Fine foods and wine
Roman culinary tradition is the sum of the cuisine of the region of Lazio, which gathered influences from Abruzzo and Umbria over the centuries.
The important influence of Jewish cuisine should also be taken into account, with one example being the famous carciofi all giudia (Judaea-style artichokes).
Roman cuisine consists essentially of popular dishes from rural traditions of farming or pastoral traditions.
These dishes tend to be simple and quick to prepare, but also very flavourful and nutritious.
The so-called “quinto quarto” – or the less valuable parts of cows and sheep or goats – are commonly used, including the offal, the tail and the head.
Trippe (tripe), coda alla vaccinara (tail), the pajata (suckling calf intestine) and the coratella (lamb offal), but even the brain and the animelle (calf lymph nodes) are ingredients in the most traditional Roman cuisine linked to rural living.
Shepherds were used to eating alone, far from home, with bread that soon hardened. This custom gave rise to bruschetta, a traditional antipasto that in its simplest form consists of a slice of old bread toasted over hot coals, rubbed with a clove of garlic, and seasoned with a drizzle of olive oil to soften it, and panzanella, or pieces of dry bread softened in water, squeezed and seasoned with oil, a bit of vinegar, salt and basil.
Both bruschetta and panzanella can be found in many varieties and enriched with other ingredients, like tomato, which at one time was not so readily available.
Another traditional food of shepherds was cacio, the Pecorino cheese that for its flavour and aging can be stored for a long time.
For centuries, Pecorino Romano was the cheese most commonly used to season Roman dishes, and even today Roman cuisine stands out for this flavour, relegating Parmigiano Reggiano, the ultimate Italian cheese, to second place.
On the first day of May, for the traditional “picnic”, Pecorino is eaten together with the first broad beans of the season, simply peeled and eaten raw with a bit of olive oil and spring onions.
Pasta is another staple of Roman cuisine, especially forms like rigatoni, bucatini, and penne.
These are all forms of pasta that absorb sauce and flavours. The most traditional sauces are carbonara (fresh eggs, lard from a pig’s cheek, and pecorino cheese), amatriciana (lard from a pig’s cheek, tomato, basil, garlic, and pecorino), arrabbiata (a simpler version of amatriciana, but particularly spicy), gricia (a sort of amatriciana but with no tomatoes), and the simple but very tasty cacio e pepe (cacio cheese and pepper).
Another classic Roman dish, pajata, is increasingly difficult to find, due to European regulations on the slaughtering of cows that have drastically reduced the supply of calf intestines. Some trattorias prepare this dish with lamb intestines.
Lamb is another staple of Roman cuisine. Especially suckling lamb, here called abbacchio, is served at important meals and cooked in wide variety of ways.
Another famous dish is saltimbocca alla romana (rolls of beef, ham, and sage), the spuntature di maiale (spare ribs), chicken with peppers, and the renowned porchetta di Ariccia (roast suckling pig).
Fish dishes include baccalà, which is traditionally fried or stewed, while Lake Bolsena provides pike. Along the Roman coast obviously one finds classic Mediterranean seafood.
Besides carciofi alla giudìa (artichokes), puntarelle con le alici (chicory and anchovy salad), and fagioli con le cotiche (beans with pork rind), vegetables are rarely considered more than a side dish and are often fried.
In fact, fried food is a favourite in Roman cuisine: from dried salt-cured cod filet to lamb’s brain, from courgette flowers to broccoli, the countless fried food shops around Rome will spoil diners for choice.
Specialities of Roman fried foods are supplì, a sort of croquette of rice that is breaded and fried, often filled with meat sauce and mozzarella.
The supplì is similar to the Sicilian arancino, which is round. Try not to forget this fundamental difference: if you ask a Roman for “un arancino”, he may be somewhat offended.
Likewise, in Rome there are many Sicilian rosticcerie (roasted food shops) where it is better not to order a supplì.
To satisfy your sweet tooth, Rome boasts numerous gelato and pastry shops of excellent quality.
The maritozzi, cream puffs with raisins and pine nuts filled with cream are perhaps the most traditional sweets usually eaten every day at breakfast.
Then there are traditional holiday sweets: at Christmas pangiallo and pandolce are sort of sweet breads, one of which is filled with ricotta and wild cherry jam, while the other is filled with dried fruit, candied fruit, and chocolate.
Mardi Gras favourites include castagnole and frappe, very simple fried sweets, one crunchy and the other soft.