A recent New York Times article as a comic strip was a reminder of a classic Italian dessert – trite, ubiquitous, yet delicious – the tartufo. Tartufo means “truffle” and when you look at this chocolate and ice cream confection you can understand the resemblance. The article describes the tartufo as a maraschino cherry surrounded by a half chocolate, half vanilla ice cream ball, the whole of which is encased in a chocolate shell. There are of course many variations on the ice cream, including fruit flavors. My memory of the tartufo at the Tre Scalini in Piazza Navona is of a pure chocolate bomb. The original is said to be the tartufo di Pizzo, in Calabria. This is generally hazelnut ice-cream surrounding a core of chocolate ganache. The whole thing is then rolled in cocoa powder and frozen. In general if you can find a non-industrial, locally-made version, it’s a great treat and totally worth the caloric splurge!
Porchetta is a type of roasted pork that is popular throughout the country but is best-known in central Italy where it originated. The whole pig, deboned, is arranged in layers with a lot of salt and a stuffing of garlic and herbs, usually rosemary or finocchiella (fennel weed) and then rolled and roasted on a spit. It’s sliced into chunks and usually eaten as a messy panino with crusty bread or, in Rome, in a rosetta roll or between two slices of pizza bianca. A good porchetta is absolutely mouth-watering with its mix of meat, fat, crispy skin and savory herbs. A highlight of a drive is spotting a white van with its “Porchetta” sign on the side of a road, the more trucks pulled over near it, the better. Like many foods of rustic origin, porchetta now has a following among foodies and is on the menu in many trendy restaurants. The New York Times recently featured an article about the “Porchettiamo” festival in Umbria – a porchetta paradise. To satisfy a craving here in New York, the East Village “sandwich shop” Porchetta has a good version – greasy in a good way and succulent – served on a ciabatta roll. Yum.
Many towns in Italy hold historic competitions of different types that recall past times. Perhaps best-known is Siena’s Palio, a no-holds barred horse race in the town’s oval-shaped Campo. Also famous is Venice’s “regatta” of the feast of the Redemptor. Or Gubbio’s Palio in which teams compete with crossbows. Possibly one of the most amazing competitions is the violent sport known as “calcio storico” which is played in Florence and which was the subject of a recent article in The New York Times. It is a mix of rugby, wrestling, soccer and brutality and broken bones. As the title of the article goes: a most dangerous game, but one that still has an impassioned following given the numbers of cheering spectators.
Francine Prose writes about three quiet – and very different – Roman museums in an article in the New York Times’ travel section. Of the three, the most likely to have a few other visitors is the Galleria Doria Pamphilj on Via del Corso. It is housed in the family’s palazzo and gathers, in a baroque and sumptuous setting, paintings from the Pamphilij collections, including a very familiar Velazquez portrait of Pope Innocent X. Prose points out that even though the collection contains works by masters such as Caravaggio and Titian, one can discover many other artists with whom one is less familiar. Prose goes on to describe the strange and empty Museo delle Anime del Purgatorio in the church of Sacro Cuore which she finds affecting and powerful. Her final stop, in this article is at the Centrale Montemartini. It’s an old electrical power station from the early 20th century which now houses an amazing collection of Greek and Roman statues and mosaics. It’s an Art Deco industrial space with much of its original interior preserved and its juxtaposition with the ancient art is truly brilliant. As a bonus, it really is one place, that even at the height of the summer tourist season, is cool and where one is likely to be almost alone.