Long time, no blog! School has been all-consuming, but even though I haven’t been writing, I’ve been eating. I promise to fill you in. Food in London continues to surprise me, and I will write more on my culinary adventures here soon enough. But for now, Rome has my heart (and pen).
Being in Rome gave me the same feeling as lying on the beach in the late afternoon hours, skin still tingling from the early morning sun. Rome enveloped me, wrapped me in a warm towel. And it fed me. If I could chose only one cuisine to eat for the rest of my life, it would hands-down be Italian.
It isn’t just about the pasta (oh, the pasta), or about the unpretentious commitment to cooking seasonal, fresh food, or even about the breathtaking and historically rich settings in which all this delicious food is being consumed.There is a food philosophy and culinary culture that permeates all reaches of Italian life, and the soul of that ethos is what inspires me to cook. And to eat.
TRATTORIA di ROMA
Regional cuisine throughout Italy varies considerably (and I love it all), but here I’ll focus predominantly on the glory that Roman food brings to the table. As Anthony Bourdain so aptly put it: “In France, the chef is the star. In Italy, the food is.” Right on.
There are many new players on the Roman culinary scene reconceptualizing classic dishes, and I have no doubt their food is inventive and tremendously tasty. What compels me, however, about Italian food is how sumptuously delicious it is in all its natural glory.
On this trip, I sought inter-generational, family-run Trattorias. The kind where the Nonna-I-never-had leaves thumbprints in the pasta dough—where the meal comes with a jug of red wine and is served on wooden tables that splinter your elbows if you’re not careful.
Our meal at Der Pallaro encompassed all of these qualities. No menu, no fuss, minimal tourists, and nonna herself—apron clad and sharp as a tack—wobbling between tables to greet her most loyal customers while her son sliced fresh prosciutto and grated parmesan at the front of the house.
The robust Trattoria tradition in Italy means that recipes aren’t written, they are taught with care, between family and friends. Therefore, food is absolutely integral to family life. I firmly believe that if people ate more family meals, we would be healthier, smarter, and more engaged human beings.
I can indulge in pasta talk for ages, but I can’t forget to mention the pizza. Rome is a major Italian metropolis, packed with hungry tourists looking for a quick bite. Pizza-by-the-slice outposts have sprung up on most street corners. As with all Italian food, the quality of the ingredients is what dictates the quality of the pizza. So, I simply wasn’t willing to eat a mediocre slice of pizza knowing the best of the best may be three doors down. 00100 Pizza is tucked away in a quiet corner of Testaccio and its pizza, trapazzini, and suppli selection blew the other shops out of the water.
The tomato sauce was just puckeringly fresh, and was scooped straight from a simmering pot—no doubt prepared hours prior, its sweetness and complexity of flavor developing over time. The initial crunch and subsequent tenderness of the freshly baked pizza and trapizzini crusts actually recalibrated my dough/crust standards .
Kosher salt, to taste
1 lb. pasta, preferably tagliatelle or spaghetti
3 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
2 tsp. freshly cracked black pepper, plus more
1 cup finely grated Pecorino Romano
3⁄4 cup finely grated Cacio de Roma
1 tbsp good quality Butter (I use the most spectacularly fresh and rich butter from my favorite London dairy outpost: Neal’s Dairy Yard)
Note: If you can’t find Cacio de Roma cheese, substitute Parmesano Reggiano instead. I promise it will taste good!
Bring a 6-qt. pot of salted water to a boil. Add pasta; cook until al dente, 8–10 minutes; reserve 1 cup pasta water and drain pasta. When the pasta has about 3-4 minutes left to cook, heat oil in a 12″ skillet over medium heat until shimmering. Add pepper; cook until fragrant, 1–2 minutes. Ladle 3⁄4 cup pasta water into skillet; bring to a boil. Using tongs, transfer pasta to skillet; spread it evenly. Sprinkle 3⁄4 cup each Pecorino Romano and Cacio de Roma over pasta; toss vigorously to combine until sauce is creamy and clings to the pasta without clumping, about 2 minutes, adding some pasta water if necessary. Melt in the butter until the pasta has a glistening sheen.
Transfer to 4 plates and sprinkle with remaining Pecorino and more pepper. Serve immediately. Enjoy!