To celebrate Rome’s birthday, Lisa Jackson of Eat Drink Travel Magazine explores some of the city’s most famous dishes and ingredients.
April 21st marks Natale di Roma, an annual birthday bash for Rome, and this year, the Eternal City turns 2770 years old. Instead of cake, how about celebrating with some quintessential Roman fare? After all, this ancient city has developed a unique (and delicious!) food culture over the last two millennia.
“For over 2,000 years, it’s been a blend of cultures in Rome,” says Massimo Capra, an Italian-Canadian celebrity chef and Chopped Canada judge. “Rome was an epicentre – everything was grown around Rome, and then brought into Rome. So they’ve had over 2,000 years of building recipes and making them perfect.”
Whether you’re in Rome or your home kitchen, eating like a Roman is a cinch – with the right recipes and ingredients handy. Here are a few essential products and recipes to kick-start the festivities.
Pecorino Romano PDO
Sharp, salty and smoky when aged, this cheese dates back to ancient Rome when soldiers were rationed 27 grams per day. In fact, Pecorino cheese was so celebrated that famous philosophers, such as Virgil and Hippocrates, even wrote about it. Today, it’s a “go-to” ingredient for many Roman recipes, especially pastas like Pasta alla Carbonara.
“The cheese of choice is Pecorino Romano PDO,” Chef Capra agrees.
The cheese is solely produced in the regions of Lazio (where Rome is located), Sardinia and the province of Grosseto in Tuscany. Get cooking with this flavourful recipe for Cacio e Pepe (pasta with cheese and pepper) from Chef James Santon – but check your cheese for Italian Protected Designation of Origin (P.D.O.) certification on the package.
Bacon lovers will die and go to heaven biting into Italian guanciale (cured pork jowl). Salty and peppery, the delicate meat is and seasoned with spices, producing a silkier texture than its sibling, pancetta. Like Pecorino Romano PDO, guanciale plays a starring role in Roman pastas, but also pairs perfectly with fish or sautéed vegetables.
However, not all salumi are created equal. Be sure to look for authentic guanciale that is made in Italy.
Craving a thousand-year old Roman classic? Dig your fork into heaping plate of Bucatini all’Amatriciana – a golden oldie in Rome, distinct for its long, hollow noodles dashed in meaty guanciale and tangy tomato sauce.
A staple on modern Roman menus, this legendary dish originates from Amatrice, a town roughly 150 kilometres outside of Rome. During long journeys, shepherds cooked cheese and pork on an iron pan, while twisting pasta around wire, forming the pasta’s tubular shape. Over the centuries, the recipe began trending in Rome – and for “pasta purists” today, cooking this tasty dish like a Roman is serious business.
“You must use only guanciale from Amatrice, Pecorino, tomatoes from San Marzano, white wine, black pepper and chili,” says Elisabetta Piseddu, food expert with Rome’s Urban Adventures team. “Last year, an Italian chef and TV celebrity added garlic to his Amatriciana. It was a big scandal! People from Amatrice accused him of a lapse in judgment. He had to apologize!”
Avoid foodie uproar by making Bucatini all’Amatriciana the classic Roman way, using only authentic Italian ingredients.