It’s hard to have a bad meal in Rome. It is particularly hard to have a bad first meal in Rome. And it’s nearly impossible to have a bad meal in Rome, the night you arrive, if you’re helping to cook it yourself and sharing it with a convivial mix of old and new friends. Needless to say, I had an AWESOME first meal in Rome. And yes, I totally take credit for being sous chef on it, while leaving the more visionary aspects of the creation to my more talented counterpart and his flavor bible. Unfortunately, I can’t take credit for photographing it, because I didn’t. And while I do think I have the vocabulary to render an accurately delicious mental picture for you, I must point out that this really was a visually stunning presentation. Or visually frightening, depending on your familiarity with dark rubbed meats.
The evening began with a quick trip to the local supermarket to pick up some essentials. I say supermarket, but it’s pretty much the size of my corner bodega in Brooklyn, with equally tiny prices. We grabbed some radicchio, Arborio rice, carrots, celery, walnuts, and an assortment of sheep’s and goat’s milk cheeses. The poor cow felt very left out. Then it was off to the butcher for some pork tenderloin. We were briefly foiled by the Italian custom of closing one’s shop in the middle of the day (naps and long lunches are integral to the local culture), but after a timely trip to the Bancomat, the gates were lifted and we were welcomed into the macelleria, in all it’s everything you could possibly imagine an Italian butcher shop to be glory. Cured meats, aged meats, fresh meats, legs of prosciutto hanging from the walls, oh MAN did it all look amazing. Except for these weird pre-made cheeseburger patties. Not that I haven’t seen premade patties before, but they generally don’t already have the cheese on them? How do you flip them? Won’t the cheese stick to the grill? Do you really want your cheese soaking up hamburger juices while waiting in the butcher case? SO MANY QUESTIONS.
Once I’d recovered from the burger shock, we picked out some pork tenderloin and dragged it back to la cucina along with the rest of the groceries to start the prep work. First off was starting the stock for the risotto. A pot of water, some roughly chopped carrots, celery, parsley stems, and, eventually, the ends of the radicchio, and a medium-ish flame to keep it all simmering. Homemade stock is remarkably easy and remarkably better than the canned stuff. Just set some aromatics simmering in a pot of water when you start cooking, and by the time you need it you’ve got a hot pot full of fresh, low-sodium, custom made stock.
With the vegetable stock going, I rough chopped a couple of heads of radicchio to set aside for later sautéing and ran out for some Peronis (in addition to long lunches and afternoon naps, beer while cooking is integral to the local culture). Upon return, we mixed up the dry rub for the tenderloin. I have no idea how much tenderloin we had (apparently they measure things in kilos here? Who knew?), so I won’t even try to give measurements for this, but it was a heavy hand of ground coffee with some salt, pepper, and cloves for seasoning. And it smelled good. And looked vaguely like a Fred Steak (Yay Area shout-out) But as it turns out, for all we were doing to subscribe to the local culture, covering a giant hunk of meat completely in a black rub is not a traditional Italian preparation, as our Calabrian consultant Domenico thought it looked more like a monster than something to be eaten later (preferably after giving it a good sear on each side and then roasting it for about 40 minutes in an – insert Celsius measurement here – degree oven to ~138 (sticking with Farenheit on this one).
Full disclosure, once the meat was seared and the parsley chopped, I bowed out for the remainder of the preparation in favor of acclimating myself to the new neighborhood and, you know, talking to people. But I will attempt to recreate the remainder of the preparation based on my imagination: use the stock to make the risotto, add in a lot cheese, and serve. Roast the pork. Sautee the radicchio, and set it all out on the table along with a couple of bottles of one euro wine.
And that, my friends, is a welcome meal.