5 unique things to do in Rome

On every trip I take I try to balance the typical touristy activities with more off the beaten path experiences. I like to see the things that make a place a destination, but I personally find that doesn’t provide the most memorable experiences. I like talking to the locals to find out where to eat, shops to visit, and their favorite places to go.

I have been to Rome several times and have seen all the big sites, but I keep going back because I keep discovering more things that I love about the city. It is big, loud and delicious, but has hidden pockets of beauty. For me, it is like getting to know a person. You see all the superficial stuff first, but then you start to share experiences with a place. It eventually becomes a friend that you enjoy seeing over and over again.

5 unique things to do in Rome:

  1. Park of the Aqueducts

It took us a while to find The Park of the Aqueducts located along the Appian Way. You basically get on the metro and ride it out to the last stop and keep walking through a suburban neighborhood. We did eventually find it and spent a relaxing, quiet afternoon admiring the 2,000 year old handiwork away from Rome’s crowds. You can spend a whole day walking the park. There are also several neighborhood cafeterias where you can grab a few to-go items and have a picnic in the park. If you need a break this is a fascinating place to go.

aqueduct

The Park of the Aqueducts

2. Testaccio neighborhood

We stumbled upon Testaccio on a food tour and loved the non-touristy vibe of the neighborhood. It is business as usual here with locals chatting in the square, grabbing a coffee, or picking up groceries. There isn’t a major site to see here so it isn’t crowded. Testaccio slaughterhouse used to pay its workers in fifth quarters so this is the neighborhood to go to for tripe  if that is your thing. If not, they have a wonderful market and low key restaurants serving up delicious, straight forward food. It is a place that I will visit again and again.

Market

Vendor at the Testaccio market

3. Testaccio Slaughterhouse

Also in the Testaccio neighborhood is the old slaughterhouse that now houses the MACRO al Mattatoio, a branch of Rome’s contemporary art gallery. Testaccio used to be the slaughterhouse district all the way up to 1975.  It is a unique space that still has the original animal pens and meat hooks hanging from the track. The art exhibits complement the space and is a unique place to visit.

slaughterhouse

Testaccio slaughterhouse

4. Baths of Caracalla

What do you see when you don’t want to see the Roman forum again? The Baths of Caracalla were Rome’s second largest public baths built in the 3rd century. It is estimated that 21 million bricks were used in the construction of the baths. Several large pieces of mosaic work along with entire tiled floors have been preserved at the site.  The vast complex of ruins are surrounded by a large green space. There were few people there when we visited and it felt like we had the whole place to ourselves. Personally, I found this to be one of the best ancient exhibits in Rome. I can only imagine how impressive the baths were in the third century!

Caracalla

Baths of Caracalla

5. Pyramid of Cestius

The Pyramid of Cestius is so completely out of place in Rome which is why it is an interesting visit. Located next to the Protestant  cemetery, it is a funeral monument  to Caius Cestius, a wealthy Roman magistrate. Egyptian architectural style was fashionable after Rome conquered Egypt in 30 B.C. While it wasn’t the only pyramid built in Rome (there was one near the Vatican at one time), it is the only one to survive. After visiting the pyramid, walk through the gardens of the Prostestant cemetery and visit the graves of Keats and Shelley. If you get a nice day, the soft light reflecting off the marble of the tombstones is very beautiful.

Cestius

Pyramid of Cestius

cemetery

Protestant Cemetery

 

What are your favorite, unique places in Rome?

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Limoncello Raspberry Basil Sparkler

Lemon cocktailWhat do you do with an entire container of limoncello and free afternoon? Mix cocktails, of course! While limoncello is lovely to sip on its own it also makes a great base for craft cocktails. I also wanted to incorporate some sort of wine product and just happened to have a bottle of Prosecco in the wine fridge. To compliment and balance the sweetness of the limoncello, I added basil (my basil plant is going crazy right now!) and gin. If you do not like raspberries, blueberries can be used for this recipe.

What are your favorite limoncello cocktails?

Limoncello Raspberry Basil Sparkler

  • Prep Time: 5 minutes

Ingredients:

  • 5 raspberries
  • 2 leaves of basil
  • 2 ounces limoncello
  • 2 ounces gin
  • Ice
  • Prosecco

Directions:

Muddle the raspberries and basil together in a cocktail shaker.

Add the limoncello, gin, and ice. Shake for 30 seconds.

Strain into a cocktail glass ( I used a highball glass) and top with Prosecco.

Relax and WineDown!

Limoncello

Lemons

With the Texas summer hanging on for dear life, a batch of limoncello is a nice break from all the Rosé, Pinot Gris, and Sauvignon Blanc we have been drinking the last few months. Limoncello is an Italian lemon liqueur typically served as a digestivo, an after dinner drink. Traditionally, limoncello is made from the zest of Sorrento lemons steeped in grain alcohol and mixed with simple syrup. It is especially nice to sit outside on warm summer nights and sip a cool, fresh, lemon treat!

Limoncello base recipes are all fairly similar so I modified a recipe from Gabriele Corcos from the show Extra Virgin. I love that show! I like a strong lemon liqueur so I used more lemons and less grain alcohol. If you like sweetness you can always add more sugar and/or use meyer lemons.

Limoncello is a wonderful drink on its own, but you can also use it to make infused cocktails and desserts. What is your favorite limoncello infused recipe?

Limoncello

  • Prep Time: 30 minutes
  • Steep Time: 6 weeks

Ingredients:

  • 16 lemons
  • 1 liter grain alcohol (Everclear or equivalent)
  • 1.5 liters water
  • 2.3 lbs. granulated sugar

Directions:

Using a potato peeler, peel the skin of 16 lemons. You can use meyer lemons if you like a sweeter limoncello, but I used lemons I found at Costco.

Place lemon peels in a large container and add 1 liter of grain alcohol. Seal container tightly.

Place container in a cool, dark place and let steep for two weeks.

After two weeks, strain the limoncello liquid and discard the lemon peel.

Bring 1.5 liters of water to a boil. Once the boiling point is reached, remove water from heat and add 2.3 lbs. of granulated sugar. Stir until all the sugar has dissolved. Let simple syrup cool completely.

Once simple syrup has cooled, add to limoncello mixture. Stir to combine. Seal tightly and place in a cool, dark place for 4 weeks.

After 4 weeks, limoncello is ready to enjoy!

Wild Mushroom Risotto

Mushroom risottoHi there! Long time, no blog! Life got a little crazy with leaving one job, interviewing, and getting ready for a new one. I’m trying to get back into the swing of things.

I managed to sneak in some time to make my famous wild mushroom risotto last week. It isn’t healthy in any way, but risotto is my ultimate comfort food (just ignore the butter). Totally worth it when you are craving a heavy meal though. Enjoy with fresh bread and a bottle of Bordeaux (or your favorite wine)!

Do you have a favorite risotto recipe? If so, please share!

Wild Mushroom Risotto

  • Servings: 6
  • Prep Time: 20 minutes
  • Cooking Time: 60 minutes

Ingredients:

  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 1 small shallot or 1/2 cup of onion
  • 1 package fresh baby bella mushrooms
  • 1 stick of butter
  • 1 package dried oyster mushrooms
  • 1 package dried wood ear mushrooms
  • 6 cups water
  • 2 cups risotto
  • 1/4 cup white wine
  • 1 can chicken or vegetable broth
  • 1 cup Parmesan cheese
  • Salt and pepper
  • Truffle salt or oil

Directions:

Bring six cups of water to a boil. Remove from heat and soak dried oyster and wood ear mushrooms for 20 minutes to reconstitute.

While mushrooms are soaking, mince garlic and shallot (or onion).

Melt stick of butter over medium heat. Add bella mushrooms, shallot, salt, and pepper. Cook down for 10 minutes until mushrooms and shallot are tender. Add garlic. Cook for an additional 5 minutes.

Add two cups of risotto to the mushroom mixture and stir to coat risotto. Cook over medium-high heat for 5 minutes to “toast” the risotto. Keep a close eye and stir frequently to prevent burning.

As the risotto starts to toast the pan will start to dry out. Add 1/4 cup of white wine to deglaze. Cook for 3 minutes.

Use a slotted spoon to pull the reconstituted mushrooms from the liquid and add to pan. Save the mushroom broth!

Reduce heat to medium.

Add one to two soup ladles of the mushroom broth at a time to the risotto. Cook the risotto until the liquid is incorporated and add more broth. Stir constantly. Once the mushroom broth is consumed, switch to a chicken or vegetable broth.

Continue adding broth and cooking down until risotto is tender and creamy in texture. This can take up to 30-45 minutes. Just keep stirring and checking the texture. Once done, stir in one cup of Parmesan cheese.

Add salt and pepper to taste. If you like truffles, add several teaspoons of truffle salt, a light drizzle of truffle oil, or freshly shaved truffles.

Notes:

I use the dried mushrooms because that is what is available in my grocery store. However, you can use any fresh wild mushrooms. You would need to increase the amount of broth to about three cans.

I usually go through the entire mushroom liquid and one can of broth before my risotto is done.

Top 10 Italian Restaurants in Austin

PIcture of Italy“Life is a combination of magic and pasta.” – Federico Fellini

Craving Italian food, but not sure where to go? Reminiscing of that amazing meal in Italy and need a fix? Non c’è problema! I have put together a list of favorite Italian restaurants in Austin to help you out!

If I had to pick only one style of food to eat, I would undoubtedly choose Italian. Italians are passionate about food. Food is pleasure, love, family, sharing, and community. I love everything about Italian cuisine. It is diverse, yet simplistic, and can encompass many different styles, textures, and ingredients. An Italian dish should tell you a story, and in turn, inspire you to tell others.

To define the list below, I focused on fresh, simple, locally sourced ingredients, a welcoming atmosphere, a decent wine list, and the story. If the food makes me dream of Italy, I will go back again and again!

Top 10 Italian Restaurants in Austin

1. Trattoria Lisina

Trattoria Lisina is located outside Austin in Driftwood, but I had to include it in my list. I go to Trattoria Lisina every few months and I’m never disappointed. Owned by Damian Mandola, the menu is more diverse than Mandola’s Italian Market. Trattoria Lisina offers a multi-course, sophisticated menu from pan roasted chicken, to osso buco, to daily fish specials. It is not uncommon to eat from everyone’s plate while dining there! We had our wedding reception at Trattoria Lisina and everyone involved (event planner, staff, chef) was wonderful! They made our day special and treated us like we were family.

2. Patrizi’s Italian Food Truck

I was fortunate enough to attend a media tasting at Patrizi’s a few weeks ago and had to add it to my list of favorite places. Located at the Vortex Theater, the menu features fresh, simple, homemade pasta dishes using local ingredients. My favorite right now is the pasta pomodoro with homemade ricotta cheese. The garlic confit and infused olive oil is amazing as well! I love the funky Austin vibe, but the food reminds me of a little slice of Italian heaven!

3. Vespaio

I’m not sure I can say anything bad about Vespaio (except not taking reservations). It is a “neighborhood-hangout-meets-Italian-gourmet-comfort-food” establishment. Vespaio makes almost everything from bread, cheese, stocks, pasta, and sauces. They even do all of their own butchering. It is so self-contained that it feels like a working Italian farm. My two favorite things at Vespaio? The wine list and the risotto specials. The wine list offers many wonderful Italian selections and the seafood risotto will blow your mind. It is THAT good. Just go earlier in the day so you don’t have to wait in line.

4. Botticelli’s

Botticelli’s is a small trattoria on South Congress serving up traditional as well as modern Italian cuisine. I like Botticelli’s because it is small, cozy, and the inventive spin they put on some of the traditional fare is unexpected. Check out my first review of Botticelli’s (just ignore the horrible newbie photos!) My favorite dish is the chicken and Italian sausage lasagna with veggies. It is usually offered as a special, but I’ve always been lucky enough to get it. The wine list is limited, but offers decent Italian selections. After dinner, head out back to the beer garden for dessert and live music!

5. Olive and June

Olive and June is located in central Austin and serves Tuscan, farmhouse inspired cuisine using locally sourced ingredients. With a beautiful outside seating area, extensive wine and cocktail menu, and rustic fare, I have to refrain from going every day after work! I also love the small plate options which encourage sharing at the table. My favorite small plate is the zucchini involtini. I recommend following with the sausage gemelli and the citrus torta.

6. Trento

Trento is a neighborhood eatery located in West Lake. I have been going there since they opened early 2012 and I love it. It is convenient, friendly, good wine list, and they make the best ravioli dish I have ever eaten. Try the homemade cheese ravioli with lamb sausage, sage, brown butter, and poached egg (if it wasn’t so rude to lick the plate I would probably do it). For a light meal, I recommend going for happy hour and have the caprese salad or the mussels!

7. Asti Trattoria

Asti is a small, cozy restaurant in the Hyde Park area that offers a Tuscan style menu. And when I say cozy, I mean say hi to the table next to you because you will eventually participate in their conversation. Even though it can get crowded, it is a fun atmosphere buzzing with excitement and great food. I love the interesting, unexpected combinations of the dishes. One of the most memorable meals at Asti was a summer pasta dish with lobster, corn, and sweet cream. SO good! Also try the seafood risotto, duck breast, and rigatoni amatriciana!

8. Gusto Italian Kitchen

Gusto Italian Kitchen is a great neighborhood eatery in the Rosedale neighborhood. We like it because it is convenient, moderately priced, super friendly, and offers solid food and wine choices. It is a great place for a quick weeknight meal or happy hour. Go for the sausage pizza, spaghetti carbonara, slow roasted pork shoulder, and the olive oil cake!

9. La Traviata

La Traviata is a small bistro located on Congress Avenue. It is another moderately priced, solid Italian eatery. It isn’t fancy or intimidating, just good food. It reminds me of the bistros in the Florence area! I especially like the beef carpaccio, proscuitto di parma, and carbonara (can you tell I am a carbonara fan? 🙂 ). Great wine list as well.

10. Andiamo

Andiamo is a locally owned, hidden gem on Rutland Drive. Blink and you might miss it!  Andiamo offers a fresh, seasonal menu using locally sourced products. I have to confess it has been a while since I have visited Andiamo, but it has stayed on my top ten list despite my absence. Try the mushroom ravioli with saffron broth-YUM! They are running a lobster special in June so plan to join them soon!

What are your favorite Italian restaurants? What dish makes you dream of Italy?