Italy has been my dream destination for as long as I can remember. I’ve wanted to visit every part of the country – Rome, Venice, Pisa, Florence, Milan, Turin and Pompeii. We almost didn’t even go to Rome on this trip because of two reasons: I wanted to do the entire Italy in one trip, and I was actually kind of afraid that the country wouldn’t live up to the hype in my mind. Ok, it was more the latter. Rabin convinced me to add Rome to the trip and I’m so glad he did. It was by far my favourite part of the trip and totally lived up to the hype. I love Rome so much that this Rome post is split into two parts – you’ll read Part II next week.
Being in Rome at night feels like the whole city is invited to hang out. You come out after dark, make your way through cobblestoned streets, pass centuries-old buildings and sculptures of deep historical significance, stumble upon dimly lit narrow streets that would pass for alleyways in other parts of the world, flatten yourself against the wall as vehicles manage to squeeze through, and sit down at a randomly chosen cafe or restaurant for what you know will be a fantastic meal. Order a bottle of wine, take your time drinking it and then set out again, planning to get lost.
Insider tip: arriving into the city at night means that you’ll see everywhere lit up. The modern places will somehow melt away and your heart will jump into your throat when you see the dome of St. Peter’s Basilica appear, illuminated from somewhere beyond your line of sight.
Before we went, I reread Angels & Demons by Dan Brown. Granted, it is not a history book, and huge parts of it are fiction. But that’s what I like about these kinds of books – you get your thrilling fiction and also walk away having learned something. I liked the book a lot more than the DaVinci Code, and I remember being enthralled by the way he managed to intertwine an entire story with the existing monuments and structures. At the time, I googled every place he mentioned, and remember literally gasping when I saw the picture of Castel Sant’Angelo and the Angel’s sword pointing downwards (and no, not a spoiler alert. The book came out almost 10 years ago, so the statute of limitations has long passed). Seeing that picture was one of the best ‘life meets literature’ moments that I’ve ever experienced. Seeing it in person was indescribable.
I was also bowled over by Piazza Navona and the Fountain of the Four Rivers (Fontana de Quattro Fiumi), designed by Gian Lorenzo Bernini. Rabin and I googled the fountain and walked around it, reading out the symbolism and picking it out – did you know that the four male sculptures at the base of the statue were meant to represent the 4 known rivers in the world at that time (The Nile, Danube, Rio de la Plata and the Ganges)? Animals and plants from these regions are also artfully placed throughout the statue, and in the middle stands an Egyptian type Obelisk, meant to represent Papal power at the time. Among others, Bernini also designed St. Peter’s Square in Vatican City. The three rows of pillars are situated in such a way that if you stand at a certain angle, the rows disappear, and you only see one line of pillars. As much as I suck at remembering any type of history, there is just something about this city that makes me want to get lost in the endless history, myths and legends.
Ok enough gushing. I think Rome has figured out by now that I have a not-so-secret, head-over-heels, embarrassingly girly crush on it. Today I’m bringing you Arancini, a fried risotto (rice) ball popular in Italy. Arborio rice is cooked, shaped into a ball, covered in breadcrumbs and deep fried. The more sophisticated type of arancini has a cube of mozzarella stuffed in the middle, so when you crack open that ball, the cheese just oozes out. So amazing! Since I’m against frying, I decided to bake mine, and also make my own marinara sauce. My Marinara recipe will feature in Part II next week.
Baked Arancini w/ Mozzarella
3/4 cup Arborio Rice
1 tbsp Olive Oil
2 1/2 cups Stock
2 medium Onions, sliced
3 cloves Garlic, minced
8 fresh Basil leaves
2 Eggs, lightly beaten
1/4 cup Flour
3/4 cup Panko Breadcrumbs (regular breadcrumbs should be fine, but panko will crisp up better)
4 pieces Mozarella cheese, cut into 1 inch cubes
Warm oil in a saucepan. Add onions and cook until translucent. Add garlic and basil and cook for an additional minute, until fragrant. Add rice, and pour about 1 cup of stock to mixture. Stir until liquid is almost fully absorbed, then add additional cup, then remaining liquid. Transfer to a bowl and refrigerate for approximately 1 1/2 – 2 hours.
Before you remove the risotto from the fridge, place eggs, flour and breadcrumbs into three separate bowls. Put some potable water in a fourth bowl and cover a baking sheet with foil and spray with cooking spray. Preheat oven to 425 degrees and remove risotto from fridge and divide into 4 equal parts. Take half of one portion and shape into a ball, then press down to make a deep indent. Place mozarella in the indent, and add remaining portion to cover the mozarella. Make sure that the ball is tightly packed and that no mozarella is exposed. Roll in flour, then egg, then breadcrumbs. Repeat with the remaining three portions.
Place on a baking sheet and spray generously with cooking spray. Bake for 30 minutes. Remove from oven and serve with marinara sauce.
Sorry for the crazy amount of pictures, but this is me editing myself :D. Happy weekend!