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When I think about the Roman Cuisine, what instantly materializes, in front of my eyes is that old movie by Alberto Sordi "Un Americano a Roma" (An American in Rome). The main actor was, of course Alberto Sordi (as Nando Morriconi in the movie) playing an Italian obsessed by the American dream who regrets not being born in Kansas City as opposed to Rome. One night his mother made some spaghetti, he decides instead to have a US "classical" dinner like some sandwiches with mustard and jam. After the first bite his roman character comes to life again and succumbs to the dish of "maccheroni".
Then picks up the "cofana" (roman dialect name for a big serving dish or salad bowl and forks) the carbohydrate pronouncing the following mythical phrase: "Maccheroni you have provoked me and I'll destroy you!" And its within this phrase that we find the full synthesis which relates the Roman people to their food as an expression of their joy for life. From the "lucullian" banquets, organized by Lucullo (a very rich old roman times citizen) during the pompous times of the Roman Empire, to the plebeians tables who, with various animals leftovers, created tasty dishes which later became part of the Roman cuisine, the Romans, know as "popolo mangereccio" (people who are fond of eating), always enjoyed the pleasure of good cuisine. The Roman cuisine, which is mainly popular and "casareccia" (home made), kept its tradition throughout the centuries.
Essentially its based on dried pasta such as "Rigatoni", "Bucatini" (hollow spaghetti) and regular spaghetti are a good start for a meal. Among the more well known dishes are the "Bucatini alla Matriciana" which take their name from the town of Amatrice (in the province of the town of Rieti). Bucatini, a kind of spaghetti which resembles small straws, are dressed with tomato sauces with a lightly fried bacon, oil and hot pepper, served with a good sprinkle of grated roman pecorino cheese. "Spaghetti alla Carbonara" or simply known as "Carbonara", are spaghetti dressed with a mix of raw eggs, bacon jumped in a frying pan, pepper, parmesan and/or pecorino cheese. "Penne all' Arrabbiata" are so called because of its particularly spicy sauce due to the hot pepper.
Speaking about the non pasta first courses, it is typical to have "Gnocchi alla Romana", in which the semolina replaces the potatoes. As a tradition they are eaten on Thursdays and are placed in the oven in a baking pan with either butter and cheese.
More typical are the "Rigatoni with Pajata". Dressed with tomato sauce, oil, garlic, and young calf's intestines. Concerning second meat courses, lamb aside, usually cooked in the oven or fried at the "Scotta Dito" style (Scorched Finger Style), let us mention the "Coda alla Vaccinara", in which the main ingredient is the ox tail, the "Trippa alla Trasteverina" (tripe "Trasteverina" style, Trastevere is an area in downtown Rome) which is expected to be cooked in a clay pan, and the most popular "Saltimbocca alla Romana". Sauted slices of veal covered by a slice of "prosciutto" ham and a salvia leaf. Fish also holds an important place in the roman cuisine. Typical is the codfish, usually eaten on Fridays. Then mullets, sea crayfish, and prawns. "Carciofi alla Romana" (Artichokes Roman Style) is the king of the vegetables courses and are prepared by mixing the artichoke's stem with garlic, parsley, salt, pepper and oil.
Also famous are the "Puntarelle" a kind of salad served with oil, salt, vinegar and pieces of anchovy. Of course good wine is not missing. Just take a ride in the "Castelli Romani" (Roman Castles) area and you'll surely have an enthusiastic wine/gastronomic tour. Typical of this area are the "Fraschette". Old home style wine shops in which you can also enjoy a couple of glasses of the local wine directly from the barrel along with some home made bread better if toasted with oil, salt and garlic (the so called Bruschetta) or also served with local "Porchetta di Ariccia" (named after the town of origin) which is a small pig cleaned of its intestines and flavored with lard, salt, pepper, garlic and various aromatic herbs rigorously cooked over a slow open coal fire. The sweets and cakes are not missing either. The "Crostata with Ricotta" (Tart with Ricotta), the famous "Maritozzi" (cream puffs) and the "Ciambelle al Vino" (Doughnuts made with wine).
This is obviously just a short trip in world of Roman Cuisine but I'm sure that it was enough to make your mouth water. Therefore if one day you will have the luck to be in the area, don't miss an evening to a typical Roman tavern (Trattoria and/or Osteria) and together with the wine and the local cuisine you will surely find a friendly and cheerful atmosphere which will make your staying in Rome even more unforgettable.
By Rita Peters