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ROME..Trip report with emphasis on food..January 2007

ROME..Trip report with emphasis on food..January 2007

Old Feb 8th, 2007, 08:21 AM
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Franco you are too sweet!

The next day, Sunday, we had a flight back to the US about 2pm, so after breakfast we did our packing. I had neglected to arrange a return trip to the airport, so we phoned them (Rome Shuttle Limousine) from the hotel with only about two hour's notice. No problem. At the appointed time, a new Mercedes pulled up outside the hotel, with Rossi Massimo (Massimo Rossi??) at the wheel. We had a good drive to the airport, with Massimo/Rossi pointing out various sights such as the building where Roberto Benigni lives. He (M/R) told us that he had once been a regular driver for the actor. He was a great driver and seemed like an all-around good guy; here is his number:

339-345-2144

We arrived at the airport very quickly, this being a Sunday without traffic. The ride cost 35 euro.

I spent the time before the Alitalia flight looking around at the food items for sale in the duty free shop (Long discussion about the merits of buying Ligurian olive oil with 2005 and 2006 olives has already been posted....). Did not buy anything. For those interested in Limoncello, the Rome airport stocks many varieties at prices much lower than here in the US. Prices on Aperol are very good, too.
Last January I purchased new oil by Frescobaldi (makers of Laudemio oils) at their airport wine bar/shop; either this was at the Milan airport or it was in another terminal in Rome. Look out for it when returning home, as it has great prices on olio nuovo in the winter.

And then it was on to Alitalia bound for New York and the conclusion of this fantastic week in Rome. Flight (economy) was fine; plane had individual video screens in seats in front of us that really help pass the time.

Next....begin preliminary research for the next Italian food jaunt. Contenders at this time are:
Naples/Campania coast; Veneto/Friuli; Turin/Piedmont or Milan/Piedmont. Sugggestions are most welcome..
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Old Feb 8th, 2007, 09:39 AM
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Ek, Iím glad Franco coaxed the end of your report from you, and Iíve taken note of Rossi/Massimoís telephone number. (Incidentally, what did you decide on the thorny tipping question? And thereís been no report on the results of your research into Roman waitersí attitudes on tipping/chatting etc....!)

Ummm. With the caveat that I donít know Piedmont, my order of preference would probably be Piedmont/Turin (which sounds interesting, and I dislike Milan), Naples/Campania, and Veneto/Friuli.

For more information on Piedmont than youíll know what to do with, check out SlowTalk. The owner of a B&B in Acqui Terme (upscale but her ideas of decor are not mine) has given oodles of in-depth information on Piedmont - to the extent that I voiced a mild complaint and got royally flamed for my trouble. Another one there is the chap who owns Villa Sampaguita. They both post here as well - the Sampaguita owner is the one who engaged in the memorable debate with Franco about truffles. He also started the screamingly funny thread (sorry, Franco...) ďWho is Franco?Ē Their posts on SlowTalk are more informative than the ones here, and hers tend to be better than his.

Ek and Franco, weíve come to the end of this terrific report, but I for one greatly enjoyed the ďhow-far-do-we-manage-to-get-off-topic gameĒ! So do tell us, Franco, what you learned about meat quality and butchers in Italy. But please, only if itís not going to ruin our illusions and appetites!

And going bravely off topic, I post for your edification a link to a review of Mozza, Mario Bataliís pizza outpost in LA:

http://tinyurl.com/yt5jn3

Pictured is the most absurd perversion of pizza Iíve ever seen. I donít know LA; is this some SoCal trend that Iím too unhip to understand?

And Ek, in return for your report on ďJamieís ItalyĒ (yes, he does seem to go in for the ďGee, Iím just an uneducated lower-class BritĒ shtick...), hereís a brief report on ďIn a Roman KitchenĒ by Jo Bettoja, an American long married to the owner of the Bettoja hotels; she also had a cooking school in Rome at one time. Good, by and large, as far as I can tell, but - the woman puts heavy cream in half her pasta sauces! Even in carbonara, which is a big no-no in my books (she does say that ďsome disagree about whether it is appropriateĒ). To me, heavy cream is so totally un-Roman. The other recipes - antipasti, meats, vegetables, and desserts - seem good. Thereís even a recipe for the beef garofolato Franco mentioned elsewhere. Itís longish but on a slow day I can copy it for you if you like.

Iím hugely disappointed, of course, that you wonít join me in Rome at the end of May! Franco, is there any chance that you might be in Rome then?
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Old Feb 8th, 2007, 11:22 AM
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Eloise, I am indeed sad, both not to be able to join you in May and also to have to come "home," so to speak.... One of these days we WILL have dinner in Rome.

I want to thank you for the post on Mozza in LA. I am laughing at the conceit of the whole thing. You probably are already familiar with Obika in Rome, which was that city's first (and for all I know, still the only) "mozzarella bar."

http://www.obika.it/it/roma.html

I actually thought of eating there one afternoon (we eventually decided to buy our own mozzarella and have lunch in the hotel room...). I first heard about Obika from Mario Batali, maybe on his show or in an interview. You know, we can almost place bets on what will be the "next new big thing" in food... Meanwhile we are poking fun and they are laughing all the way to the bank!

I have read many, many of the posts by the owners of the two B&Bs in Piedmont. They seem to be the main posters on that region and I wish I could read comments by other travelers who have been there recently.

I have been twice to Naples and even went to Teatro San Carlo (listening, Franco?). But both trips were brief and so long ago that I barely remember anything other than the shock of having the waiter in a pizzeria pour olive oil on my pizza. I was scandalized by this at the time. But the question there is, what to combine Naples with to complete one week? I am not sure I really want stay on the AC coast next time (I am probably the only poster on Fodor's who is not enticed by that prospect..) ; I was thinking maybe Naples followed by a few days in Sorrento with a day trip along the Drive. (??) I will post all of this in a new thread one day soon.

Eloise, did you happen to see the new tv series on the Travel Channel about Italy? It is called Top to Toe and is hosted by a Venetian with lots of shaggy gray hair. I saw it for the first time last night and while it covers way too much ground in an hour to be really informative, the photography was really good. They covered Padua and Vicenza and Verona and Turin and Milan and more in an hour!

Eloise thanks for the "In a Roman Kitchen" book tip. I am wondering if this is the book I spotted a few weeks ago in the bookstore with a shrink wrap over it..one of the only books you could not actually look into, for some reason. Will have to try to have another look. The book on Le Marche food also looked interesting; maybe I can get that one in the library.

Also, do you know the author Carla Capalbo? I have never read her but she has books on the foods of a few regions of Italy. I was wondering if you thought she was worth checking out....

I forgot! The tipping issue! I am embarassed to say that I have absolutely nothing to add. We tipped a little virtually everyplace and I think we gave a few euro (maybe 2) extra to the drivers of the airport cars because they were so nice. We will have to revisit this discussion. In thinking about Rossi/Massimo, I wonder if the price might be even lower if he does not have to pay the agency a fee but is dealt with directly. He haded me his card when I asked, not the card of the Rome Shuttle Limo office so I wonder... Here is a second number for him: 3207410073. Under his name it says "Autista" with a drawing of a vintage car.
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Old Feb 8th, 2007, 11:37 AM
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Sorry to disappoint you, Eloise, but I won't be there, too - I have actually decided to go to Greece, and that's where I'll be in late May...

Ok, if ek permits that we're (once more) hijacking one of her threads - here we go: meat quality in Italy! No, it's not off-putting, not at all; at least not as far as Italy is concerned. It's another question whether you'll want to buy meat at home in the future (just kidding).
Well, that barista at Al Volto broadly lamented the meat quality in Venice (which is absolutely unjustified - I, as a stranger, know at least three really memorable butchers there). But his main argument was so stunning that I couldn't quite answer back: for him, a butcher is ONLY reliable if he himself raises ALL animals he is slaughtering - a butcher who dares buying anything from the slaughterhouse is NOT a butcher, according to this Venetian gourmet! He even disapproved (with considerable displeasure) of another Venetian butcher who still raises his own cattle and pigs, but sells meat of horses raised elsewhere... Can you imagine? These are the moments offering true insight into the terrific quality of cooking in Italy - which is no big surprise, with ingredients up to expectations like these. Yes, of course, this brave barista still knows a butcher who is rasing everything he's selling, and he'd never buy anywhere else. (Of course, I asked him for the address. Of course, I'll try this butcher's meat next time when coming to Venice. Of course, I'll report here.)
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Old Feb 8th, 2007, 11:54 AM
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ek, hello - I had already started typing when you posted (obviously, I'm typing slowly today - hopefully, I'll make fewer mistakes than usually). As for Naples, I won't be very helpful (I happen to hate Naples), but if I may suggest a rest-of-the-week destination, I'd say: southern Lazio, especially if you go in summer. Ponza island is the one and only place where I really enjoyed a beach in my life, it has one of Italy's best pasticcerie/gelaterie, and this pasticceria is preparing the very best espresso I've ever had. And on the mainland, this part of Lazio seems to be very interesting for foodies; in our long "Rome visit - easy side trips" thread, I've mentioned one glorious restaurant in Pontinia, and my old Gambero Rosso edition mentions several simple, rustic trattorie in that region that sound very appealing.
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Old Feb 8th, 2007, 11:58 AM
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Franco you are always full of ideas. The problem here is that I do not travel in the summer. I was thinking sometime in early 2008, hopefully before Easter.
NOW, why do you hate Naples? I have to admit that the crime issue has put me off a little since I had my "bad" experience in Palermo two years ago...am I just being a baby?
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Old Feb 8th, 2007, 12:12 PM
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Well, first of all, I think there's not really much to see, i.e. not much of great importance, and much as I love food, my primary interest in travelling is art & architecture. And in terms of atmosphere, it simply failed to attract me, to put it mildly. I'm not an anxious traveller, but Napoli is one place where I felt really, really unsafe. Palermo, for me, is a safe haven as compared to Napoli. And safety issues apart, I simply thought it was disgusting. Four inches beside their main sight, the Castel Nuovo, they had a huge car scrapyard when I visited... I know, in the meantime, the scrapyard is gone. Maybe I should give Naples a second try?
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Old Feb 8th, 2007, 01:29 PM
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ek, loved the report. I'm sorry there's no more! Of course, you've brought out lots of other good info from Franco & Eloise. I've added your restaurants to my list for my next trip.
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Old Feb 8th, 2007, 05:32 PM
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Ek,
Thanks so much for providing so many details. I made many notes for our trip next month!
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Old Feb 9th, 2007, 04:10 AM
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You are both welcome. Yes, it was Eloise and Franco and others who added so much to the lively discussion. I am sad that the trip is over but have no doubt that we will soon find other subjects to enthuse over and debate!
Soon I will start thinking about another trip to Italy and we can delve into the foods of a totally different region!
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Old Feb 9th, 2007, 10:15 AM
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Did someone mention my name?

Indeed, Ek, from all I can gather, Mozza is making money hand over fist. So, I suppose, is Obika, which Iíve read about and seen but never gone into. The cheese Iím planning to sample in Rome this time around is burrata. Obika probably has it, but Iíll get it at Volpetti or some such place and consume it in my room.

If you find a non-shrink-wrapped copy of ďIn a Roman KitchenĒ and like it, you might want to order it here: http://tinyurl.com/yqfmx8. All of $6.98, and I canít imagine that shipping from MD to NYC would cost a great deal. To Canada, shipping is a minimum of $15, so I generally order 15 books at a time to ďamortizeĒ the shipping.

Iím with you on Naples - and the Amalfi Coast. So there are two of us at least. And perish the thought of Sorrento: at least two or three more British pubs than I care to see in Italy - which is none!

Thereís a discussion over on SlowTalk about the Italy Top to Toe program. I didnít see it; I donít have a specialty-channel subscription. Carla Capalboís books are frequently mentioned there as well, but Iím afraid I donít know them myself.

Note duly taken of Rossi/Massimoís second telephone number. I donít see myself calling from here to reserve his services for Fiumicino to Rome, but Iíll definitely keep him in mind for Rome to Fiumicino. Actually, not merely keep in mind, but written down. I have three pages of notes - and counting! - on things I plan to see and do - and eat! - in Rome. Iíd hoped to augment them with a useful guide to tipping, based on the latest research... Ah well, such are the disappointments in life.

Franco, thatís all right. While Iím enjoying Roman cooking, Iíll think of you choking down moussaka... Meow! (I donít know why you bring out the worst in me; possibly because you are - most often, not always - impeccably polite and courteous.) Seriously though, I hope you have a wonderful time in Greece. I loved the country back in the early 70s, when there was not a single jewelry store in Fira on Santorini. And I visited Akrotiri (which I see from posts here will likely remain closed this year) a year or two after Spiros Marinatos started excavating there and saw some of the frescoes that are now in the National Archeological Museum (or have they been moved back to Santorini?) in situ. But the last time I was in Greece, over 10 years ago, it was wall-to-wall jewelry stores in Fira, and everywhere I went - limited somewhat by the fact that I donít drive - was so over-commercialized that I vowed never to return. The list of countries I will not return to grows and grows; the list of countries I will return to shrinks and shrinks. ďI grow old... I grow old.../I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolledĒ...

Your barista at Al Volto sounds like a bit of a fanatic, frankly. Nonetheless, I look forward to your report on the remarkable butcher. But please, nothing about viande chevaline. You know me, Iím not a very adventurous eater. The French, of course, as I am well aware, would never consider cheval adventurous. I didnít think there was much of it eaten in Italy, though, but I may be mistaken.

And consider giving Naples another chance. In art and architecture, it admittedly doesnít compare with Rome - but what city does?

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Old Feb 9th, 2007, 10:30 AM
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Wait, Eloise, don't go! Do I take your comments to mean you are giving me a thumbs up on Naples but not on Sorrento? Sorry to be so dense. And split the week between Naples and which other destination with access to the water?

I am going to whisper this here at the risk of getting attacked, but I really was not taken with Santorini. I was there for a week last year on a trip not of my own planning. You are not kidding about those jewelery stores in Fira, Eloise. I guess I would have felt differently about the place had we stayed in Oia. Franco we are depnding on you to sniff out the great Greek eats and report back...I found them difficult to track down...

Today I bought a new ingedient: Garum, which is a liquid extracted from anchovies. I am about to look into how to use it....please do not ask why I did not do this before making the purchase!

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Old Feb 9th, 2007, 11:00 AM
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Ek, that's right: Naples yes (bearing in mind that it's a mad and chaotic city whose ideas of cleanliness are less than strict); Sorrento no, no, NO! Even if you could eat off the streets there (which you can't), I wouldn't suggest it; I found it very much a mass-market tourism destination. In addition to the pubs for the Brits, would you believe bacon and eggs offered for dinner (!) for the Germans?!? And I respectfully beg to disagree with Franco about safety in Naples. There are definitely places you should not go, but in general, I did not feel unsafe there in 1997 or 1998.

Where else in the area? There you have me... I'd go to Paestum, of course, but I can't see spending a week there. Nor could I actually envision a full week in Naples.

Or what about Puglia? It's being spoken of very much more frequently in the past little while.

About garum (not much because I don't know much): It's theoretically something the ancient Romans used to flavor their food. Waverley Root probably mentions it. I know there's one regional cuisine of which he says that anchovy juice is an almost omnipresent component, but for the life of me I can't remember which region. Not Lazio and Rome, in any case. Happy hunting - and tell us about the results! As a matter of fact, I think reports on recipes tried (with or without garum) would be a terrific way to keep this thread going...
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Old Feb 9th, 2007, 11:36 AM
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Eloise, the barista a fanatic? Yes, at least, he's positively crazy. But that's exactly the secret of perfect food quality: PLENTY of fanatics are being needed to produce food like Italy does - the fanatics are in fact the reason why we love Italian food so much... yes, Italian food, and NOT Greek food, thank you very much for reminding me of one of the more pleasant aspects of my future Greek trip. (Another one, quite memorable indeed, is researching ferry schedules. Did anyone ever say Italy be a disorganized country?)
But please: eating horse meat is really as adventurous as eating chicken (and I don't speak of chicken penis). It's very similar to beef, only tastier. In northern Italy, horse meat is in fact as widespread as beef; even donkey is still to be found, be it stewed or - most famous - as a salami.

Btw, just in case that your remark about my being "most often, not always" polite was meant as a comment on my treatment of Ivan Gianni, the guy who yesterday capered every Venice thread in order to advertise his (obviously not even very professional) business, I agree that it hasn't been perfectly polite to call him a rompicoglioni, but given his chutzpah, I don't think you could actually call me rude...


But now for something completely different: ek, you have bought WHAT? GARUM? WHERE? This is absolutely exciting for me - one of my cooking passions is the ancient Roman cuisine, the cookbook of Apicius; you know that garum (or liquamen, as they much more often called it) was the main condiment in ancient (not only Roman, but Greek as well) cuisine? I'm doing with a home-made makeshift liquamen for so many years now, and you have actually found a place where to BUY it?? I can't simply believe it... (Of course, if you, or anybody, want to know how to use it, feel free to ask, hopefully, I'll have my polite day and give some Apicius recipes away.)
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Old Feb 9th, 2007, 04:44 PM
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About garum-I have a cookbok called "A Taste of Ancient Rome" by Ilaria Gozzini Giacosa. Garum is defined as "fermented fish sauce". From what I've read about it, it's very similar to South East Asian (Thai, Vietnamese) fish sauce with is made from anchovies.

According to the book there were large garum manufacturers all along the coast of the Roman empire including Pompeii, Libya, and southern Spain-anywhere there was an abundance of fish and salt. Of course there were varying levels of quality of garum, the best from southern Spain made of Mackerel, but pretty much any fish, or even fish entrails (for low quality garum) were used.

Last year I did a dinner for 10 based on the recipes in this book. Rather than try to make my own garum, I used a good quality Vietnamese fish sauce and it was just fine. I'd be happy to share the menu I cooked if anyone is interested.
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Old Feb 10th, 2007, 05:25 AM
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Yes, please! Bring on those recipes using garum. I did find a few on the New York Times site where there has been more frequent mention of this product than I would have thought. But the articles are "Select" and I fear that they will not post..we had some trouble with this in the past.

Ok, the garum. I did not set out yesterday to buy this. I went to a large Italian warehouse-type store that I do not often visit. (Buon Italia in Chelsea Market in New York). I was in search of Crema di Carciofi made with olive, and not sunflower, oil. I had just used up my last jar (brought back from Italy last year) the night before in a rather successful and sublimely easy-to-make pasta dish..more on this later.

No luck on the carciofi cream, but I did spot two bottles of garum. One huge bottle with a price (I had to look twice) of $95.00. And one smaller bottle:

Delfino Garum. Produced and made in Cetara, Italy by Delfino Battista. Wit his e-mail address if anyone is interested. Ingredients are listed as: "Extract of salt anchovies; oregan". This must mean "oregano," but why would this be in the bottle? The 100ml bottle cost $10.US.

Ok, experts...I will await your verdict and advice.

Eloise, I will return soon to discuss the Naples issue...the picture you paint of Sorrento is not a pretty one so I will scratch that idea!


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Old Feb 10th, 2007, 11:39 AM
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Eloise,
Just browsing around, I looked at the SlowFood section on Campania. Interesting that there are a number of places in Amalfi but only one in Positano, which seems to be a popular base for people here. What do you think about the town of Amalfi? I was in this area so long ago that I really don't remember much..it would appear that most people go to the AC for the views..surely they are spectacular but is the all-around feel so oriented toward tourists that all sense of local atmosphere has been wiped away? (I liked Siracusa much better than Taormina, to give you an idea...)

I made a pasta dish with fresh thick spaghetti (sorry I do not know the exact name) from a great pasta shop in the Bronx. It is so simple that it might cause shudders (!!) among some of our friends..... First I cooked a bag of frozen artichoke hearts, set them aside, and dropped the pasta into the water. Then heated up the crema di carciofi (mentioned above) in a pan and loosened it up with some salted water from the pasta pot. When the pasta was ready, I transferred it into the pan with the artichoke cream and tossed this with the cooked artichoke hearts. I took the pan off the heat and added lots of chopped fresh mint and parsley and a bit of grated lemon zest. It was so easy.

This is not the one I used, but it looks similar:

http://www.operamage.com/prodotti_ti..._carciofi.html

Now, about that garum....

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Old Feb 10th, 2007, 12:14 PM
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Hi ek,

I am following every morsel and really enjoying it all...but I REALLY sat up at the mention of the Crema di Carciofi...Being in a hurry the day I bought my bottle in Italy last fall, I thought I had the Crema and just saw I had the Pate....and yes, it is made with extra virgin olive oil. I would like to try your recipe as I adore pasta and artichokes..question, do you suppose the Pate can be used instead of the Crema??? I may have to thin it a bit?? I wonder if the difference is in the consistency and that the pate may have bits and pieces where the Crema would be smooth...any thoughts???
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Old Feb 10th, 2007, 12:23 PM
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Well, ek, I want some of that pasta you made right NOW!

(I love artichokes)
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Old Feb 10th, 2007, 12:32 PM
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Susan it was so easy! I wish I had brought home more of those jars! And the leftover crema is so delicious you can eat it plain on toasted bread.

Traviata..I am not sure about the pate. If it contains just artichokes and oil, and even if it has other ingredients, I would guess that you could loosen it up with the pasta water to make a sauce. And don't forget the lemon zest, as that really added a finishing touch to the dish.

For the artichokes, I liked the frozen ones but jarred one might also be also okay as long as they are packed in olive oil. I bought a jar of artichokes at Trader Joe's that were packed in sunflower oil and they were HORRIBLE! (I no longer shop there after several other bad experiences with their products; to their credit, they will return your money if you are unhappy)
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