Eat here: Flavio Al Velavevodetto, Rome, Italy (Italian)

Flavio Al Velavevodetto
Via di Monte Testaccio 97, Rome
http://www.ristorantevelavevodetto.it/en/home

In Rome’s Testaccio district, the ex-garbage dump of the ancient Romans (literally, there’s a hill around the corner from here that we found while walking around to kill time before lunch that was made from broken Roman terracotta), where the tourists rarely venture, is a bowl of pasta that is the stuff of legends.

It’s a dish that’s just now gaining momentum and becoming trendy (god help us), and it’s so simple it sounds downright boring, made with only three ingredients: pasta, cheese and pepper. Seriously – that’s it. Well, it’s not, there’s a real art to it, and Elizabeth will explain it to you better than I can if you want to take a quick detour to her blog.

I knew we were eating cacio e pepe when we visited Rome, and there’s only one person I trusted to recommend the right place to eat it – and Elizabeth Minchilli didn’t let me down. Having seen a ridiculous number of bowls of this dish on her Instagram account in the year leading up to our trip, all from the same restaurant, it was decided we’d make the trip out to Testaccio to visit Flavio’s.

The restaurant itself is one of those you’d-miss-it-if-you-weren’t-looking-for-it kind of places. No big flashy signs out the front, no neon lights in the shape of pasta bowls, just a little gated courtyard with the name clearly printed above it.

We rolled in right on opening time, because we heard it got busy fast – it did. The place is surprisingly big inside, with several dining areas seperated by walls and corridors. The tables were laid with crisp white linen, and the staff gave the immediate impression of being a very well-oiled machine, to the point of being almost mechanical – I’m guessing the Roman regulars have a bit of a warmer welcome, though.

I knew what I wanted to try well before I saw the menu – cacio e pepe, obviously. A deep fried artichoke. And pasta carbonara. Oh, and a bottle of wine, because, when in Rome…

I’m used to my family’s artichokes, which are marinated in oil and herbs (and are very good), so a deep fried one was very different – and so, so good. The petals were like salty little artichoke chips, and the heart was still soft and sweet underneath all that crunchiness. Perfect starter, clearly, because every other table in the room had one, too.

Then came the pasta – the tonnarelli (like fat spaghetti) cacio e pepe did not disappoint. Perfectly al dente pasta smothered in cheese and pepper is a thing of beauty. Husband said it was the best bowl of pasta he’s ever eaten. Again, a clear winner, because every table seemed to have at least one bowl of this.

The other bowl of pasta I chose was rigatoni carbonara. This is one of my favourite meals, but I don’t order it at home, because most restaurants don’t know how to make it. Contrary to popular belief, carbonara is not made with cream; it’s made with eggs. So when restaurants make it with cream and call it “authentic Italian,” it makes my blood boil. But here, they make it right, with eggs. And guanciale (cured pork jowl, one of my favourite meaty things). And more cheese. And let me tell you, even though it may not look like much, that was the best bowl of pasta I’ve ever eaten (sorry, Nonna).

We washed it all down with what was left of the bottle of wine, used the contents of the complimentary bread basket to mop up what was left of the sauces, rolled out the front door and continued to talk about lunch for the next three days. If you’re only going to eat pasta at once place in Rome, make sure it’s at Flavio’s. And that’s coming from an Italian.

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Cook this: one pot veggie pasta + one pot slow cooker chicken = easy 2 pot meal!

Reading the “I hate being a broke student” intro to Consuelo’s One Pot Zucchini Pasta recipe last week really resonated with me; I may not be a uni student anymore (that boat sailed almost a decade ago, actually), but I am still paying off my student debts. I may not be entirely broke, but I do try to live on a budget day to day, so that I can afford my travels. Being a food-lover, this gets hard. Sometimes I just want the Italian prosciutto and the Parmigiano Reggiano cheese instead of crappy shredded deli ham and homebrand cheese. My choice, I know. But, it is really nice to come across some quick, easy recipes I can bulk cook for a low price for the weeks I either can’t be bothered cooking every night, or don’t have a heap of cash to spare on groceries.


The bulk cooking thing has been something I’ve been doing a lot more lately – I mentioned it in this post, but once a week, I make HEAPS of one dish (fried rice, soup, pasta) and freeze the extras. As soon as I saw this recipe, I thought it’d be perfect. Some veggies, some cheap, plain pasta sauce, a bag of cheap pasta, and 2 chicken breasts made 10 meals – so much more cost effective than cooking one or two meals at a time!

 

I played around with Consuelo’s recipe a little; here’s how mine worked out.

Ingredients:
– 2 large skinless chicken breast fillets
– 3 cups chicken stock
– 4 medium zucchinis, halved lengthways and thickly sliced
– 500g large mushrooms, quartered
– 500g dry pasta (something like penne or spirals works well)
– 400ml vegetable stock
– 700ml bottle of plain pasta sauce
– salt, pepper and dried herbs – I like oregano and basil
– 2 punnets cherry tomatoes, halved

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Method:
1. Pot one – the chicken. Follow these instructions for your slow cooked chicken, using just chicken stock to cook the chicken in (no ginger, soy, etc). Give it around 3 – 4 hours on low in your slow cooked, then take it out, get rid of the liquid, and shred the meat.

2. For the second (pasta) pot, add a little oil to a large pot over medium heat – I used garlic infused olive oil due to fructose issues, otherwise you can use normal olive oil and throw some minced garlic cloves in.

3. Add the zucchini and mushrooms, and cook for 5 minutes or so, until they start to colour a little.

4. Pour the pasta into the pot, along with the stock, pasta sauce, salt, pepper and herbs. Stir to combine, bring to the boil, then simmer for 10 – 15 minutes, until the pasta is cooked through – cooking time will vary depending on the type of pasta you use, so keep checking it! Remember, you want your pasta a little al dente (still a bit hard), particularly if you’re planning on freezing it.

5. Stir through the cherry tomatoes and the shredded chicken, and serve with a little grated parmesan cheese on top.

 

That easy! I let it all cool down, divided it up into plastic zip-lock bags, labelled and froze them – that’s a whole lot of dinner looked after in advance! Thanks for the idea, Consuelo 🙂

Cook with: CHORIZO – 1. prawn & chorizo pasta and 2. tofu & chorizo baked eggs 

Chorizo is one of my favourite things to buy at the eastern European deli in the Preston Market. Not the fresh sausage type though, the cured type. I absolutely love it! It’s rich, full of flavour, makes pretty much any dish you add it to taste three times better. So given that it’s Sunday arvo and we’re all probably needing some easy recipes for the week ahead, I thought I’d give you guys two really easy recipes you can use chorizo in; amazing as this ingredient is, it can be a little hard to find ways to use it. So keep these in mind when you hit up the market this week and need something delicious to cook – this pasta in particular is the perfect lazy but “fancy” weeknight dinner with a glass of wine!

 

1. Prawn & chorizo pasta

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Ingredients (for 2)
– as much pasta as you want, preferably something like spaghetti, tagliatelle, fettucine, etc
– 1 red capsicum, sliced
– 1 small zucchini, halved lengthways and sliced
– half a chorizo (cured), halved lengthways and sliced
– 200g prawns, shelled and de-veined
– 2 small handfuls of baby spinach leaves
– fresh basil leaves and olive oil, to serve

Method
1. Cook the pasta in a pot of boiling water as per packet instructions.

2. Put the capsicum and zucchini in a baking dish, drizzle with a little oil, salt and pepper, and toss to coat. Place the dish under a super hot grill, mixing occasionally, until the veggies are softened and a little browned/charred.

3. While the veggies and pasta are cooking, heat a non-stick pan over high heat, and drizzle in a little olive oil. Add the chorizo and cook for a few minutes, until the pieces start to brown. Then, add the prawns and cook for another few minutes until they’re cooked through.

4. Add the veggies, pasta and baby spinach to the pan and stir to combine. Divide the pasta between two bowls and drizzle a little olive oil and sprinkle some fresh basil leaves over the top to serve, as well as a little more salt and pepper.

 

 

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2. Tofu & chorizo baked eggs 

Ingredients (for 1)
– 100g tofu, diced
– half a chorizo, diced
– 1 small red capsicum, diced
– 1 tomato, diced
– half cup of tomato passata or pasta sauce
– 1 small handful of baby spinach leaves
– 1 egg
– grated cheese and avocado, to serve (if you want)

Method
1. Pre-heat the oven to 180°C, and heat a non-stick fry pan over high heat, spray with cooking oil. Add the tofu and chorizo, and cook for a few minutes until golden.

2. Add the capsicum and tomato, cook for another few minutes, until the capsicum starts to soften and colour.

3. Add the tomato sauce, baby spinach leaves, and a little salt, pepper and dried herbs (I used a combo of oregano and basil), cook for a few more minutes, and transfer to a baking dish.

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4. Make a little well in the centre and crack the egg into it. Bake in the oven for 10 – 15 minutes, until the egg white is set but the yolk is still a little soft. Sprinkle a little grated cheese and diced avocado over the top to serve, and be careful not to burn yourself!

Ladies who eat & blog: SCARF Community dinner @ Green Park

Hands up who’s heard of SCARF?! Not many, I’m guessing? That sucks… hopefully this will help spread the word about an awesome group who do some seriously good work for the community and also make some delicious food in the process!

So, my last attendance to a Scarf dinner was when I was in a past blogging life at Multicultural Melbourne, way back in 2011, and I’m a little ashamed that I haven’t been back since! You can read all about the amazing work Scarf do on their website, but the Readers Digest version is basically they’re an amazingly dedicated organisation taking disadvantaged youth and mentoring/training them up in all facets of the hospitality industry. Once a week, they take over a restaurant kind enough to donate their space for a few hours and run a full service. Told you they’re amazing! They are currently taking up residence at Green Park in Carlton North, where $40 gets you a two course set menu and the opportunity support a pretty great organisation that’s making a big difference. Everyone wins!

I can’t remember what made me think of it, but I simultaneously thought that I really wanted to head back for a long overdue Scarf dinner and organise a little catch up for some fellow lady bloggers. It really frustrates me to see how competitive women can be these days; at a time where we seem to be hearing about more and more women being attacked, bullied, hurt and victimised, when maybe more than ever we need to support each other and have each others backs (isn’t there already enough pressure on us without being mean and bitchy to each other, too?!), more and more women seem to be getting more and more competitive and judgmental towards each other instead. On the flip side, I’ve been lucky enough to have met some really incredible and inspiring women through blogging and would love to get to know some of them a little better! In the spirit of Scarf and doing good deeds, I thought it might be nice to get a group of women who’s work I really admire together for a great night  : )

IMG_8413So, allow me to introduce to you the lovely ladies who joined me for dinner this week:

Cass from Hungrycookie – Cass’s blog is about “all things fashion, food and travel” who brings you the latest in both food and fashion, both very important to Melbournians!

Terri from Little Wanderings – Terri is a bit of a blogging soul sister to me with so much in common – another Melbourne girl who loves her city, her food, and travelling the big wide world 🙂

Monique from Mon’s Adventure – Mon’s a foodie and a beautiful story teller, who always seems to be on and between fabulous adventures!

Sheena from Chasing A Plate – Sheena collaborates with Thomas for a beautifully photographed and written food journal, based on the belief that life is too short for bad food (amen!).

 

With the introductions over with, allow me to introduce the food and the host restaurant…

Green Park
815 Nicholson St, Carlton North, Melbourne
http://greenparkdining.com.au/

The Scarf menu, designed by Green Park’s chefs and executed by Scarf’s trainees, offered two entree and two main options (thank you very very much to Cass sitting next to me who coincidentally ordered the dishes I didn’t and let me try hers!)…

 

ENTREES:
Roast beetroot, feta, walnut and rocket salad (which I ordered, and was a really nice and light starter)…

IMG_8402… and the chicken liver parfait with onion jam and bread (so rich, so good!)

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MAINS:
Braised beef shin with cauliflower, bacon and hazelnuts (I was stoked with my choice – the beef was delicious and sooo tender, the perfectly little pile fell apart at the first poke with my fork! Also, the hazelnuts were the perfect addition!)…

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and the gnocchi with pumpkin, burnt butter and sage (it’s a classic for a reason, and it was done very well!):

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DESSERT:
Just the one option, and being lactose intolerant and quite unwell for the last week or so, I decided to forgo the deconstructed yoghurt cheesecake, but it looked very pretty and the ladies who did order it seemed pretty happy with it!

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The food was amazing, especially considering the fact that these were restaurant quality dishes made by trainees! They did a fantastic job and both the trainees and mentors should be incredibly proud  : )

Green Park on Urbanspoon

 

Everyone did a fantastic job, from the slightly nervous waitress who must have been at least a little daunted by the five loud women talking about everything from Hodor to potatoes, the waiter who wasn’t looking after our table but still more than happily took our photo at the end of the night, the mentors floating around making sure everything was running smoothly. Yeah, the food is great, but it’s about so much more than that.

If you’d like to do more than dine and support Scarf, you can book dinner right here, and someone will get back to you with a confirmation very quickly! And I must make sure I don’t leave it another four years before dining with Scarf again! Thank you for a great night, and we’re all wishing the trainees all the very best for the bright futures they’ll no doubt have in the hospitality industry!

Eat here: Rosa’s Canteen, Melbourne (Italian)

Rosa’s Canteen
500 Bourke St, Melbourne CBD
http://rosas-kitchen.com/

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So, I’m an Italian girl who writes about food most days, who also rarely eats at Italian restaurants. Kinda weird, I know, but as I’ve mentioned before, I find it hard to actually get really good Italian food, so I’d rather just go to a different type of restaurant and not be disappointed. But Rosa Mitchell is also a good Italian girl who knows good Italian food, so I was actually really excited to try her Canteen. I went in with my best friend earlier this week, hoping for the best but trying not to get too prematurely excited, just in case. Turns out my fears were utterly and completely unfounded.

The gorgeous little 62 seat eatery sits up in Melbourne’s legal district, overlooking the dome of the Supreme Court, nails that most perfect and difficult to reach mix of fine dining crossed with a seat in a good Italian kitchen; the silverware and glasses are sparkling, the service on point. But there was also the big bowl of home grown tomatoes of all shapes and colours, and a bowl similarly filled with apples next to it on the front counter. Those touches really made it feel like home for this Italian girl. The menu is beautifully simple, a few entrees, a few mains, a few pastas, a few sides, a few desserts. We started with the beef carpaccio ($20), which we both really enjoyed – buttery soft and thin slices of beef with capers and cheese, perfect way to start a meal!

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For mains, I had a bit of a nostalgic moment when I saw the parmigana di melanzane ($25), the eggplant parmigiana, and I had to have it. It was admittedly a little smaller than I’d have expected for the price, but it was perfect. It tasted just like Nonna’s cooking – soft, tasty eggplant in a way I can never get mine to be, that rich, sweet tomato sauce with the bits of fresh basil through it, and a sprinkle of parmesan on top. It tasted like happy childhood memories, Italian to perfection!

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Bestie got the other dish I had considered – the cassarecci pasta with lamb ragout and peas ($20). The lamb was unbelievably tender, and we were both stoked to taste the pasta – cooked properly, al dente. How very refreshing to get a bowl of pasta cooked the way it’s meant to be cooked, and not to soggy mush! That’s how it’s meant to be done, and that’s a bowl of pasta I’d go back for.

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We also grabbed Rosa’s iceberg salad ($8.50), which, again, tasted happily familiar. Nonna has always, and still does, serve up her bowls of pasta and/or mains with a big bowl of salad.

IMG_8052Finally, it wouldn’t be a proper Italian meal without dessert ($12); lemon mascarpone tart? Why yes, thank you! It was the absolutely perfect way to end the meal. Golden, buttery crust with a silky smooth filling, not too sweet, not too tart. Would love some more of that, too!

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I’m not sure what I was expecting; I’ve eaten at the Journal Canteen before, one of Rosa’s past food babies, and thoroughly enjoyed the pasta there. I’ve never heard a bad word about her food. And yet, having grown up around this kind of food, pasta made from scratch by my Nonna’s own hands with sugo made from vegetables grown in the backyard, it’s hard to live up to those expectations. Well, expectations met and exceeded, thank you Rosa for a beautiful dinner, and I look forward to coming back for more soon  : )

 

Rosa's Canteen on Urbanspoon

Eat here: Tipo 00, Melbourne (Italian)

Tipo 00
361 Little Bourke St, Melbourne CBD

http://www.tipo00.com.au/

Have you guys met the lovely Terri from Little Wanderings?! I finally did over the weekend! Through a mutual love of Melbourne and donuts and travel, we connected via blogging and Instagram a while ago, and thought it was about time we actually caught up in the real world! Terri had been wanting to try Tipo 00 for a while, and so had I, so we had a lovely ladies night over some good (not so) old-fashioned pasta and wine  : )

The term tipo 00 might be familiar to some of you; it’s the soft, powdery, extra-fine Italian flour used to make fresh pasta, which is what they specialise in here. The menu is refreshingly short and simple, which generally means that with fewer dishes on offer, they’re all going to be done magnificently well.

The service was wonderful right from the moment I first walked through the door; we were quickly handed menus and our glasses of wine arrived promptly thereafter, followed by a complimentary plate of fresh focaccia and ricotta cheese, drizzled with olive oil – so good!

As far as mains went, the stinging nettle risotto piqued my interest, but seeing as this is a pasta place, first and foremost, I went with the pappardelle with braised rabbit, marjoram and hazelnut, and I couldn’t have been happier with my choice. Rabbit is not something I eat often, because rarely is it done well, but they absolutely nailed it. The meat was soft and tender, falling apart at the touch, perfectly seasoned, and perfect with the hazelnuts. What made me happiest though, was the fact that the pasta was actually cooked so well; as per proper Italian pasta rules and regulations, slightly al dente (aka ever so slightly under cooked), happy days!  As you can see a few photos above, Terri went with the tortelloni, filled with asparagus, swimming in a sage and parmesan sauce.

But, being the ladies that we are, dinner wasn’t done with dinner. Dessert stomachs were ready to go, and we decided on the Tipomisu and the special of the day – a cake and cream and walnut and fresh fig concoction, which was absolutely gorgeous! The fresh figs always get me, because they always remind me of the fresh figs I get from my grandfather’s fruit trees, though I’ve never had them with walnuts before – perfect match!

The Tipomisu was fantastic, quite a subtle coffee flavour, super rich chocolate which the mascarpone broke up nicely. It was the ultimate chocolate-lover dessert, and a great way to finish such a lovely meal!

It’s funny reading reviews of this place – quite a few people have commented that they felt it was overrated and over priced; personally, I loved it. The reason that I, as an Italian, rarely go out for Italian food is that it’s surprisingly hard to get good Italian anywhere other than the family dinner table! It’s even rarer that I order pasta, because I’ve grown up eating the pasta my Nonna has always made from scratch, and nothing’s ever been better. But I’ve gotta say, this was as good as I’ve had at a restaurant, and I’d have absolutely no hesitation spending the money visiting again. I like a good cheap eat as much as the next Melbournian, don’t get me wrong, but I also believe in paying for good quality food like the pasta at Tipo 00. I think even Nonna would approve!

As for the company over dinner – it was so lovely to meet another blogger with such a great love for food and travel, someone so down to earth, so easy to get along with and with great taste in dessert! It was really nice to talk about adventures past and planned, to talk about why we wrote and our experiences, the challenges and the rewards. It can be a little scary trying to make friends in the blogging world, particularly the Melbourne food blogging scene – it can be really daunting trying to get involved in such an established scene where people already seem to have their cliques and groups formed. But if you like someone’s style, if you get a good vibe, if you have that feeling you’re going to be kindred spirits, reach out and make a new friend! Thanks for a wonderful night, Terri!

 

Tipo 00 on Urbanspoon

Roman dining – one of the best meals of my life!

 

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I can’t even tell you how much I hate myself for not remembering what this place was called. I can’t believe I didn’t bother to write the name or address down, to take a photo of the little sign out the front, nothing… what an idiot! That said, my husband maintains that if we were to go back to Rome, he’d be able to remember how to get there… we found it on the walk back from the Vatican. It was pouring, and I mean really pouring rain, we were wet and hungry and needed to stop for warmth and food. Just as we were getting desperate, as fate would have it, this place appeared like the proverbial oasis in the dessert. We ambled in, discarding drenched coats, scarves and beanies, and settled in to what felt like the living room of a family member. That could be mostly because I’m Italian, and am accustomed to big family dinners. Whatever. This place was amazing.

The service was really fantastic, very attentive and helpful. Before we’d said a word, a basket of bread arrived, for which we were very grateful. We placed our orders and didn’t wait long at all for our lunch to arrive. First up came the Caprese salad of fresh tomatoes, basil and bocconcini cheese. My favourite! The wine was pretty darn good too!

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And next came the pasta. Husband had the pesto linguine you can see at the top of the picture below. I had the pasta at the bottom of the picture, which we both agree is the best pasta either of us have ever had to this day. Rigatoni with ricotta and eggplant. It was rich and creamy, and tasted like no other pasta I’ve ever had before. This was phenomenal. Even more amazing was how much husband loved it – he usually doesn’t like eggplant or ricotta. It was really unexpected for it to have had so much flavour and punch, but it was absolutely perfect. It’s a big call for a wog to name her best ever plate of pasta, but (sorry Nonna!!!) this was hands down “the one” for me.

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If ANYONE recognises this place, please, what is it called?!?!?!? I NEED TO GO BACK!!!!!