Roman Holiday

Channeling my inner Audrey Hepburn, I spent five wonderful days in Rome at the start of an Italian vacation, exploring parts of the city I’d never been to before.
MAXXI, the National Museum of 21st Century Arts located in the Flaminio quarter, was designed by noted architect Zaha Hadid. The physical space is huge, probably why it’s located out of the teaming center of the city (jammed with tourists even in early May, likely because of the relative parity of the Euro and dollar). The Local Icons exhibit was a hoot featuring Rome- inspired items, blown up and crafted of a particular kind of plastic. I particularly loved the artichoke, one of my favorite foods regardless of the shape it’s in, and the red-and-white polka dotted Vespa. IMG_1558What my travel companion and I found odd was the paucity of visitors and the plethora of guards–in one gallery there were four visitors and at least six guards (especially weird as the objects were huge pieces of metal that one would be hard pressed to tuck into a pocket.)

Another day we went to MACRO, Rome’s other major museum devoted to contemporary art. Actually, we went to the less well-know “offsite” ” in what was formerly a slaughterhouse. It’s located in Testaccio, another far-flung area and doesn’t open until 4 PM, when the ‘hood gets lively with clubbers. Because of an error in Where Magazine, we’d arrived much earlier; to fill in the time, we had a terrific lunch and went to the Non Catholic Cemetery (also known as the Protestant Cemetery although people of all faiths are here) where Keats and Shelley are buried.

Shelley's grave at the Non Catholic Cemetery

Shelley’s grave at the Non Catholic Cemetery

It’s a lovely, peaceful place with beautiful plants, flowers and…cats –zillions of them taken care of by faithful volunteers. As to the museum when we finally got in, the building is interesting, the staff surly and the current exhibit less than gripping –large, ugly ceramics in gilt and yellow.

The main MACRO is absolutely fabulous, inside and out. You make your way from one exhibit to another via a labyrinth of bridges and ramps. The exhibits are very contemporary and again, lots of staff, relatively few visitors. The bathroom (at least the ladies’) is a must see–white light as you enter that turns red, centering around a huge sink with spaces for water and others for a blast of air to dry.Ladies' MACRO

For food, what else but artichokes? I didn’t eat them prepared in the Jewish fashion best enjoyed in the Jewish quarter around the main synagogue but scarfed them down everywhere else.

Usually I simply trim the base, wash the artichoke and toss it in the microwave until tender before serving with melted butter or mayo spiked with balsamic. This is more complex and also more faithful to the Roman version.

Artichokes Roman Style

2 large globe artichokes
1 lemon
1/4 cup olive oil
3/4 cup sliced shallots
3 cloves garlic, minced, about 1 Tbsp
3 bay leaves
1 cup dry white wine
3/4 cup water
1 teaspoon salt
3 Tbsp chopped fresh parsley leaves
2 Tbsp chopped fresh mint leaves (I’d omit)
Squeeze half a lemon into a large bowl of cold water. Using a serrated knife , cut off the top inch of the artichokes. Squeeze a little lemon over the cut areas to keep the artichokes from turning brown. Use kitchen shears to snip off the thorny tips of the artichoke leaves.
Cut artichokes into quarters. Use a metal teaspoon to scrape away the hairy choke above the heart and remove the small, purplish leaves close to the choke. Rub the cut areas again with lemon. Place the quartered artichoke hearts into the bowl of acidulated water as you finish prepping them.
Heat olive oil on medium heat in a thick-bottomed pot that will hold all of the artichokes tightly in a single layer. (Choose a pot with a tight-fitting lid.) When the oil is hot, add the shallots and sauté for 3 to 5 minutes, until softened. Add the garlic and cook an additional minute.
Add white wine, water, bay leaves, and salt to the pot. Make sure there is enough liquid to cover the bottom of the pan by 1/4-inch–add more if not. Bring to a simmer, and simmer for a minute. Place the quartered artichokes, cut side down in a single layer, in the pot. Bring to a boil on high heat. Cover the pot with a tight fitting lid and lower the heat to medium. Simmer for 20 minutes. (If it looks like the pot is at risk of running out of liquid, add more hot water to the pot.) Then toss with the parsley and mint, turning the artichokes over to coat them with the sauce, cover again, and cook for an additional 5 to 15 minutes, until the leaves are tender and are easy to pull off.

Let cool to slightly warm or room temperature. Serve with some of the pan juices and shallots from the braising liquid. You can easily make these a day ahead. Chill, and return to room temperature before serving.

A little Pellegrino or maybe a glass of vino blanco?

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