I was inspired to post this after reading The Rome Apartment by Kerry Fisher. If you follow my blog at all, you'll know that I will read any book set in Italy!
On the Page
The Rome Apartment by Kerry Fisher centers on several women in the Eternal City. Ronnie (Veronica) is a 75-year-old British woman who has lived in Rome for four decades. She is widowed, by an Italian husband, and shares her palazzo with her best friend, Marina. They decide to rent out one of the vacant apartments, placing an ad for a female tenant who would like the challenge of reinventing herself. Enter Beth.
Beth and her husband, Joel, have recently dropped their daughter off at university. It's a time when Beth is excited about reinvigorating her relationship with Joel as an empty-nester. Joel has other plans and drops the bombshell - on their way back from dropping off their daughter - that he wants a trial separation and he has taken a job in Paris.
Devastated, Beth answers Ronnie and Marina's ad and heads off to Rome to mend her broken heart. Through a series of challenges that includes taking the bus, going to museum, and more, the reader gets to explore Rome right alongside Beth. As someone who lived in Rome for over a year - and who prides herself in avoiding the touristy spots - I was tickled to be reminded of those one-off spots.
Beth begins by just biding her time in Rome, determined that she will foster her independence and win Joel back. But, as the book progresses, she learns to stand on her own and recognizes that, just maybe, she doesn't want him back.
One of the challenges that Ronnie levies: "'Go and reacquaint yourself with the pleasure of choosing ingredients and cooking them from scratch.' 'I’m not a particularly good cook,' I’d remarked. Ronnie had smiled. 'I thought that when I first came to Italy. I could just about cook potatoes, pork chops and boiled carrots. But cooking is about trusting that you can tell when something needs more salt, a squeeze of lemon, a dash of vinegar'."
When my family visited Rome, one of our most memorable dinners was at a restaurant with no sign outside...and no menu. I honestly don't remember how we stumbled upon it, but we still talk about it all these years later. Beth also comments on this dining phenomenon, "There was either no menu or the owners disregarded our choices, telling us that the lamb was good today, or they weren’t doing sardines but would bring anchovies 'fresh from Ponza this morning' or sea urchin spaghetti. The etiquette seemed to be one of 'eat what you’re given'."
I was inspired into the kitchen from this passage, when Beth takes Maddie to her favorite ice cream place. "I loved the glimpse of the child in my adult daughter as she studied the flavours, weighing up the pros and cons of the unusual – ‘Pink grapefruit with ginger and horseradish, avocado with lime and white wine’ – over her bog-standard favourites. I had developed a taste for coconut rum but instead chose the ones Maddie was fond of – cherry and vanilla – so we could swap if the liquorice and Kentucky chocolate with an infusion of tobacco leaves wasn’t to her liking."
'Tre Gelati Ogni Giorno'
When Jake and I visited Italy over two decades ago, he had one rule: tre gelati ogni giorno. That translates to three ice creams every day! Done. With less air whipped into its creation, Italian ice cream - also known as gelato - is more dense than American ice cream. So, it's served in tiny scoops often with two or three flavors put together in a single cup.
With the clashing seasons - Summer colliding into Fall - I decided to make a gelato that included ripe watermelons from summer and fennel that is a darling with autumn vegetables.
1-1/2 cups organic heavy whipping cream
2 cups fresh fennel fronds
1/2 organic mini watermelon, sliced
2 Tablespoon + 1/2 cup organic granulated sugar
For the cold-steeped cream...
Pour the whipped cream in a bowl with a lid. Gently bruise the fronds and submerge them in the cream. Let steep overnight, at least. Ours sat for 24 hours. When ready to churn, pour the cream through a mesh and remove the fronds.
For the roasted watermelon...
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Lay your slices in a baking sheet and sprinkle them with 2 Tablespoons sugar. Roast the melon until softened an a dark syrup has formed around them. I roasted mine for approximately 1 hour.
Let cool till you can handle the melon. Remove the rind and place flesh in a blender with 1/2 cup sugar. Blend till smooth.
For the Ice Cream...
Whisk the cold-steeped cream together with the watermelon mixture. Place all of the ingredients in your ice cream maker and process according to your machine. Ours took about 40 minutes to come to a soft, gelato-like texture. Spoon ice cream into a container and freeze before serving.