The national capital of Italy, Rome, is a sophisticated city full of international political emissaries and wealthy travelers. These visitors naturally expect some of Italy’s best food.
Dinner often begins with a lavish antipasti that features fresh seafood, preserved meats, ripe produce, baked goods and fragrant olives and olive oils. Brothy soups are offered, though rarely are they plain. Pasta e ceci is a rosemary and garlic scented broth with pasta and chickpeas. Hot beef broth is flavored with nutmeg and has ragged strips of egg stirred throughout before garnishing with freshly grated Parmesan cheese. Stewed white beans, flavored with prosciutto, pork rind, garlic, onions and rosemary are also popular.
Roman cooking uses fresh produce abundantly. Artichokes may be served raw or fried, either with garlic and mint or deep fried according to the traditions of the Jewish community. Local rocket (arugula) is prized for fresh salads. Puntarella, or endive, is seasoned with anchovies and garlic before serving cold. Another popular vegetable dish is pomodori ripieni, tomatoes that are stuffed with rice or potatoes, seasoned with garlic and basil and baked.
Recipes may use fresh or dried pasta in many different shapes. Fresh pasta is eaten in lasagna or Rome’s famous, Fettuccine al Burro. This dish takes strips of pasta egg dough and gently coats them in butter. Cream and freshly grated Parmesan cheese are then added. Roman recipes for pasta often call for tubes, as this shape is more effective for holding onto hearty sauces. Bucatini all’amatriciana tosses thin tubed spaghetti with a spicy pork sauce and grated Pecorino cheese, sometimes garlic or tomatoes are added for flavor. Penne all’arrabbiata is topped with a tomato sauce seasoned with chili peppers and garlic. Chunky tubes are served with a filling meat sauce that contains beef intestine and is flavored with herbs, garlic and salt pork to make rigatoni con la pajata. Simple spaghetti is dressed with extra virgin olive oil that has been heated with garlic, parsley and chili peppers for spaghetti all ‘aglio olio e peperoncino.
Other starchy dishes are made from wheat, potatoes, rice and polenta. Potato or semolina gnocchi dumplings are popular foods. Suppli al telefono are hand held balls of rice stuffed with mozzarella cheese and sometimes flavored with liver, veal or anchovies. When they are eaten, the cheese is said to stretch out in strings resembling telephone wires.
Some of Rome’s best dishes are the sautéed, braised, boiled or roasted vegetables that are served with most meals. Called contorni, these flavorful dishes round out meat and fish main courses. They are also served as antipasti, before meals. Trattorie all over town serve braised cardoons (a cousin of the artichoke) with mixed local greens. Classic contorni are common in home cooks’ repertoires as well, though many Romans like to purchase them by weight at a tavole calde (literally “hot table” shops).
Hopefully this dinner menu will make you feel like you are in Rome.
Beet and Onion Salad
Insalata di barbabietole e cipolle
Usually served as an antipasto in Rome. A variation of the salad can be made by slicing the beets thin and marinating them for 2 hours with 10 fresh basil leaves, salt and vinegar. Mix with sliced fennel and olive oil.
- 2 lbs beets with stems and leaves
- 1 medium white onion
- Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 1/4-cup extra virgin olive oil, or more to taste
- 2 tablespoons wine vinegar, or more to taste
Leave about 2 inches of stem on the beets. Wash, then place the beets in cold water to cover, bring to a boil and gently boil for about 1 hour, or until tender. Or cook in a pressure cooker with cold water to cover for 10 minutes or in a 325°F oven until tender, 1 to 2 hours, according to size. Test with a fork to be sure they are cooked through.
Cool and slip off the skins. Slice the beets and onion thinly and place them in a salad bowl. Sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste and dress with the oil and vinegar.
NOTE: This can be prepared several hours in advance.
Pasta e Ceci (Pasta with Chickpeas)
- 1 small onion, peeled and finely chopped
- 1 stalk of celery, trimmed and finely chopped
- 1 clove of garlic, peeled and finely chopped
- Extra virgin olive oil
- A sprig of fresh rosemary, finely chopped
- 2 – 14-oz. cans of chickpeas
- 2 1/4 cups of chicken stock
- 3 1/2 oz. ditalini or other small Italian “soup” pasta
- Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
- Fresh basil or parsley leaves for garnish
Place the finely chopped onion, celery, rosemary and garlic into a saucepan with a little extra virgin olive oil and cook as gently as possible, with the lid on, for about 15-20 minutes, until all the vegetables are soft. Do not brown.
Drain the chickpeas well, rinse them in cold water and add them to the pan with the chicken stock. Cook gently for half an hour and then, using a slotted spoon, remove half the chickpeas to a bowl.
Puree the soup remaining in the pan using a handheld immersion blender. If you don’t have one, you can use a food processor instead, then pour it back into the pan. Add the reserved whole chickpeas and the pasta, season the soup with salt and pepper and simmer gently until the chickpeas are tender and the pasta is cooked.
Serve drizzled with good-quality extra virgin olive oil and garnish with basil or parsley.
Fennel and Garlic Crusted Pork Roast
- 1 small head fennel with 2 inches of fronds attached, coarsely chopped
- 1/2 cup coarsely chopped onion
- 6 cloves garlic, peeled and sliced
- 2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh thyme
- 2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh rosemary
- 2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh sage
- 2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh oregano
- 2 teaspoons fennel seeds
- 1 1⁄2 teaspoon coarsely ground white pepper
- One 4 1/2-lb. pork rib roast, tied with kitchen twine
- Coarse salt to taste
In a food processor fitted with the metal blade, combine the fennel and fennel fronds, onion and garlic. Process to a paste. Add the thyme, rosemary, sage, oregano, fennel seeds and pepper and pulse to combine.
With a small, sharp knife, make shallow crosshatch cuts in the skin of the pork roast. Season it all over with salt, rubbing it in well. Rub the fennel–garlic paste over the roast to cover it with a layer about 1⁄4” thick. Cover and refrigerate for at least 1 hour and up to 8 hours.
About 20 minutes before cooking, remove the roast from the refrigerator and let it sit at room temperature.
Preheat the oven to 500° F. Transfer the pork to a roasting pan. Roast the pork for 15 minutes, then reduce the oven temperature to 325°F. Continue roasting the pork for 35-40 minutes longer or until an instant-read thermometer inserted in the thickest part of the meat registers 155°. Remove the roast from the oven and cover it loosely with foil. Let it rest for 15 minutes before removing the butcher twine and slicing it into thick chops.
Broccoli Strascinati (Broccoli with Garlic and Hot Pepper)
This Roman dish, which pairs beautifully with pork, can be made with regular broccoli or broccoli rabe.
- 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 bunch broccoli (about 1 lb.), stemmed and cut into florets
- 3 cloves garlic, smashed
- 1/2 teaspoon crushed red chile flakes
- Kosher salt, to taste
Heat oil in a 12″ skillet over medium-high heat. Add broccoli; cook, turning occasionally, until lightly browned, 6–8 minutes. Sprinkle in 2 tablespoons water; add garlic; cook until golden, 2–3 minutes. Add chili; cook 2 minutes. Season with salt.
Stewed Bell Peppers (Peperonata)
- 1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
- 4 assorted red, yellow and orange bell peppers, cored, seeded and cut into ¼” strips
- 4 cloves garlic, thinly sliced crosswise
- 1/2 medium white onion, thinly sliced
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
- 3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
- 1/2 cup flat leaf parsley (chopped)
Heat oil in a 4-qt. saucepan over medium-high heat. Add peppers, garlic, onions and ½ cup water. Season with salt and pepper. Cook, partially covered, stirring occasionally, until the peppers are soft, about 1 hour. Stir in vinegar and transfer to a serving bowl. Garnish with parsley.
- 4 Granny Smith or other good cooking apples
- 1/4 cup sugar
- 2 sticks unsalted butter or pareve margarine
- 2 large egg yolks
- 1 ½ cups unbleached all-purpose flour
- Pinch of salt
- 1/2 cup apricot preserves
- 1/4 cup sliced almonds
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F and grease a 10-inch fluted tart pan with a removable bottom.
Peel, core and slice the apples into crescents about a fourth to an eighth of an inch thick. You should have about 24 pieces.
Place the sugar, butter, egg yolks, flour and salt in a large bowl and press everything together with your fingers or combine the ingredients in a food processor fitted with a metal blade and process until the dough forms a ball. Either way, do not overwork the dough.
Take the ball of dough in your hands and flatten it in the center of the tart pan. Working with your fingers, spread the dough evenly around the pan and up the sides. The dough should be about 1/2 inch thick on the sides. Press the dough into the flutes and make sure the dough is spread evenly across the bottom of the pan.
Starting on the outside and working toward the center, lay the apple slices in an overlapping, concentric circle.
Place the apricot preserves in a saucepan and heat on low until liquefied. Using a pastry brush, glaze the apples and the visible crust. Sprinkle the almonds evenly over the top.
Place the tart pan on a cookie sheet and bake in the middle of the oven for 15 minutes. Reduce the oven to 350 degrees F and continue cooking until the crust is deep golden brown, about 45 minutes. Cool to room temperature, unmold, and place on a platter or serving dish.
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