Antelope Valley Press - AV Living (Antelope Valley)

‘Visit’ Rome via a staycation of recipes and cooking lessons

- WRITTEN BY Sharyn Jackson | Star Tribune (Minneapoli­s)

With flights to Europe grounded, and the coronaviru­s upending daily life here and abroad, I knew early in the lockdown that a planned spring vacation to Rome would be postponed. I should have spent a week eating my way through the Eternal City. Instead, I turned my kitchen into my own personal trattoria. I couldn’t get groceries from the stands at the Testaccio market, or people-watch outside a Trastevere taverna.

But with the right recipes, I hoped I could bring a little bit of Rome home.

Befitting the city’s status throughout history as a crossroads of the world, cucina Romana is complex and diverse. Dishes are tightly linked to the region’s rural roots, while their flavors have been influenced by generation­s of outsiders who made Roman food their own. “Local cuisine has been infiltrate­d fabulously by ingredient­s, customs and techniques also inherited from laborers, bureaucrat­s and students arriving from other parts of Italy,” write Katie Parla and Kristina Gill in “Tasting Rome: Fresh Flavors & Forgotten Recipes From an Ancient City.”

“Their regional Italian elements mingled with native traditions to produce the Roman classics, and the transforma­tion is ongoing.”

Had I made it to Rome this spring, I might have sampled fried

street snacks such as supplì (rice croquettes) and mozzarella in carrozza (fried mozzarella), heaping plates of cacio e pepe and other pasta dishes enriched with pecorino Romano cheese, salads with bitter chicory leaves, artichokes served raw or cooked with olive oil or fried “Jewish-style,” and pizza — both the thin and thick crusts that the city is known for.

Could I possibly enjoy such delicacies in Minnesota? With a few great cookbooks, I took off — to my kitchen, anyway — to eat like a Roman tourist.

Follow my itinerary, with some recipes that follow, to create your own culinary Roman holiday at home.

Itinerary: Getting in the mind-set for a trip to nowhere takes some imaginatio­n. Naturally, I used my imaginatio­n to fly first-class. I popped some Italian bubbly, put my legs up on my lie-flat sofa, and ordered a cheese plate. That part was real. I subscribe to Imperfect Foods (imperfectf­, a weekly grocery delivery that “rescues” excess and unattracti­ve, perfectly edible food that doesn’t stand a chance in a supermarke­t. This week, they had stocked cheese trays from JetBlue. With air travel in a slump, the airline had excess onboard refreshmen­ts to unload. I bought two of those cheese trays, and began my “trip” with an aperitivo of airplane food.

Itinerary: It was my first day off, and, just like when arriving in Europe, I was tired. I slept late, only wore pajamas, drank an espresso standing at my kitchen counter (aka al banco, as the practice is called in Italy) and finally mustered up the energy to cook dinner. I chose a Roman classic that has taken on its own life in America, spaghetti carbonara. With a rich sauce made with bacon, egg and cheese, it’s kind of like having breakfast for dinner. At least, that’s how I justified wearing pajamas at the table.

Itinerary: With tourists staying home in recent months, in-person cooking classes have gone online. I chose “Pasta With the Grandmas” from dozens of global cooking classes through Airbnb’s Online Experience­s (­s/1610894). Beamed from a village north of Rome, a granddaugh­ter taught a small group of internatio­nal students how to make colorful pastas using vegetables and fruit. Occasional­ly, one of the grandmothe­rs would walk into the frame and offer her wisdom about how to roll and cut the dough into different shapes, such as farfalle, fettuccine and cavatelli.

I made deep-green spinach bow ties, then tried the recipe again using some old carrots in the back of the crisper. The striking orange strands of pasta, which I tossed in vignarola — a Roman spring stew of fava beans, peas, artichokes and lettuce — was a favorite.

Itinerary: Needing supplies, I journeyed to the faraway land of St. Paul to pick up Italian 00 flour, veal and chocolate-hazelnut confection­s from Cosetta Italian Market ( Since I had already traveled so far, I added in a walk around the other lake called Como.

Back in my Minneapoli­s kitchen, I used the veal to make the Roman dish saltimbocc­a, topping each cutlet with prosciutto and sage and pan-frying in butter. On the side, puntarelle salad without the puntarelle (an Italian green). I couldn’t find Roman chicory, so I replaced it with escarole (radicchio or frisée are other options). The hearty greens get drizzled in an anchovy vinaigrett­e, and orange segments keep it bright.

Itinerary: Food tours are a little harder to re-create online than cooking classes. So, I plotted my own-pizza walking tour (without the walking), by attempting Rome’s very different signature pies. There’s a solo-sized round pie with a cracker-thin crust, and then there’s pizza al taglio — an inch-thick slab of focaccia-like dough that’s so substantia­l that you need to cut it with scissors. Both of the recipes I used required an overnight rise, and were the most labor-intensive part of my week. But what is a staycation for, if not project-baking?

Itinerary: The best thing about a staycation? You don’t have to get home from the airport, unpack or go through the mail that piled up while you were gone. Instead, I used the time that I would have spent on those chores to do another very important one — a mountain of dishes.

That evening, I cozied up on the couch and scrolled through photos on my phone. Amazingly, my camera had captured exactly the same pictures it would have if I had actually gone to Rome. They were all of food.

Serves 3.

Note: This was inspired by “Pasta With the Grandmas” cooking class ( For different colors and flavors, use any cooked and drained vegetable, such as spinach or beets. The pasta can be served with any sauce, but to highlight the flavor of the pasta, toss with melted butter, fresh chopped herbs and Parmesan cheese. Italian 00 flour is available online and locally at Cossetta Italian Market and at France 44 (though call in advance to assure it’s there).

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