The food of Rome

We ate very well in Rome.

Insalata caprese, not a Roman dish, is found everywhere as an appetizer or antipasto. When the ingredients are that fresh, you certainly don’t have to fuss about it. The tomatoes and mozzarella are served very simply with one or two basil leaves and they let you assemble the dish yourself. Oil and balsamic vinegar are served on the side, but the cheese is so fresh and the tomatoes always so ripe and flavorful that extras are usually unnecessary. We did not even need salt or pepper. It was simply that good. The ingredients of a caprese salad are often found between two slices of foccacia and eaten as a sandwich.

Again, found everywhere was prosciutto and melone, which is so refreshing when it got too hot. I always thought, before going to Italy, that melon and prosciutto was a North American tradition and I was quite surprised to find it so universally over there. For the first time, I really understood why this combination was such a winner and why it made so much sense: I think I had never really tasted a melon before going to Italy. I now know what a melon should taste like. Why are our melons so watered down over here?

Bruschetta (bruss-ket-ta), is a grilled slice of bread rubbed with a garlic clove then topped with tomatoes, capers and olive oil. They get very inventive in Rome, using toppings such as tuna and capers, tomatoes and lardo, black olives and truffles. I have seen bruschetta with chicken liver pâté, white beans and garlic and fresh artichokes with herbs. What a great way to start a meal!

Rome is well renowned for suppli al telefono, a small fried ball of tomato-flavored rice stuffed with mozzarella cheese. The name comes from the strings of mozzarella, when you split it in half, that look like telephone wires. Maybe this was true at some point; we found that the telephone wires fell short this time around. Arancini, (little oranges) are also balls of rice, usually bigger than their cousin the suppli, take their origin in southern Italy and are usually filled with meat sauce and peas.

First courses, or primi piatti, include pasta dishes, risottos and soups. You should know that, if you decide to visit Italy in the summertime, you will not be able to sample any soups over there. They just don’t exist in the summer. The pappa al pomodoro I wanted in Florence and the pasta e fagioli I wanted in Venice are still a fragment of my imagination.

They compensate by doing their pasta very well, though. Do I have a favorite pasta dish? I think I love them all. I was very pleased to discover that my recipe for pasta all’Amatriciana was right on the money. We have had Amatriciana sauces that simply tasted like simple tomato sauces and I suspect they did not cook it long enough for the flavors to develop. Like I mentioned in my post, Romans use short pasta with this sauce, from bombolotti to penne, but we have not seen any bucatini on a Roman menu.

Pasta alla Gricia is a simple pasta dish made with guanciale, Pecorino Romano and parsley. So simple, yet so delicious.

Fettucine Alfredo is another Roman classic, made with a lot of butter and Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese. It has nothing to do with Alfredo sauces you can buy on the market. It was invented in Rome by Alfredo Di Lelio, at his first restaurant Alfredo on the Via della Scrofa in Rome in 1914.

Cacio e pepe, probably the most simple pasta dish I have had, made with Pecorino and black pepper with a hint of olive oil and/or butter. Simply divine.

The meat sauce in Rome, or ragù, frequently includes a more intense tomato base than its Bolognese cousin and often includes chicken livers. Meat sauces in Rome are also frequently tossed over Fettucine, not spaghetti like in the rest of the country. We had a great Fettucine alla Romana at Hosteria Romanesca in Piazza Campo dei Fiori.

Spaghetti alla carbonara is a classic of Roman cuisine. Simply made with eggs, parmesan, Romano, guanciale and black pepper. It does not contain any cream. I have always added parsley to my carbonara and I was surprised to see that parsley is not used in a carbonara in Italy. I think it adds a touch of lightness to this very luscious dish.

The most famous secondo piatto or main dish would certainly be Saltimbocca alla Romana, sautéed veal slices topped with prosciutto and sage in a white wine sauce. In older days, the sauce was made with Marsala, but this tradition was lost. Saltimbocca means ”jump in the mouth”, implying that this is so delicious that it prompts you to pop another piece of it in without hesitating for an instant. And they are right.

Meatballs in tomato sauce, served with soft polenta, were on every menu in Rome. Tender little balls of beef in a savory sauce were served as a main dish, not tossed with pasta.

Other famous Roman entrées include baccalà in Agrodolce, a sweet and sour salt cod, slowly stewed with raisins, sugar and vinegar. Trippa alla Romana, braised tripe in a tomato sauce with ham, garlic and parsley was on the menu and that is where it stayed. I am sure it is delicious.

You can find pizza in Rome on every street corner. The dough is very thin and soft, the pizzas are oval, not round and the toppings are varied: the Margarita pizza is made with tomato sauce (not fresh tomatoes as I had imagined) and cheese. I have not seen basil on their Margarita pizza. The potato pizza with a hint of rosemary was quite interesting. All delicious and perfect for a light lunch.

We rented an apartment in Rome and the owner was very proud to inform us that we were less than a block away from the best gelato in Rome, at Gelateria dei Gracchi. On the way to and from the apartment, I knew we were in for a fantastic treat! Grape, melon, strawberry, chocolate, pine nut, pistachio were only some of the flavors they had. Oh my!

Oh, and the wine, that fabulous 4 Euro wine at the supermarket helped ease all this down.

We will certainly be back, Rome. That coin we left in the Trevi fountain will take care of that.

4 replies »

    We have the pleasure to inform you about the history of our grandfather Alfredo Di Lelio.
    Alfredo di Lelio opened the restaurant “Alfredo” in Rome nel 1914, after leaving his first restaurant run by his mother Angelina Rose Square (Piazza disappeared in 1910 following the construction of the Galleria Colonna / Sordi). In this local fame spread, first to Rome and then in the world of “fettuccine all’Alfredo”. In 1943, during the war, Di Lelio gave the local to his collaborators.
    In 1950 Alfredo Di Lelio decided to reopen with his son Armando (Alfredo II) his restaurant in Piazza Augusto Imperatore n.30, “Il Vero Alfredo”, which is now managed by his nephews Alfredo (same name of grandfather) and Ines (the same name of his grandmother, wife of Alfredo Di Lelio, who were dedicated to the noodles).
    In conclusion, the local Piazza Augusto Imperatore is following the family tradition of Alfredo Di Lelio and his notes noodles (see also the site of “Il Vero Alfredo”
    Our restaurant “Il Vero Alfredo” is present in the Register of “Historical shops of excellence” of Roma Capitale.
    We must clarify that other restaurants in Rome and in Italy do not belong to the family tradition of “Il Vero Alfredo”.
    Best regards
    Alfredo e Ines Di Lelio


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