fall and winter, and we have a friend who supplies us from his trees in Abruzzo. One year I had extra Karo from the Thanksgiving imported-pecan pies, so I made a walnut pie using my standard pecan recipe from Joy of Cooking, a variation sanctioned in the Book. The Italians I served it to thought it was great (and highly exotic). I thought it was very good but not a patch on pecan. Incidentally, in Italian pecans are known (insofar as they are known at all) as noci americani, American walnuts.

  19. I will just add another voice to the chorus of Yes, it does make a difference.

    Nobody has mentioned Latini, but in addition to making several very good pastas, has an excellent website www.latini.com, which explains a great deal. Also, most of it is translated (or even written?) by Burton Anderson, so for once it's readable.

    The rough texture from the bronze dies not only makes the sauce adhere. It makes the pasta more absorbent, so the sauce is actually absorbed into the pasta, not just sticking to the surface. It also allows the cooking water to pass through the pasta more uniformly.

    The three things to look for in a pasta, and it's rare to find all three, are top-quality, preferably Italian, durum wheat (Latini grows their own in Puglia), bronze dies, and slow drying at low temperature.

    Barilla has the advantage of being predictable and always the same. But the others have the advantage of taste. If you remember that the sauce is merely a condiment at the service of the pasta -- the pasta is not a vehicle for the sauce -- you realize that a good-tasting pasta is worth a lousy extra few bucks.

  20. Hmm.  That might be the original derivation of pastasciutta but I've never ever heard tit used that way by my friends in Italy.  You're suggesting that one would call tagliatelle Bolognese "pastasciutta" because it's in a sauce and not in a broth?  I've never heard that usage.  Rather, I have heard this word used interchangably with pasta secca (secca and asciutta both having the meaning "dry").  Indeed, the Italian Wikipedia page for pasta begins saying: "In Italia la pasta secca, o pastasciutta, costituisce i tre quarti dei consumi totali" -- which indicates that they are typically viewed as having the same meaning.

    Well, I wouldn't call it tagliatelle Bolognese in the first place, but yes, tagliatelle al ragù is/are certainly pastasciutta. Pastasciutta is widely used as a synonym for "pasta alimentare," the strictly correct name for what most people call just "pasta", and is not normally ("never" is a dangerous word, I'll grant you) used to distinguish fresh from dried. The Zingarelli Italian dictionary defines "pastasciutta o pasta asciutta" as "pasta alimentare, di varie fogge, cotta con sale in acqua bollente, scolata e variamente condita ...." Oretta Zanini De Vita's authoritative "La Pasta" repeatedly makes the distinction between pasta shapes served in soup and those served asciutto/a/i/e, with a condimento or ragù. This is from her tagliatelle entry: "Utilizzo: Asciutte, con i condimenti tipici della regione, o in brodo, ..." From her bucatini entry: "Oggi con il termine bucatini si intende una pasta industriale secca. Ma l'antico bucatino di pasta fresca..."

  21. ... a pound is a pound is a pound

    Well... not exactly. A pound of pasta asciutta has virtually no water content. It's all semolina flour. A pound of pasta fresca has quite a bit of water content from the egg, water or other liquid ingredient that was used to moisten the dough. This is why uncooked pasta asciutta is hard and stiff and takes a long time to cook whereas uncooked pasta fresca is soft and flexible and takes very little time to cook. Since a pound of uncooked pasta asciutta contains more dry ingredient than a pound of uncooked pasta fresca, the pound of pasta asciutta will weigh more than the pound of pasta fresca once they are both cooked (this is also due to the fact that pasta asciutta absorbs considerable liquid as it cooks whereas pasta fresca does not).

    Never mind the weight, there's a terminology issue: pastasciutta, or pasta asciutta, is not dried pasta as opposed to pasta fresca but any pasta cooked and served with a condiment as opposed to floating in soup or broth. Dried pasta is pasta secca, or more usually these days pasta industriale.

    Everything you say about the liquid content makes sense but where does it leave us arithmetically challenged for portion size? If I buy a pound/half kilo box of spaghetti for four portions, how much fresh fettuccine do I buy to feed the same four people the next night?

  22. I am sure the pasta has now been cooked and the discussion has become academic. But when did that ever stop a fanatic?

    Downie uses penne because the restaurant La Carbonara uses penne because, as he explains, they use a tricky technique that is a lot easier with short pasta. Most trattorias use rigatoni for carbonara when they want a short format, but spaghetti, of course, is more usual. As anyone who has ever packed a grocery bag knows, a pound of spaghetti takes up a lot less room than a pound of rigatoni or penne, so it would have been demented for the shepherds and carbonai to schlep the short format into the mountains. And anyway, penne require machinery to make and have nothing to do with the Latian hinterland but rather originated in Liguria. So much for that.

    Now, the original poster doesn't say whether the so-tempting fresh pasta was flour-and-water or egg pasta (or did I miss that part?), but let's say the former. Even so, I still don't see it for carbonara. And fresh spaghetti doesn't convince me at all. But for the sake of argument, let's say they're not spaghetti but tonnarelli, i.e. long like spaghetti but square cut, not extruded. Tonnarelli (= maccheroni alla chitarra) have eggs and here in Rome are almost always served with cacio e pepe, which is a friend of carbonara but without the eggs and pork. Fresh spaghetti would have to be considered morally lombrichelli (and their aliases), which is to say thick, handmade spaghetti, which are best (and traditionally) dressed with a simple tomato sauce with garlic, oil, and red pepper.

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