Dinner at Sweet Stay

My day of visiting the Vatican Museum and St. Peter’s was indeed a long one – more than 7 hours on my poor feet. Good thing I have them fairly whipped into shape – and a steady supply of advil. But I still had a treat in store before the day was over. Piotr and Paola at the Sweet Stay Guest House had invited me to have dinner with them to have a real Roman meal of something I might not order out on my own. We had discussed it ahead of time and decided on fish.

ImageSo when I got back to the apartment, Piotr had been to the market and was busy cooking. The fragrance was delightful and it felt like a nice “welcome home.” But before I get started telling you about it, I have to say that this was something special they did for me. If you come to Rome and check in at Sweet Stay (and you should!) you will get a comfy room and a nice hospitable breakfast each day, but dinner is not included. Just so we’re clear…

So… the menu… which my friend Vicky will find most interesting (she’s fascinated with food and cooking) and my daughter Ellyn will find appalling (she’s not)…

First off, when Italians say “fish” they mean anything you pull out of the sea. I said that a fish is a flat thing with a tail and they said, no, a fish is anything that swims in the ocean. And that includes shrimp (prawns), mussels, clams, squid and octopus – all of which were on the counter!

Piotr has experience as a chef, so will only buy what is fresh and local. And he had chosen to make fish soup (Zuppa di Pesci) for the main course. Here are some of the beautiful ingredients…


large, fresh prawns


cute little beady-eyed guy…


mussels and clams galore


Mr. Squid…


… and his ink…

ImageOK, that was just for the soup. Piotr had already made the broth from bones and such and was just chopping up the rest. Meanwhile, Paola sliced some fresh bread and got the salad ready. Now, this, my friends, is a salad.

Paola opened a bag of fresh arugula, a bitter green, and poured it in a bowl. She dressed it with just a bit of oil and vinegar and salt and pepper. Not much.

Then she pulled a package of compressed octopus slices out of the fridge! It was in a packet, sliced thin like you would get cheese or meat from a fine deli. She was surprised that I had never seen such a thing and explained how it is made. The octopus meat is vacuum packed into a jar to press it down very tightly and then it is sliced paper thin and packaged to sell. It has been cooked during the process.

ImageSo the salad was simply a couple slices of pressed octopus with arugula salad on top. They served it with a Rose wine. And I have to say it was not only beautiful, it was quite tasty. But I did have to add some salt to the greens. But that’s me. They don’t eat a lot of salt and I do even though I probably shouldn’t.

So far, so good. They were glad I liked the salad so we were on to the soup. Lots of “fish” and broth over a piece of toasted bread in the bottom of the bowl. And that is actually a very fine way to serve soup! Piotr says the bread really makes it for him.

ImageWell, how can you go wrong with all that delectable sea food in a bowl?. And the best bread you can get fresh anywhere.

Oh my goodness, this is not only bounty from the sea, it is a gift of a meal from these new friends. Piotr and Paola. How kind of them to share a small part of their lives with me while I’m so briefly here in Rome. Such a special treat and I will always treasure it.

ImageI asked if I could take their picture and they “posed” for me – Piotr is making a face (sorry Piotr) but you have to meet these generous folks who have made my stay in Rome so nice and comfortable.

And we have had a lot of fun talking about our differences – which is what we did while Piotr cooked the next course, risotto with squid and squid ink. He said it would take about 15 minutes to cook and you absolutely must eat risotto hot and fresh right out of the pan.

So we chatted and laughed and switched to a nice white wine, a Vermentino. I had seen this wine in restaurants and asked what it was but no one could explain. P & P said that vermentino is simply a type of grape that makes a nice light white wine that goes well with fish and rice. Great!

ImageAnd then the risotto was ready. It was hard to get a good photo because the squid ink turned it black. And there were pieces of squid in it which gave it a briney flavor. Fishy, but not strong at all. The main taste was the rice with a little mild fish to it. Quite good. Piotr said I was brave to try it since I didn’t eat much, but I actually liked it and wished I could have eaten more. I like that fishy rice, even if it is black!

I don’t know the nutrient value of squid ink – or why people would have ever started eating it in the first place – but it might be interesting to find out.

Can you imagine being the first person to say, “hey, I wonder what that tastes like?”

I’m brave, but not that brave…

ImageSo that was dinner and my eyes were beginning to shut on their own after my Vaticano day, but then Paola offered me a sorbetto. I didn’t know what it was so of course I had to try it. I was unsure what to expect, but it was something she actually bought in a bottle.

OMG – it was like drinking lemon pie. (And I LOVE lemon pie!) It was sweet and rich and creamy and left foamy milk marks on the fluted glass. Yum, yum yummers. Lemon pie in a glass. I never tasted anything like it! What a nice ending to the meal!

Finally, I really couldn’t hold my eyes open any longer and I had to say goodnight. I would have loved to turn on some music and dance around the kitchen and help with the dishes, but I just didn’t have it in me. I was actually going to go to my room and catch up on the blog for the day, but I didn’t have that in me, either.

All I could manage was to clear my things off the bed and dive in for the night. And boy don’t you sleep well when you’ve had a satisfying but tiring day and a good meal in your belly!

I slept like one of those angels I saw at the Vatican (do angels sleep?) and dreamed of the streets of Rome and glorious art and monumental architecture and all the fishes in the sea. Topped off with good friends and lemon pie.

Thank you Sweet Stay, and Paola and Piotr, for a truly delightful, memorable day in Rome!

14 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Ellyn
    Nov 03, 2012 @ 19:15:33

    I deserve an award for actually reading this post.


  2. Vicky Gerber
    Nov 03, 2012 @ 20:47:04

    Well, I really did enjoy the dinner! I must say, the black squid ink makes something that sounds very yummy, look very unappealing! (Did it stain your lips and tongue – like some of the dark colored icing on a decorated cake will do?)

    I love all of the photos and the great descriptions – I feel like I could be eating it too! So, was the lemon drink milk based? It sounds really tasty…and now I want a lemon bar! I’ll bet you could find it on-line and order some when you get back to Ohio. What a great way to bring back some Italian memories! It sounds like you have made some wonderful friends at every stop along your way! : )


    • thesketchylife
      Nov 04, 2012 @ 23:37:05

      I knew you would enjoy this! And yes, the squid ink stains. If you eat a lot you will get a black tongue! I actually found a recipe for the sorbetto. If you use lemon sorbet it has no dairy. If you use gelato, it does. I’m not sure what the bottle had in it. The recipe is here: http://whatscookingamerica.net/Beverage/Sgroppino.htm (And Paola did mention sgroppino)


  3. MaryBeth
    Nov 03, 2012 @ 23:39:53

    Uhhhh, yeah, I don’t think so.


  4. Monkey no do!
    Nov 03, 2012 @ 23:55:41

    I’m with Mary beth, that sounded and looked disgusting! I couldn’t even manage to to say it was at least a pretty presentation. Sorry! I’ll just stick with peanut butter and tacos!


  5. Paola
    Nov 04, 2012 @ 08:26:44

    I can understand your distrust Monkey ….but once in your life you should taste it….however we had a chance to have such a wonderful guest and we wanted her to have something to remember about her stay in Rome (besides all the museums and monuments of course…). Actually we are honored to have had Starr as our delightful guest and friend we hope! kisses Piotr and Paola


    • Monkey no do!
      Nov 04, 2012 @ 19:51:42

      Oh My Paola, I am embarrased as I should be.! Yes you did have a wonderful guest! She is the best story teller and adventurer ever. She will absolutely treasure the meal you and your husband prepared I can assure you. As for me, I don’t know if octopus and squid will ever be on my menu. If I had a host as gracious as you, I would probably nip at it first!!! My name is Paula. Your equivilant in Italian! Kisses to you back! Starrs monkey friend ,Paula


  6. Vicky Gerber
    Nov 04, 2012 @ 19:49:07

    I have just read this post to the kids and Rachel (6 years old) wants to comment as well. “The food you are talking about looks very good and probably tastes very good. But…I might not eat it because I am not in Rome. Well, I would love to eat it! I liked Mr. Beady Eyes. Thank you – that is good for today. I’m settled to bed.”


    • thesketchylife
      Nov 04, 2012 @ 23:45:11

      Hi Rachel! I really enjoyed your comment! And you are exactly right – I probably would never have eaten this meal if I was not in Rome. But it is part of my adventure and it was very good! And so nice of my friends to make. Mr. Beady Eyes was fun to see, too. Thank you for commenting – I like to hear what you have to say! Good night (or in Italian I would say “buona notte!”)


  7. Nicole
    Nov 04, 2012 @ 20:45:36

    How nice of Paola and Piotr for taking such good care of you!  What a special treat to have shared such a loving meal with caring people!  I was impressed at reading this post.  Although, Brad and I do not venture into the seafood realm very often due to a shellfish allergy…I have always admired the skill in preparing such a meal.  I always love seeing how other people live…so thank you all for sharing…and letting us into your home.  All I know is that my sister would absolutely love it – she loves a tasty adventure!  I already looked to see if we can get the lemon sorbissimo here in the US.  Couldn’t find it, but maybe Jungle Jim’s will carry it?!  Enjoying your adventures…and friends your meeting along the way!  That’s what life’s all about!


  8. Nicole
    Nov 04, 2012 @ 20:48:03

    Ooops, ago correct….”enjoy” ….it even tried to auto correct oops to loops…lol!


  9. bdauby
    Nov 04, 2012 @ 21:08:48

    What a meal! Coming from a land locked area hundreds of miles from the ocean, access to fresh beady eyed crustaceans will be lost on us Ohioans. But like I have always said, one man’s compressed octopus slices is another man’s corn dog!

    Paola and Piotr – how very thoughtful and kind of you to watch out for my Mom during her big adventure, and give her a real taste of the Roman experience – beyond pasta and pizza. The reason why she waited so long to get to Italy was to meet people just like you! I’ll be hearing stories about this adventure for years to come, so thanks for spicing it up with a bit of squid ink!


  10. MaryBeth
    Nov 05, 2012 @ 09:36:59

    A person should not state they don’t like a certain food until they try it. And if I ever want to try squid ink or pressed octopus, I would like to have Piotr and Paola prepare it for me! What wonderful and hospitable friends you have been to Starr. Thank you!


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