Hello and welcome to the 39th issue of Place! This week, we go on an illustrated journey of Rome and its most precious dishes with Place editor Kylee Pedersen, and are reminded of the closeness that cooking can create between us and our surroundings. Also, we wanted to pop in a quick reminder of our new membership program, which seeks to support new voices! For the price of a cup of coffee per month, you will help us commission work by emerging writers and artists, and continue to receive thoughtful reflection each week in your inbox. We have so much more planned ahead, and your contributions will help further this work! Find out more here.
At Place, we believe that the experiences, sensations and conversations we have as we move about the world stay with us, stacking up as the years go by, forming who we are and the way we view the world. Do you have a letter to share? Send it to us at email@example.com. If you are interested in writing for Place you can find our inaugural pitch guide here. If you’re the social type, follow us on Twitter (@place_letter) where you can share your favourite pieces and Instagram (@placenewsletter) for a visual feast. Yours, The Place editorial team.
“What is there to say about Rome?” reads the description on my Airbnb host’s profile. It is an ancient place – the beginning and the end of so much, too much to fathom at times. Its beauty is breathtaking. Even it’s trees seem to know they are on display, the way their long trunks arch like the necks of swans, the pine needles gently waving in the breeze.
It is a city that also has a king and queen. But these are not people..they are foods. Spaghetti alla carbonara; she is queen. And the king? That honour goes to the artichoke.
Tasting the cuisine of a place, or learning to make it, can bring you closer to it. Cultures are built up around foods. They tell us about a place’s climate, it’s economy, it’s politics, and perhaps even something about the people’s personalities who live there – their desires, their dreams and their pitfalls. The artichoke is now in season in Rome, with mountains of the scaly green and purple vegetables piled up in shop windows. There are many varieties of artichoke grown across Italy, but the Romanesco artichoke, grown on the coast near the city, is widely considered to be the jewel. It can be served in myriad ways -- deep-fried, braised, or even raw.
But, I am daunted by it. I’m not sure I have even held an artichoke in its raw form. When I’ve eaten or cooked with them, they have been jarred or canned – already processed, soft, oily, approachable. So instead, I’ve been making carbonara. Once, twice, three times a week, I fry the guanciale, boil water, whip up some eggs, pecorino and parmesan in a bowl. The whole process is quite quick, forceful, storm-like. I combine the sauce and the pasta with vigour, emerging from the kitchen in a state of pleased disarray.
I’ve been in isolation in the city since travelling here, unable to explore the eternal city. Making carbonara it seems, has been my only connection to the outside world, something that, as I attempt to make it, brings me a bit closer to the Romans. And yet, without the king, I still feel very far. The artichoke seems harder to master than carbonara. Something I can’t achieve on my own inside the four walls of this small apartment. Its preparation is delicate, timely, orchestrated.
Maybe, once I am out of here, I will try to cook one. Maybe after eating it in a restaurant, by someone who knows it by heart, I will understand. There may come a day when I might buy a few artichokes, and bring them home; see them in a shop and know what to do with them. “What is there to say about Rome?” I’ll say one day when someone asks me about how I liked the city. I’ll show them a photo or two. Then, I’ll make them carbonara.
And perhaps even an artichoke.
- Kylee Pedersen is a writer and occasional illustrator usually based in London, UK. She writes about travel, food, and the natural world, among other things.
Join us next week for another journey.