Guanciale. Guanciale is a form of salt pork made from the pig's jowl. In the United States, recipes often substitute pancetta, even bacon, for the very hard to get guanciale which is considerably fattier and often sprinkled with pepper. Guanciale has become quite popular with adventurous chefs, notably Mario Batali who consistently searches for authenticity.
Snails - (lumache) Snails were so popular in ancient Rome that they were raised in special gardens to fatten them. Today snails are an integral part of the Feast of St. John (June 24).
Mortadella - Mortadella is made in many areas of Italy, especially in the northern regions, primarily in Emilia-Romagna, but Amatrice specializes in their own version.
Peas (Piselli) - "The sweetest peas in the world," declared the pioneering British cookbook author, Elizabeth David. The Romans agree, though the Venetians argue with this statement. The Romans are never wasteful, and do not shell peas to use only the sweet seeds within, but save the pods to make a soup.
Pork (Porchetta) - In the Campagna Romana, roast whole baby pork is a popular treat. Spit-roasted pork is also typical in the regions of Umbria and the Marches.
Puntarelle - Puntarelle is a variety of chicory. Its leaves
resemble the notched leaves of dandelion while its shoots are cut and put into cold water where they curl. They are served with an anchovy and garlic sauce. Anyone who has eaten puntarelle will dream of eating them again. A Roman specialty.
Strawberries - The vendor in the campo dei fiori who sang "Fragole della campagna," was referring joyfully to strawberries from Lake Nemi which are reputed to be the best.
Strutto - Strutto is lard. It shocks those who associate Italy only with olive oil to learn of the use of lard in early Roman cooking. Many families had pigs in Rome's pastoral days, and true to their practical natures, the Romans wasted no part of the pig. Strutto was valued for its practical use as well as its taste.
Walnuts - The ancient Romans considered walnuts to be food for the gods, though Pliny warns that the trees and leaves "give out a poison that affects the brain.: The same Pliny goes on to say that "Very old walnuts cure gangrene, carbuncles and bruises. The bark of walnut-trees cures ringworm and dysentery. The pounded leaves mixed with vinegar cure earache." In ancient Rome, walnuts were called "Juglans regia" in honor of Jupiter
Zucchini - Roman zucchini have an advantage over other varieties of zucchini as they are a little drier. They are wonderful for cooking. Romans waste nothing - the flower is cooked as well.
Rome is the land of sheep and it is this sheep's milk that gives greatness to the Roman cheeses. They are produced all over Lazio with variations from place to place, but what is significant is that sheep's milk has double the amount of fat that is in either goat's milk or cow's milk. It is also doubled in protein, lactose and minerals. Buffalo milk is also very high in fat, though not as rich in other properties. Only reindeer milk surpasses these two sources.
There are two basic types of cheese in Rome - formaggi which are aged cheeses (aged pecorino is an example) and latticing which are soft. In the latter category we find ricotta romana and mozzarella di bufalo, a mozzarella made from the milk of water buffalos. This is shaped into balls or is braided and must be eaten immediately.
Caciotta - This is a somewhat generic term used for a wide variety of simple cheeses. In Rome sheep milk prevails. It is a soft, mild cheese.
Pecorino Romano - The most famous cheese of Rome, this is a sheep's milk cheese, aged about eight to nine months to make it a grating cheese. It has a sharper flavor than its most famous relative Parmigiano, and in many dishes there is no substitute for the extra zing it gives a dish. The young pecorino is rarely sold in the US, but is used in Italy in certain baking dishes. Again, its sharpness is not reproduced by substituting parmigiano.
Mozzarella di bufala - This is exactly what its name implies, a sublime mozzarella cheese made from the milk of water buffalo. Generally, it is shaped into balls, possibly braided or made into the tiny bocconcini that have become familiar to gourmets. It is best eaten on native soil as refrigeration affects the taste and shipping diminishes its taste. Shipping also raises the price dramatically. Better to buy a plane ticket and eat it on site.
Provola - This is not provolone which is an aged cheese. Provola is aged for under eight days and is a semi soft cheese. It was once made only from the water buffalo's milk, but today is mixed with cow's milk.
Scamorza - This is a soft, yet firm cheese. Again the sheep milk is used, but for Scamorza it is mixed with cow's milk. It is often a substitute for meat.
Ricotta Romana. - Ricotta is made all over Italy, but the Roman ricotta is hailed as the best and the sweetest. The area around Rieti produces a ricotta cheese made of goat's cheese which is said to be even sweeter. When dried, ricotta is often salted to produce ricotta salata. This form of the cheese can be eaten in slices and is just firm enough to be grated. The simplest of desserts can be made by serving a bowl of ricotta to each diner. Put on the table a bowl of sugar and a small amount of very finely ground coffee. Each person sprinkles sugar and coffee into their ricotta to taste.