When you think of Italian cuisine, naturally pizza and pasta come to mind but there is so much more as each classic dish raises the bar while remaining true to its roots. Whether it’s in a trattoria or the latest trendy restaurant, dining is a very serious pastime in Italy as fine wine and cuisine are meant to be savored and above all, experienced.
Roman cuisine often consists of casseroles, oven-roasted meats, grilled seafood, detailed sauces and of course, pasta and pizza. Here are a few authentic standards to try on your next visit to Rome:
Carciofo a.k.a Artichokes
Roman artichokes are one of the most requested items on the menu and best ordered during the months of February to May for freshness. Order them alla romana (stuffed with bread crumbs, garlic and mint) or alla giudea (Jewish-style and deep fried and sprinkled with lemon). You can also request your artichoke steamed or added to pasta or pizza. Perfezione!
A staple of any Roman meal, pasta comes in a variety of shapes (bucatini, fettuccine and gnocchi made of semolina are the most popular) and sauces (red sauce made from San Marzano tomatoes, white wine and pecorino cheese) and that will satisfy just about any taste bud. Made of raw egg yolk, guanciale (pig’s cheek), grated pecorino, black pepper and vermicelli or rigatoni, carbonara is as close to Italian comfort food as it gets. For lighter fare, order cacio e pepe, a classic cheese, pepper and pasta dish that is more sophisticated and simple than the standard mac and cheese (and perfect for vegetarians). Taglioni or spaghetti noodles, cracked black pepper and grated Pecorino cheese are the main ingredients.
From sardines and baccalà (cod served in a fried egg batter) to shrimp and sautéed clams and mussels, seafood is a standard staple due to the close proximity of fishing towns in Italy. Best served when fried or marinated and used to salt zucchini and pasta, anchovies are also synonymous with Italy and have been around since early Roman times.
If meat is more to your liking, saltimbocca is a popular choice. Made of thinly sliced veal with prosciutto and sage, the name means “jump in your mouth.” Grilled with olive oil, lamb chops a.k.a abacchio alla scottadito (“finger burning” in Italian) are another simple yet delicious traditional dish. And not for every taste level, tripe (cow stomach) is available on classic Roman menus and cooked in a flavorful tomato sauce seasoned with mint. If you can get past the name, ox-tail soup is wonderful comfort food. The tomato-based mixture consists of vegetables, pancetta, wine and a touch of cinnamon.
Suppli and Flori di Zucca
Fried rice croquettes stuffed with beef ragout and mozzarella are a must on your list of street-food delicacies. Known as suppli (comes from the French word for surprise), the delicious rice ball has a center of mozzarella, hence the surprise. Zucchini flowers stuffed with mozzarella and anchovies (flori di zucca) are both beautiful on the plate and addicting to the palate.
Last but not least, no trip to Italy would be complete without a slice or two of the country’s national food. When in Rome, do as the Romans do and order Pizza Romana. Thin and crispy, it is often prepared in a rectangular fashion as opposed to round which holds an array of toppings such as anchovies and capers. (Romans generally keep it simple and favor classic Margherita style or parsley, rosemary and tomato sauce). And while pizza originated in Naples, pizza purists also prefer Neopolitan pizza. Cooked in a 900-degree wood-fired oven, the soft dough filled with mozzarella and tomatoes makes it easy to fold when eating.
Buon appetito! Find all-inclusive voyages to Italy.