Showing posts with label cacio e pepe. Show all posts
Showing posts with label cacio e pepe. Show all posts

Monday, January 21, 2013

What Should I Eat When I Visit Rome?

More than half of Latium’s (one of twenty regions that makes up Italy) five-and-a-half million people live in the capital city of Rome where culinary trends are created and where eating habits seem to revolve around days or events of the week. If it’s Tuesday, for instance, polpette, those light-as-a-feather meatballs are the go-to dish. While on Thursday gnocchi, tiny dumplings tossed in grated parmigiano cheese are sure to be il piatto del giorno (the special of the day) at many trattorie. But on Saturday, the aroma of trippa alla romana (tripe simmered in tomato sauce) catches everyone’s attention.

The region of Latium prides itself on its vegetables, too. The countryside just surrounding the Eternal City is mostly volcanic land, and the soil, rich in minerals and nutrients, enhances the appearance and taste of everything that grows. Though fields of peas, beans, celery, and lettuce blanket the nearby Alban Hills, the artichoke (carciofo) is the most popular with Romans. Served deep fried or “Jewish style” (alla giudia) or braised with garlic and then anointed in olive oil (alla romana), they’re always delicious and inexpensive.

Typical trattoria in Rome.
And what about pasta? Yes, of course! Romans take their pasta seriously. There are several specialties that spotlight this ubiquitous staple that every visitor must-try including: amatriciana (tossed with onions, guanciale or pork cheek but with a taste similar to smoked bacon, tomatoes, and white wine), carbonara (a rich, bacon-like cream sauce), cacio e pepe (a simple pairing of grated cheese and freshly-cracked pepper), and gricia (dressed with guanciale, pecorino cheese and pepper). Together these four dishes are the bedrock of a Roman’s diet.

“But where’s the beef?” you may ask. It’s here alright but just not in the form of thick rib-eye steaks. Instead, Romans are known for their slowly braised beef dishes such as coda alla vaccinara or oxtail stew, and other lesser-cuts of meats such as the ever-popular trippa alla romana, or tripe braised in tomato sauce. Lamb (agnello/ abbacchio) is also a favorite and comes roasted, al forno, or small, grilled chops, abbacchio a scottadito. Saltimbocca alla romana, veal scaloppini topped with a thin slice of prosciutto and sage leaves, is a must-try as well.

And although pizza is a Neapolitan specialty, don’t discount the pie in Rome. A thin, crisp crust topped with a variety of fresh ingredients and quickly baked in a wood-burning oven will dazzle your taste buds. It’s true heaven on a plate. Buy it by the slice, “al taglio,” at a take-out stand or order a small, plate-size pie for yourself at one of many fantastic pizzerias throughout the city.

Rome is the best city to start an Italian holiday. The friendly, casual nature of Romans makes dining and touring a delight. In summer, trattoria owners pull tables from hot, stuffy dining rooms out to the sidewalks. People parade by and seek out old friends. If none can be found, they’ll make new ones from the diners enjoying the balmy evening and home-style meal.

Excerpted from the recently-released e-book, Chow Italy: Eat Well, Spend Less (Rome 2013).  

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Rome's Favorite Pasta Dishes

Romans take their pasta very seriously. Sure, they like a good risotto ever now and then but pasta makes up the foundation of their daily diet. Furthermore, Romans have their favorite pasta recipes, regional dishes that they proudly call their own.

If you're headed to the Eternal City, here's a primer on the Fab Four, a handful of quintessential Roman pastas (or primi piatti) that you'll find on nearly every trattoria or osteria menu. Try them all--often--and you'll still never have the same taste sensation twice.

Cacio e Pepe: 

Literally translated, cacio e pepe means "cheese and pepper." And for good reason as the recipe calls for pasta, grated pecorino-romano cheese (never parmigiano-reggiano) and freshly cracked pepper. That's it. That's the recipe. But when this simple pairing is done well, it's sublime. Prepared by the wrong hands or worse, using substitutions (or--gasp--adding an off-the-cuff addition like garlic) and you might as well order pizza instead.


The least know of the four but certainly not any less delicious, pasta alla gricia is also a simple recipe. Yet it's the combination of the right ingredients that make all the difference. First up is lightly pan-fried guanciale, a type of Italian bacon made from the pig's cheek or jowl. Not to be confused with pancetta, guanciale has a stronger, more intense pork flavor yet a more subtle texure. Gricia also calls for pecorino-romano (again, never parmigiano), a bit of the starchy pasta water to bind it all together, giving it a "saucy" finish, and it's ready!

Bucatini all'Amatriciana:

Traditionally made with bucatini (a thick spaghetti with a hollow center), amatriciana is named for the town where it originated--Amatrice--an agricultural village northeast of Rome. Like gricia, amatriciana is made with guanciale and freshly grated pecorino cheese but amatriciana adds a bit of tomato to the dish for a more rounded, robust character. Next to carbonara listed below, amatriciana is one of the most well known and beloved dishes in Italy.

Spaghetti alla Carbonara: silky and sublime!

Spaghetti alla Carbonara:

When most of us think of Rome, we think of the Coliseum, St. Peter's basilica, and of course, carbonara. But did you know that the real-deal is simply made with eggs, guanciale or pancetta, and pecorino? That's right--there's no cream in it at all! Instead, the secret to its silky texture is in its preparation. It's the proper technique that can turn this dish into a masterpiece. You see, when the pasta is finished cooking, it's immediately tossed in a bowl where a few eggs, the cheese, and lightly-fried guanciale are patiently waiting. It's the heat from the pasta that "cooks" the eggs and delicately coats the strands of spaghetti.