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Italian Food and Cooking

Authentic Dishes of Roman Food and Cooking in the Lazio Region



An attempt to authenticate Italian dishes of any region leads one into a labyrinth of legends and disputes that twist and turn, sometimes crossing each others' paths.  Italian history is rich and complex, and indeed there was no unified Italy until 1861. Italian history is filled with movement - the movement of conquerors, of religious history, of wandering tribes that brought their special dishes with them. In addition to the complex history of Roman cooking, many of the renowned Italian dishes come with legends attached, with disputes between regions over a recipe's origins.   Somehow this makes the dishes more savory. 

Since all roads lead to Rome, many dishes were brought from outside the city itself.  We leave it up to the reader to choose sides in any food dispute, and enjoy a good food argument.  And, while arguing, please remember to cook the italian way - use great ingredients, fresh ingredients and cook to your own taste.  

Roman Pasta dishes

In the north of Italy fresh pasta reigns supreme, in the south dried pasta holds sway, but in Rome both fresh and dried are equal in popularity. The fresh pasta is often made at home, though there are small shops selling fresh pasta all over Rome.  The terms casareccia or casalinga both mean homemade. Among the most popular of the pasta asciutta variety are rigatoni, bucatini (a thick, hollow spaghetti) and the more familiar spaghetti.

Bucatini all'amatriciana.  This dish is made with bucatini.  If you are in Amatrice, it is sauced with tomato, and guanciale, but if you are in Rome, garlic and onions will be added to the sauce.  In both cities, it is sprinkled with lively pecorino cheese.  The origin of the dish remains in dispute.  Its name would indicate that it originated in Amatrice, however the Romans dispute that theory.  The recipe is sometimes called bucatini alla matriciana without the initial letter 'a'.  One speculation suggests that matriciana refers to a wild green called matricale, but no one uses greens in this sauce.   Try this sugo both ways and make your personal favorite.  This is often written simply as sugo amatriciana.

Pasta Cacio e Pepe A simple dish, this is generally bucatini served with pecorino cheese and heaps of black pepper.  A classic in Roman cooking, you can settle for nothing but the best cheese.

Penne all' Arrabbiata.  Arrabbiata is translated as angry and the name derives, not from a flaw in the Roman disposition, but from the fiery red pepper flakes that are added to the dish.

Rigatoni alla Pagliata or Rigatoni with Pajata.  This is rigatoni served with calf's intestine and dressed with tomato sauce, oil and garlic. It is a prime example of the cucina povera.  Romans sent the finest cuts of meat to the Papal tables and were resigned to eat offal.  The use of offal has diminished with time.

Spaghetti alIa Carbonara. This is a pasta dish which has a creamy sauce made of egg, cheese and guanciale (we substitute bacon but the hard to find guanciale is the authentic).  It is a rich dish and its legends are equally rich.  One theory holds that this is an Umbrian dish brought to Rome by the carbonari (coal-men).  This may not be an old enough dish to support that theory, and some speculate that the freshly grated pepper sprinkled on the white dish resembles charcoal.  Yet another theory is that the dish was invented to honor American soldiers in WWII who wanted bacon and eggs.  A rich and romantic dish, whichever theory you ascribe to.

Gnocchi alla Romana.  These are gnocchi made with semolina flour rather than the potato used in the northern gnocchi. In the family run Trattorias of Rome, you can sample some of the best gnocchi every Thursday night in a citywide tradition They are served with lakes of butter and a few tablespoons each of sauce and parmesan cheese.  Served PIPING hot


Roman Meat, Fish and Poultry Dishes

Many Roman meat dishes in the cucina povera relied on innards.  These dishes are gradually disappearing with the more prosperous Romans able to purchase prime cuts of meat.

Abbacchio al forno.  This is made with baby lamb under 90 days old.  It may also be cooked alla cacciatore or in brodetto.  Agnello is lamb aged from 90 days to one year and is cooked in various ways, from roasts to stews.  Lamb is the most typical meat from this once-pastoral region.  There is no substitute for Roman baby lamb, which is milk-fed and tender.  It is classically prepared at Easter. 

Coda alla Vaccinara.  This is the classic oxtail stew.  In the Roman variation there is abundant use of celery.  In Roman dialect vaccinara means, "butcher style."  Legend goes that it was prepared originally in the inns and trattorias near the slaughterhouses.

Filetti di baccala.  Baccala or dried salted cod has nourished many of the earth's people and is a feature of several cuisines.  In Rome, it is fried or cooked with tomatoes, pine nuts and raisins

Pollo alla Romana.  Quite simply, this is chicken cooked with bell peppers which is a popular dish in the US as well.  Classic.

Porchetta di Ariccia.  This dish originated in Ariccia, hence its name.  It is a suckling pig spit-roasted and flavored with lard, salt, pepper, garlic and herbs.  Spit-roasted pork is popular in many regions of Italy.

Trippa.  There are two main tripe dishes: Trippa alla Trasteverina which means tripe as made  in the area of Trastevere, the old Jewish quarters of Rome. The second is Trippa alla Romana  in which the tripe is cooked in a tomato sauce, and sprinkled with Rome's great pecorino cheese.

Saltimbocca.  The word translates as "jump in the mouth" and is prepared from the thinnest piece of veal cooked with sage and prosciutto.  This writer has not seen the veal jump on its own volition, but has moved her own fork quite rapidly.

Roman Vegetable Dishes

Carciofi alla Romana and Carciofi all giudia.  Alla Romana is artichoke cooked with mint, the preferred Roman way, and carciofi all giudia is artichoke cut and fried. However they are cooked, the artichoke is the royal vegetable of Rome - the king, queen, prince and princess and a few sycophantic courtiers rolled into one.

Zucchini - the Roman zucchini with ribs running up and down the sides are a little drier than other zucchini.  They are easier to use in cooking as they do not release as much moisture.  The Romans use the flowers to make fiori di zucca in which the flowers are stuffed with mozzarella, possibly anchovy, then fried. 



Lumache. You will see baskets of snails in the Campo dei Fiori.  The vignarole snails are the best according to the Romans, their name indicating that they were snails gathered in the vineyards.  Snails were a classic celebratory food on the feast of St. John (June 24th).

Testa. " I still wouldn't contend with the butcher, for I suffered from an acute case of macelleria-phobia. Yes, I was a butcher shop phobic. More debilitating than any run-of the mill fear of spiders or snakes, what I feared was heads: there were heads in the windows of the butcher stores and they were displayed with pride and prominence. The dish was called testa and was considered a great delicacy, but I could not bring myself to even look in the window. There were skinned lamb heads, their baldness making them look like an artist's idea of extra-terrestrials. Worse yet, there were calf's heads. Split in two and resting central to the display, each head had an ear and, to my horror, a single eye staring in rebuke at us carnivores."  from "when in rome" by Diana Serbe

Roman Bread Dishes

Bruschetta.  Bruschetta is very popular in the US these days and, again, rises from the cucina povera.  So simple, this is made from a tasty slice of good Italian bread which is toasted, then rubbed with garlic and sprinkled with oil.  Today imagination suggests several varieties, but this is the original.  Romans might have put marrow on a bruschetta.

Pizza Bianca. Unlike the Napoletano pizza with tomato, the Romans make white pizza, only brushed with olive oil and flecked with large chunks of salt.  It is sometimes flavored with rosemary.

Panzanella. Another bread dish that derives from the cucina povera.  This could best be called bread salad.


Roman Desserts

The Romans are not sweet tooth people.  They far prefer fruit and who wouldn't considering the quality of the luscious fruits that spread before the Romans.   But they do have some traditional desserts.

Maritozzi. These are soft, oval buns made with with raisins and candied orange peels. They can be enjoyed plain or filled with fresh cream.  Nice with coffee.

Crostata di Ricotta. This is a variation of cheesecake made with pasta frolla (short-crust pastry), often placed in a lattice on top of a filling fresh ricotta and candied fruits. Raisins, pine nuts and other flavorings can be added. There is a Jewish version which relies on chocolate rather than candied fruit. 

Tartufo - The famed dessert created by Tre Scalini in the Piazza Navona of Rome. This Roman confection is a ball of luscious dark chocolate ice cream which has chunks of an even richer chocolate scattered throughout and offers a cherry in its heart.  When in Rome, do as the Romans do - eat tartufo.  Then have it again.

Trifle. This is an English dish of great popularity in Rome.

Fruits, Fruits and more fruits.  This is the preferred Roman dessert.

Pangiallo.   This is a traditional Christmas cake that once used saffron to 'yellow' it.  It is not made with saffron today.  More commonly, today it contains hazelnuts and is iced with chocolate.



Please also read:

main page Cooking of Rome and Lazio (with recipes)   
the foods and ingredients of Rome  
the satyricon - ancient roman indulgences  
"the blessing of the house" - easter in rome  



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