>> Monday, June 25, 2012
This is the fourth post in the Spontaneous Weekend Trip to Rome Series. Other posts in this series include: Dal Paino Pizzeria in Rome, Etabli, and Il Convivio.
Before this trip to Rome, I was woefully ignorant when it came to Italian cuisine.
As a kid, my understanding of Italian food was quite simply spaghetti with red sauce, garlic bread, and pizza from Little Caesar's or Pizza Hut. We loved going to the Olive Garden in high school, viewing it as a special treat (as hungry and poor high school students, I'd always get the bottomless salad and breadsticks! - ahh, such memories). I still remember trying a caprese salad for the first time in college and thinking that the cheese tasted bland, sort of like tofu.
My exposure to Italian cuisine expanded when I moved to Boston. Various trips to the North End over the years exposed me to authentic Neapolitan-style pizzas, scrumptious homemade pastas, fantastic main entrees, and, of course, delicious Italian desserts from the numerous pastry shops. By far my favorite thing to do in the North End was to enjoy a cup of cappuccino and a super fresh cannoli from Mike's or Modern.
When we arrived in Rome, we soon began to appreciate the various colors of Italian regional cuisine. More specifically, we started to recognize that certain dishes were prevalent all over Rome (e.g., pasta carbonara and grilled artichokes), while other favorites were noticeably difficult to find, including my favorite Italian dessert, the cannoli.
Turns out, cannoli are native to Sicily.
Nevertheless, after some diligent research, I found a cute little bakery that was reported to have fantastic cannoli, possibly among the best in Rome.
Better yet, it was right around the corner from one of the most fascinating sites we saw in Rome.
You might think I'm talking about the Colosseum (which is also definitely a must-see), but I'm actually not.
Welcome to the Basilica di San Clemente, a Roman Catholic church within walking distance of the Colosseum. The church itself is beautiful, though the real interesting part about this church is not what's upstairs, but what's downstairs.
This current church was built on top of a 12th century church, which in turn was built on top of a 4th century pagan temple. What's interesting is that for centuries no one knew any of this until the 19th century, when they accidentally stumbled upon the 12th century church during archaeological excavations. They have since excavated both places. For about five Euros, you can gain access to the bottom two levels.
Take the stairs down to the first level and explore the surprisingly well-preserved 12th century church, which still contains many intact frescos on the walls dating back to the 9th century.
Walk down another set of dark stairs and enter the remains of the 4th century pagan temple. Walk through a twisting maze of cold, dark tunnels made of ancient stone blocks. It's downright fascinating, and I would highly recommend visiting.
Of course, once you emerge, conveniently head down the street to Ciuri Ciuri, a quaint little Sicilian bakery and gelateria less than a 5-minute walk away.
Cannoli (singular form = cannolo) are from Sicily, the island off the "boot" of Italy. Many believe that cannoli came from the Arabs when they controlled Sicily, citing that the flavors used in making cannoli, such as pistachio powder and candied fruits, clearly have an Islamic origin.
Good cannoli should be light and crispy - not at all greasy. The best cannoli are filled on the spot (to order) with sweetened sheep's milk ricotta cheese.
Ciuri Ciuri offers two different sizes of cannoli. Because we were still so stuffed from our crazy lunch that day, we were thrilled that we had the option of just getting some mini-cannoli.
If I'd had more room, I would have loved to try their gelato. Alas, all we could fit was an espresso and mini-"cannolo" each.
Ciuri Ciuri fills their cannoli to order, which meant we enjoyed two deliciously fresh cannoli.
It was a great place to take a short break (our feet typically start to get very, very tired around mid-afternoon after walking so many miles each day in Rome). The ambiance is super cute, the staff is friendly, and the sweets are great.
I did find that the Sicilian cannoli were a bit sweeter than my preference. Perhaps it's the Asian gene within me, but I don't like desserts that are very sweet. I know that this is probably the authentic way of making it, but if I could, I would have loved for the sugar to be dialed down just a bit.
Thankfully, such minor "issues" can be easily resolved with a nice, strong cup of espresso. In fact, together it worked just about perfectly.
I'd highly recommend stopping by here for a snack, whether you are visiting the Collosseum or Basilica di San Clemente. It's really not a far walk from either one.
Closest stop: Colosso
Via Flaminia n. 127/129
Tel. (+39) 0541 39.40.59