Wandering through this treasure trove, I also cannot resist the finely hand ground pistachio cream subtly combined with a fresh hard pecorino cheese that has me going a little mad…this is pure gourmet elixir, a fantasy ingredient that I can eat by the spoonful in sheer self indulgence. I know this is going to work beautifully with the sweet date shaped tomatoes , a more richer sweeter relative of the everyday cherry tomato – all crushed and blended over some cool burrata cheese…My mind is facing a storm of ideas – where is my kitchen when I need it!
The shelves of multi coloured pasta all brightly painted by nature itself, some tinged with beetroot or the milk of saffron create a kaleidoscopic orchestra of shapes and sizes. I quietly follow, without being strangely creepy, a lady that clearly knows her pastas and watch her pick some I have never seen before with the vendors knowing exactly the pesto or herb mix that she will select immediately after.
Oh to live in a city where such fresh produce such as homemade pasta is made and packed for purchase the following day – and even those sold in such quaint, cobbled street markets.
I stop for a second in between my pasta fantasy and watch in amazement as fresh pomegranate juice is squeezed using a heavy, ancient looking contraption – looking as if it was something simply pulled from the walls of the ancient ruins surrounding the market. My lips are unabashedly tinted red as I sip this pure nectar of the Gods and I’m lured blindly to a lively stand of seed sellers – perfect for my greenhouses…I buy artichoke seeds, white asparagus, purple head cauliflower and a huge variety of spring leaves – some white as pure snow and tinted with hot magenta. No less than six varieties of chilly, some perfect for a fiery Mexican mole and some for pickling for my Lebanese platters. Fifty packets in my seed buying frenzy …my oh my – this is just trouble.
I clearly don’t let a good thing go and the scent of olive oil lingers everywhere and before I know it, I am dipping and tasting a lovely peppery extra virgin olive oil with almond and lemon undertones. A note of caution – always buy products such as olive oil with the IOG / DOC symbol that indicates that it was bottled and extracted at its exact source of production. This will grace my dining table along with salts from South African and Harissa from Morocco…
I was taken by complete surprise by one thing – the endless dried herb, garlic, piccante, onion and other seasoning combinations that are produced by masters of this trade. Each large wicker filled tub is full of these headily scented mixes – each made for a particular pasta, bruschetta – meat or fish rubs. It’s completely overwhelming – but I watch the local women pick up their selections with complete cool and calming understanding of how one item will bring that one expressive flavour to their dishes.
It is now over 20 km of walking and lunch is rather desperately calling. I’m purely interested in dining where the locals do and this took quite a bit of researching, casual chatting, phone calls and the very specific emails to my trusted Italian foodie friends, I desperately wand to avoid the myriad of tourist traps that lure you in to experience terrible food experiences much to the sorrow of the unbeknown tourist. Yes, food can be bad in Italy and for that matter any large city where the tourist is the soft doe eyed target. Spend a little more or even sometimes so much less for a much more authentic experience. I refuse to succumb and steadfastly head to my chosen little roadside restaurant at the end of the Via Catalan in the heart of the Jewish Ghetto.
This particular area described by one very informed Chef… ‘Rome is home to one of the oldest Jewish communities in Europe, dating back to the II century AD. In 1555, due to the growing influence of the Roman Catholic Church in the city, the Jewish population of the city was segregated, in what became known as the Jewish Ghetto of Rome, located in the neighborhood of Sant’Angelo. The hardship experienced in the ghetto led to a resilient population driven by faith and represented in culinary delights that have survived to this day. Today, visitors to Rome can experience some of the history and tastes of the Jewish Ghetto of Rome through visits to key sites and the abundance of fine restaurants.’
I completely succumb to the quiet authenticity of this hidden corner of Rome and my first priority, much thanks to my intrepid walking marathon is to indulge in a fine, crisp glass of prosecco and sit, back in idle happiness to absorb the scenery. Loud, chatting groups of friends filling their tables unabashedly with platters of fried artichokes, cheese platters and salamis from every corner of Italy, all washed down with glasses of white wine freely flowing.It is the holidays and enjoyment starts at around a table of fantasy food. It’s quite extraordinary to be sitting in the heart of all this hustle and bustle and actually feel completely at ease with yourself – with just being. I’m absorbed in everything that is touching my senses and I feel purely and simply alive – myself, my Prosecco and here now arrives the famed Ciacio e Pepe. A steaming mass of homemade spaghetti lightly tossed in the mounds of pecorino, slivers of fried garlic, seasoned with salt and strong black pepper all finished with lashings of powerfully scented olive oil. This moment, with a violinist strumming in one of the distant alleys, is the start of my entire realization that I must live here one day.
Refreshed and intensely happy, I know I must reach my destination of the day, The Secret Garden of Oranges. It is quite a trek as you wind your way above the city, climbing the long and winding Aventine Hill, but my senses are fully revived in anticipation of the surprise ahead. I head steadfastly towards this alluring destination – the name itself creating visions that accelerate me towards this hidden skyline of Rome.
As I arrive, I am literally in complete and utter awe of this magnificent park. A breathless silence encapsulates this garden of the Gods as I see it. I couldn’t imagine entering such a serene part of Rome, all overlooking the teeming, living breathing city below. I fill my soul with an almost celestial feeling as you hardly hear the voices of whispering, kissing lovers that have escaped all the attention of an entire city.
This leafy park with towering ancient orange trees sits alongside an 800 year old Dominican Church, originally a tenth century Savelli Castle. It’s wooden carved panels depicting stories of Moses and his infamous life journey. Italy has reignited my love of the History of the Arts and this Church is no less beautiful.
I love the fountains and water features that are found in secret hidden corners all over Rome, but I especially loved the face of Giacomo Della Porta’s fountain – a mighty Roman God, perhaps in depiction to Oceanus it is said, meets you as you enter the Church….There is a whole other post I will write just dedicated to these water features and their role to the residents of Rome….
This is the most perfect spot for a sunset over Rome and one that I found to be the most intriguing and important find. Legends surrounding the garden suggest that Spanish Saint Dominic gave the garden its famous name, having bought across orange saplings from his native Spain and it is said the original tree still remains in an inaccessible part of the Church. Miraculously, a smaller sapling grew from the original tree and continues to bear fruit. Even more enthralling, you can view this ‘magical’ sapling through a small porthole in the thick heavy stone walls.
There is nothing more I could thank God for as I pay my respects in this heavenly abode. I have truly found myself and I know I am meant to be here in this mesmerising country that can’t seem to fail to displease me. I am all but in complete and utter thankfulness to the Spirits and the Stars.