Let’s get back to Italy.  After Florence and Cinque Terre, Kristy and I still had almost a week’s worth of traveling to go.  Before heading to Rome for five days, we made a pit-stop in the quaint town of Orvieto.

While it was full of beautiful architecture, art, and spectacular gelato, Florence was loud and swarming with more tourists than I have ever seen in one place in my life.  We were exhausted.

Orvieto, a labyrinthine town, perched atop a hill surrounded by rolling hills and vibrant farmland, was a peaceful retreat from the nonstop week from which we had come.  Orvieto wowed us with it’s breathtaking Duomo, opulent gelato (I tried pine nut!), pasta all carbonara made with wild boar (the local speciality), serene Umbrian countryside, and getting lectured by a quintessential Italian guy on how every word can be traced back to the Italian language, what makes a good teacher, to how microwaves travel around the Earth (?), the significance of the paintings on the Duomo (At least I think that is what he was talking about…) was the icing on the cake.

After less than 24 hours of peace, we were off to Rome.  To be honest, I had never been dying to visit Rome and after landing in it’s busy train station on a gloomy afternoon, I wasn’t overly impressed.  But, over the next five days, I fell in love.  I have been taking so long to write about Rome, because I am still very much caught up in what I experienced there and I think I love it more and more every day remembering the food, culture, and atmosphere of this great city.

So, while I continue to collect my thoughts and whip up some inspired recipes, here are some of my favorite food moments in Rome:

– Until we reached Rome, we had not experienced a meal that blew us away; it’s not that the food wasn’t good, but something was missing.  We were perplexed.  Where was all this phenomenal food we were supposed to be eating?  Rome began to make a case for itself on our first night when we randomly stumbled upon a small restaurant in a discreet ally.  First good sign – the menu was only in Italian, second – the patrons were only speaking Italian. From the pasta alla carbonara to the veal saltimbocca, everything was delightful, but the star of the show was the contorni (vegetable).  That night I was reminded just how good a simple plate of sauteed spinach can be, especially when it finished with butter…lots of butter, and my faith in Italian cooking was restored.

– Our second night in Rome, we were hoping to luck into a great restaurant again.  Based on our exuberance and lovestruck expressions by the end of the night, we were successful.  This was by far the best meal of the whole trip.  Since I plan to share more about this wonderful night in the future, I will just share the menu:  Antipasti – shaved zucchini and mozzarella salad.  Primi (my dish) – fresh fettucine pasta with a simple sauce of sauteed porcini mushrooms (each mushroom hand selected from the gorgeous window box display as the dish was ordered).  Segundi (Kristy’s dish) – roasted chicken in pan sauce (best chicken I have ever had; so simple, so good).  Contorni – sauteed chicory. Dolcitorta de miel and a flourless chocolate tort.  I wish I could eat this everyday.  For real.

-Tasting wild strawberries for the first time.  It wasn’t even my dessert, but the one bite of these floral, thimble sized, berries was truly memorable.  I wish I could get my hands on some over here.

-Sitting in a small square, people watching, reading, and eating a bag of Italian cookies for three hours was the most relaxing and uniquely entertaining afternoons of the whole trip.

– On one of our last days in Rome we rambled through the streets of Rome desperately trying to find souvenirs when we stumbled upon a cluster of small street vendors selling art, books, jewelry, and one man selling old postcards.  After debating for about thirty minutes, we each walked away with a pile of vintage postcards filled with old words dating all the way back to 1912.  Right off the square with the postcards, we found a wonderful trattoria.  After a wonderful caprese salad, I was wooed by a plate full of spaghetti in sugo rosso with radicchio.  Yet another example of simplicity at it’s best (which is what Italians do best).

Radicchio is an underutilized vegetable and unfortunately, is usually the last man standing in a salad.  Bitter, yes, but I would argue that we should all give radicchio a second chance.  In Italy, I had the pleasure of enjoying radicchio grilled and in pastas and not once did I have the urge to sneak it to the other side of my plate.  Give this lasagna, inspired by that little trattoria, a try and find out for yourself how radicchio can transform into a vegetable worthy of applause.

Lasagna di Radicchio

Serves 8 or so

Adapted from several recipes in The Silver Spoon cookbook

Note:  This isn’t the prettiest of dishes, but the flavor is great.  Don’t judge a book by it’s cover.  Also, I recommend using fresh lasagna noodles that can be found in the refrigerated section of the grocery store.  If you can’t find them, use no-boil noodles instead.

For bechamel sauce:

1/4 cup butter

1/4 cup all-purpose flour

2 1/4 cup milk

pinch of nutmeg

salt and pepper

For radicchio filling:

3 tablespoons milk

3 1/2 cups radicchio, cut into strips

2 tablespoons butter

1 clove garlic, minced

14.5 oz can diced tomatoes

2 tablespoons chopped parsely

1/4 cup grated Parmesan plus additional for dusting

15 fresh lasagna noodles

Melt the butter in a pan over medium heat.  Whisk in the flour and cook for 30 seconds.  Pour in all the milk, whisking constantly until it starts to boil.  Season with salt, lower the heat, cover and simmer gently, stirring occasionally, for about 20 minutes.  Remove pan from heat.  Season with salt, pepper, and nutmeg to taste.

In a small pan, heat the milk over low heat.  Add the radicchio and butter and cook until the radicchio is soft.  Add garlic and cook until fragrant, about 15 seconds.  Stir in diced tomatoes with juice and parsley.

Combine bechamel sauce and radicchio mixture.  Stir in 1/4 cup grated Parmesan.  Set aside.

Preheat oven to 350°F.  Grease a 9×13-inch baking dish.  Cook lasagna, a few at a time, in a large pan of salted, boiling water for 6-7 minutes until al dente, drain and place in a damp towel to cool.  Place a layer of 5 noodles on the base of the pan and top with a layer of radicchio sauce.  Continue making alternate layers until all the ingredients are used, ending with a layer of radicchio sauce.  Bake for 30 minutes, then serve with additional Parmesan.