A few weeks ago, I returned from one of the best vacations of my life. I traveled to Italy for my friend’s wedding. Not just any friend, but my very first friend. Nicole and I have known each other since we were babies and she is also the person who kickstarted my love for healthy eating and cooking. In fact, she is the reason this blog is called Sprout & Pea. When I began this blog, I thought it would be fun to collaborate with Nicole and so the two of us came up with the name Sprout & Pea in honor of knowing each other since we were sprouts and peas. Nicole’s fashion career since took off and her time did not permit for blogging, so I continued with Sprout & Pea on my own, but Nicole’s influence has been with me every step of the way. It was magical to see my very first friend get married to such a wonderful man on the most beautiful island in Italy. They truly have a love that inspires, just as Italy itself inspires. Rome and Ponza were a life refresher. They taught me to live and love hard and fearlessly. I brought back both a general optimism and an absolute love for Italian cooking- I fell in love with the food even more than I had expected.
Every single meal was delicious and every last bite was savored. There is a freshness in all of the food there that simply does not often exist in America. Their produce doesn’t even compare to the local farm fresh produce we get here- as incredible as some of it may be. The tomatoes are truly an entirely different experience- sweet, juicy, fresh and simply mouthwatering. The best part is that I ate my weight in bruschetta, pizza and pasta three times a day and never once did I feel grossly full.
While every meal was memorable, my favorite, hands down was at Spirito DiVino. I found this hidden gem by googling “best restaurants in Trastevere”, the area we were staying in (what we liked to call the Brooklyn of Rome). We made a reservation and headed over, realizing I had forgotten to give the man on the phone a name for our party. We were greeted by a young gentleman with a sharp sense of humor who quickly said, “Ah yes, I wrote down Americans”. The night was off to a good start. He asked where in America we were from and when we said New York, he pointed to the table behind us and said “they are from New York too”. It turned out, the table of four behind us were not only from New York, they were from Greenpoint- the exact neighborhood we all live in in Brooklyn. The world couldn’t have been much smaller. Many of the reviews warned to prepare for a 3 to 4 hour meal. The restaurant is solely run by a father and son, with the wife/mother doing all of the cooking herself. Once we sat down at our table, the son came to our table and explained that if we’d like, his father would come to the table and explain the menu to us. We didn’t hesitate a moment. Ten minutes later, an older gentleman was standing next to our table and began going through every item on the menu with us. He continued to tell us all about the restaurant and the history of the very special and ancient building that it is housed in. The three of us savored every bit of our incredible meal which included: Cheeses of Roman countryside with pears, pruns and cinnamon jam, spaghetti with cinta senese bacon, parmesan fondue and saffron, wild boar with blueberry sauce, and pork shoulder prepared according to recipe of Gaius Matius who was a cook of Julius Caesar- cooked with apples, onions, honey, vinegar, red wine and spices. After we were stuffed to the brim, the father came back to our table and sat down with us while he told us all about the wine cellar downstairs that is over 2000 years old. He poured us each another glass of wine on the house and we headed down to one of the tables in the cellar and took it all in where all three of us got instant chills. Spirito DiVino was hands down the most memorable meal of our lives. It was a meal cooked and served with a genuin love and passion for food.
Every meal in Italy had a magic to it that I am certain I will always carry with me when preparing meals in my kitchen. When I returned to New York, I thought I might be ready for some non-Italian fare, but i found myself both craving and truly missing all of the wonderful food that I experienced there. So for my first meal back, I decided to make some white beans in tomato sauce. Of course, the tomatoes here (even the canned San Marzanos) will never compare to the tomatoes in Rome but still, the dish hit the spot and I still have not stopped craving the food of Italy. Here’s how to make it…
1 can whole peeled San Marzano tomatoes chopped
1/4 cup of crushed can tomatoes (you can also just use the liquid from the canned peeled tomatoes)
1 plum tomato diced
1 sweet onion diced
6 cloves of garlic chopped
3 tbs olive oil
1 can cannellini beans
2 tbs white wine (I used a sweet and bubbly moscato d’asti)
1/2 tbs balsamic vinegar (I used balsamic cream)
Salt and pepper to taste
Greek yogurt to top with
Heat olive oil over medium-high heat and add onions and garlic. Saute until onions are translucent (about 5 minutes) and then add the diced tomatoes. Saute for another 5 minutes and then add chopped peeled tomatoes and tomato liquid. Add the wine and vinegar and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Stir and let simmer over low-medium heat with lid partially on for about 10-15 minutes. Add beans and let summer for another 5 minutes. Remove from heat and serve in a bowl. I scooped with a slotted spoon to strain some of the liquid. Top with Greek yogurt.