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10

2004
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da Alfredo e Ada, Rome, Italy, tasted on March 18, 2004 We'd landed just a few hours earlier and needed to go somewhere for dinner in Rome. With ten short days in Italy I'm not one to leave anything to chance. (OK, even when we spent a month in London I planned all our meals ahead.) I'd heard through folks that there was this tiny little unmarked restaurant run by a pair of grandmother's. I heard the kitchen was tiny, cooking was done on hot plates, and they stopped accepting customers when the fantastic home cooked food ran out for the night. This was the place for me.

Finding da Alfredo e Ada was a significant challenge in itself. And surprisingly, it wasn't because I'd never been to Rome, or the taxi drivers drove like maniacs down the narrow streets. It was because there's no sign in front of the restaurant. The light was warm as we entered and after we confirmed that we were in the right place (in our broken Italian) we were immediately seated at a long table. Within seconds a cask of the house-made wine showed up. I'm not entirely sure how to describe this wine. It was like someone made wine from concentrate. I almost imagined that after I took a swig Kool-Aid Man might burst through the far wall. The wine was a weak white wine, that tasted slightly diluted, but was served cold, was slightly acidic, and actually ended up being a good balance with the food we ate.

Speaking of the food, it started coming. Big plates with heaping portions of pasta and meat. There were no menus so we waited for the night's dishes. First was Macaroni con Itsubo Involtini. (I apologize if I spelled it wrong. In my eating frenzy, sauce and cheese flew in all directions including the spot I wrote down the name of this dish.) Basically it was big rigatoni in a super light tangy sauce. It was super cheesy and studded with big chunks of a fatty (in a good way) meat.

While we were eating Ada darted around the restaurant moving from the kitchen to various tables making sure everything was running smoothly. As best I could tell the Alfredo in "Alfredo e Ada" had passed away. But Ada didn't miss a beat. She had help from two other women, one who also looked like somebody's grandmother, and a younger woman running food out to customers. As we were waiting for the next course, Ada caught our eye from across the restaurant and waved to DebDu to come to the kitchen. Debdu made her way over and returned with her plate of food. One by one we all went to the kitchen and came back with our dishes and big smiles on our faces.

Half of us got Veal with Pork Sausage, Kale, and Peas. The other half got Beef Brisket Roulade with Red Beans and Red Sauce. Given how rustic the dishes were they were surprisingly light in touch when it came to flavor. This is not to say they didn't have flavor. They had plenty. It's just that the flavors were surprisingly lithe in the dishes, dancing around each other distinctly. The veal was (as they say) like butter and almost sweet. The sausage had a slight and enjoyable spiciness on the finish. The red sauce on the beef was the same as we had on the pasta and we were happy to see a repeat performance. The dish had interesting islands in its own complex flavor ecosystem.

While the pseudo-professional responsibility that comes with this food blog was certainly a factor, I was really just dying to really check out where all this great food was coming from. Sure enough, the kitchen was tiny. And yes, there were hotplates in the corner. Tell that to people who need Viking and Wolf ranges in their houses. The night's food sat in the kitchen waiting to be served. And there wasn't much left. We were lucky we got there when we did. Three women made, served, and cleaned up 30 dinners. Wow.

Finally, Ada delivered some sugar ring cookies to the table. She demonstrated that we were supposed to dip the cookies in our wine. The combined flavor was sugary, crispy, light, and yummy. DebDu said it was like dunking graham crackers in apple juice. Ada came and wrote the bill on the "tablecloth" along with what appeared to be her trademark caricature of herself.

Is it too much to ask that grandmothers' across the United States open up small, unmarked restaurants where they serve their wonderful homecooking honed over decades of making people happy to happy customers? American diners are way too concerned with the "scene" and mojitos.

It was our first meal in Italy and I was happy.

 

     
     
     
     
     

 

 

 

 

 

   

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  Garlic has long been credited with providing and prolonging physical strength and was fed to Egyptian slaves building the giant pyramids. Throughout the centuries, its medicinal claims have included cures for toothaches, consumption, open wounds and evil demons. A member of the lily family, garlic is a cousin to leeks, chives, onions and shallots. The edible bulb or "head" grows beneath the ground. This bulb is made up of sections called cloves, each encased in its own parchmentlike membrane. Today's major garlic suppliers include the United States (mainly California, Texas and Louisiana), France, Spain, Italy and Mexico. There are three major types of garlic available in the United States: the white-skinned, strongly flavored American garlic; the Mexican and Italian garlic, both of which have mauve-colored skins and a somewhat milder flavor; and the Paul Bunyanesque, white-skinned elephant garlic (which is not a true garlic, but a relative of the leek), the most mildly flavored of the three. Depending on the variety, cloves of American, Mexican and Italian garlic can range from 1/2 to 1 1/2 inches in length. Elephant garlic (grown mainly in California) has bulbs the size of a small grapefruit, with huge cloves averaging 1 ounce each. It can be purchased through mail order and in some gourmet markets. Green garlic, available occasionally in specialty produce markets, is young garlic before it begins to form cloves. It resembles a baby leek, with a long green top and white bulb, sometimes tinged with pink. The flavor of a baby plant is much softer than that of mature garlic. Fresh garlic is available year-round. Purchase firm, plump bulbs with dry skins. Avoid heads with soft or shriveled cloves, and those stored in the refrigerated section of the produce department. Store fresh garlic in an open container (away from other foods) in a cool, dark place. Properly stored, unbroken bulbs can be kept up to 8 weeks, though they will begin to dry out toward the end of that time. Once broken from the bulb, individual cloves will keep from 3 to 10 days. Garlic is usually peeled before use in recipes. Among the exceptions are roasted garlic bulbs and the famous dish, "chicken with 40 cloves of garlic," in which unpeeled garlic cloves are baked with chicken in a broth until they become sweet and butter-soft. Crushing, chopping, pressing or pureeing garlic releases more of its essential oils and provides a sharper, more assertive flavor than slicing or leaving it whole. Garlic is readily available in forms other than fresh. Dehydrated garlic flakes (sometimes referred to as instant garlic) are slices or bits of garlic that must be reconstituted before using (unless added to a liquid-based dish, such as soup or stew). When dehydrated garlic flakes are ground, the result is garlic powder. Garlic salt is garlic powder blended with salt and a moisture-absorbing agent. Garlic extract and garlic juice are derived from pressed garlic cloves. Though all of these products are convenient, they're a poor flavor substitute for the less expensive, readily available and easy-to-store fresh garlic. One unfortunate side effect of garlic is that, because its essential oils permeate the lung tissue, it remains with the body long after it's been consumed, affecting breath and even skin odor. Chewing chlorophyll tablets or fresh parsley is helpful but, unfortunately, modern-day science has yet to find the perfect antidote for residual garlic odor.  

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