January 16, 2022 6 min read

Diary Update 16 Jan 22

It's always a great Sunday when the whole family is at the lunch table. It seems Covid has a couple of positives and family all together is one of them. Usually there're so many calendar events that it's difficult to be together on a Sunday. As our trading days are cut shorter due to the pandemic we're trying to celebrate the positives and do what we can together. Lunch today was  Spaghetti Carbonara. We had made it at home for years but now we prepare it differently. Last time we were in Rome, we learned to make Carbonara the Italian way and we've never gone back.

In January 20 pre-pandemic we were enjoying Italy. We stayed in a gorgeous little pied-à-terre located in Monteverde just outside of Rome.  Arriving at the pied-à-terre first impressions of the high white rendered walls left us cold. The place seemed uninviting and imposing. In a second glance though we saw the faded green patina of the iron entrance gate. In that moment any fear seemed to glide away. The gate opened up to a cool breezeway of half moon terracotta tiles and then further into the most quaint little terrace garden. Quintessential Italian green shutters on the front door immediately had me dreaming of cooking in the kitchen, shopping at the local market and enjoying lunch on the terrace.

My culinary dreaming was encouraged by the Rosemary filled terracotta pots perched on either side of the front door. Even though it was winter the short bursts of sunshine seem to be enough to keep the leaves a very deep green and topped with lovely soft lilac flowers. I wondered what the local Pasticceria was like. Oh and I'd read of a fabulous gelato shop not far away. And then there was the local farmers market ...so many food adventures to plan and such a beautiful little house to do that planning.

Beyond the local Monteverde adventures we also wanted to book an Italian sweets cooking class. But Rome has its own rhythm and we were a little out of sync. If you're in Rome for the Italian winter so much is closed. There were very few cooking classes and so we found ourselves on a train to Zagarolo

Zagarolo is a about 35 km southeast of Rome. The train ride like most in Italy offers so much to see that perhaps you would not if you were driving. This particular passage offers a great juxtaposition of industrial factories to one side and on the other green fields with Roman aquaducts. This wonderful journey further sweetened by the pastry from the Rinaldini store inside the Roma Termini. We'd grown quite fond of Rinaldini. We'd stood in the piazza back in Rimini eating birthday cake made by Rinaldini to celebrate the 100th birthday of  Federico Fellini's (born in Rimini and considered one of the best all time, movie directors). Rinaldini has several stores around Italy. His brand is highly recognisable with its acid pink stripes. Waiting at the Termini we spotted those stripes and found resistance futile.

Arriving at Zagarolo train station is in itself and experience. An old building about 2-3 km from the central city. It feels a little like a movie facade set with just the actors of the day on set. To our delight a little Fiat was quick to arrive to  transport us to our hosts' house. Her timing so precise suggesting that in this quiet part of town she's heard the train arrive at the station and knew exactly when to leave to pick us up. 

Driving through Zagarolo made me wish we'd planned to stay there. Off the beaten tourist track it's an old city raised high on a hill. Its' current town planning is 16th century though there are thoughts that it may have originated as part of Gabii, a 5th century town. The ruins of Gabii were found several km away from Zagarolo.

Our host kindly drives us through the narrow winding streets of the main town so we can get a feel for the locality. Many stone buildings and a Palace are my most prevalent memories. 

Our cooking class host lived on the outskirts of the city. Down more on the flat with the high stone walls of the city hovering overhead. 

The host house was delightful. We'd come for a cooking class but always with an AirBnB experience is the feeling that you've come to get to know someone. A person has invited you into their home and so in this case a cooking class, cultural class and a chance to get to see a local in action.

The house was exciting. It reflected the contrasts of old and modern. Here we were in an old Italian rural house with many similarly old pieces of furniture. And yet there were also many contemporary features and furniture. The old cleverly sat very comfortably with the new.

The ceiling of the main room was hollowed out to expose an upper open and bright mezzanine. A modern steel ubeam frame formed the foundation for pristine white steps that with no banister seemed to float up to the next level. Guitars hanging on the wall seemed personal. A lead of spiral coil holding a single oversize light bulb from the ceiling was interesting and so well considered. Old white shiplap walls and antique furniture set the stage for little vignettes of curious collectibles. I was delighted and entertained and we hadn't even started cooking. 

We stepped out into the kitchen. A new addition. Our host explained that she had just finished her dream kitchen. And a dream it was! White washed walls with hip height to ceiling windows giving way to a 180 degree view of green fields and a cobbled stone pathway that lead to a working vineyard. Two dogs lie placidly enjoying the sun soaked warm cobble stones on this brisk winters day.

Cooking in the kitchen was an experience. Like most Italian kitchens it was simple in style albeit very well appointed with some fabulous equipment including a mini blast freezer. Utensils hung on big hooks fitted to lovely rugged handmade white tiles that our host had installed herself. 

Everywhere in the kitchen was a feast for the eye. Teal green cabinets offset by the white walls looked fabulous. Collections of earthenware jugs, whisks and rolling pins made the bright kitchen feel warm and loved. Bowls of vegetables on the window sill sat like a still life waiting to be painted. 

Our host was a Master! For over 20 years she'd run a well known restaurant near the Colosseoin Rome. Since retiring from the hustle and bustle of that life she'd moved to Zagarolo with the view to operating cooking classes.

That day we did learn to make some Italian sweets which I will describe in another blog. For the moment though it was the lunch that day that I wanted to tell you about. As I said our host ran a restaurant and she proved to us that her pasta was amazing. Our sweet treats were the dessert but the lunch she made for us was Carbonara. And it was memorable.

There was no fancy pasta. Spaghetti straight out of a packet doing its job acting as the backdrop for her most delicious sauce. She kindly shared her secrets for the best Carbonara.

3 Secrets tips to make great Carbonara:

  1. Don't ever use cream in Carbonara sauce. She lamented the English using cream for Carbonara!
  2. Use just enough Guanciale to add flavour and don't overdo it. For 6 people she used a very full hand of cubed meat
  3. Temper the egg mix with some warm water before adding to the pasta. 

And then you have Carbonara Pasta perfection!

A long stainless steel fork was used to scoop and simultaneously roll the Spaghetti Carbonara. As she turned the fork the silky sauce and spaghetti formed neat little round packages that she delivered to shiny white restaurant style pasta bowls. Our time in the cucina was complete. Time to eat! 

The dining room was poised for a warm, convivial time. An old timber dresser beside the window had a slightly tarnished silver pot full of dried violet coloured lavender. The long antique table had been stripped back bare to reveal a soft pale knotted wood surface. The unsealed timber surface offering a beautiful warm appearance that seemed to have no fear of being stained. The table looked so pretty with the light pouring in through the back window. Its aged appearance contrasted perfectly with stark modern white scroll topped plastic chairs.  Red and teal blue placemats set a pretty scene reflecting the colour of the kitchen cabinets. Centered on the table an elegant glass receptacle holding red vinegar sat in an old silver etched dish. Wine glasses were at the ready.

Lunch was divine. We feasted on the Carbonara made by an expert. We drank wine and we listened to stories of locals and living life in Zagarolo. We finished with the array of handmade sweets we'd made during the course of the day. 

As we traveled back in the train to Rome, we marveled at the Aquaducts yet again. We tried to imagine building those masterpieces all those years ago. We pinched ourselves as we recounted an unexpectedly glorious day.




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