Italy Today

The secrets of Lazio's cuisine

Bruschetta, bucatini all'amatriciana, spaghetti alla carbonara, abbacchio and porchetta among its signature dishes

The secrets of Lazio's cuisine

Claudia Astarita

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If we think of Roman cookery, what comes to mind is an image of the people. More than elsewhere, in Rome and Lazio, food brings with it the aromas and noises of the taverns, recipes using simple ingredients, and robust strong flavours. These "humble" origins created a tradition based on the principle of using whatever was available, from the cheapest cuts of meat to offal, in simple recipes without frills. Together with this is an extraordinary range of products from the market garden and countryside which give the traditional dishes of Lazio unequalled colour and aroma. Today "popular" cookery is experiencing a revival, paradoxically becoming refined in the process, despite its country roots and reputation for hearty food.

The most famous antipasto in Rome is bruschetta, a slice of toasted bread rubbed with garlic and doused with olive oil. As is well known, the Romans are passionate about pasta, which is the classic way to start any Italian meal. The best known regional recipe is bucatini all'amatriciana, originally from the town of Amatrice, in the province of Rieti. Bucatini, a type of thick hollow spaghetti, is served with a sauce of bacon, tomatoes, chilli and white wine, and then covered with grated pecorino romano cheese.

Another famous dish is gnocchi alla romana, which traditions dictates should be eaten on Thursdays, although the explanation for this is unknown. The gnocchi are made of semolina, milk and eggs and then sliced: the discs thus obtained are arranged in layers in a dish with grated cheese and butter and then browned in the oven.

Spaghetti alla carbonara is the third classic: spaghetti is served in a sauce of raw eggs, bacon, pepper and pecorino cheese. Lastly, there is a did that visitors should try at least once: rigatoni alla pajata, pasta tubes served in a sauce of veal intestines cooked with tomatoes, peppers, parsley, oil, garlic and white wine.

While the Romans love pasta, and have even dedicated a museum to it (the Museo Nazionale delle Paste Alimentari), there is no doubt that they positively adore meat, which here is tasty and strong-flavored, and often served with vegetables. Their favorite dish is abbacchio (sucking lamb), a preference which derives from the city's deep-rooted rural tradition. There are many different ways of cooking this, the most traditional of which is baked in the oven, but it can also be prepared "alla cacciatora", i.e. pan fried with garlic, rosemary, anchovies, chilli and white wine.

There is also a vast array of recipes for pork, although the pièce de resistance is without doubt porchetta, sucking pig flavored with wild fennel and stuffed with fatty bacon, liver and heart. Beef dishes include coda alla vaccinara, i.e. oxtail cut into sections, sometimes together with the animal's chaps, cooked in a rich ragù and flavored with celery, sultanas, pine nuts and dark chocolate. The list of popular Roman dishes based on meat is practically endless, but two others that spring to mind are trippa alla trasteverina, tripe stewed in an earthenware dish with lardons, and saltimbocca alla romana, slices of veal rolled up with a slice of ham and flavored with sage leaves, cooked in butter and served piping hot.

Lazio and Rome also have a great tradition of cooking fish, both of sea and lake varieties. Vegetables are also central to the region's food, and globe artichokes are particularly popular. The local variety is called "mammola". A famous recipe using artichokes is carciofi alla giudia, a dish whose Jewish origin is evident in its name. It is based on artichokes stewed in abundant olive oil. Lazio is also home to extremely tasty cheeses, such as pecorino and ricotta. Ricotta is also used in some of the region's traditional cakes such as the crostata di ricotta (ricotta tart), made with short crust pastry and a mix of ricotta, sugar, eggs, orange zest, sultanas, candied citron peel and cinnamon. There also frappe, which are special sweets for carnival time, fried in oil. Another favourite are maritozzi, sweet rolls containing raisins, pine nuts and candied peel.

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