International gastronomy: Food in Rome

Perhaps the most savoury of all Italian regional cuisines, and perhaps due to its central location, the food in Rome and the surrounding district of Lazio offers an incredible variety of dishes and ingredients. Classic southern Italian flavors such as garlic, black pepper, rosemary, and parsley are all present with an added predilection to mint.

Lazio is justly famed for making products from pork such as salted ham, centred around Lake Bracciano and in the province of Frosinone. And for more than 2,000 years, Lazio cheeses made from the milk of sheep and goats have claimed to be Italy’s best, notably “pecorino romano” and “ricotta” made from sheep’s milk, which is prepared inside wicker baskets.

However, the main attraction, especially for those of us who like “insalata caprese”, is around Terracina, Formia, and Gaeta where “mozzarella di bufala” is produced – all those other ones are just pale imitations! And the region also produces excellent vegetables, such as the “Romaine” or cos lettuce, peas, fava beans and “carciofi romaneschi”, round artichokes, cultivated in Cerveteri . Excellent olive oil comes from the Sabine hills and a good selection of fish from the Tyrrhenian Sea as well as from the region’s many lakes.

Roman cuisine has very old traditions and is based on simple cooking with inexpensive ingredients. Famous dishes include “Abbacchio” (a suckling lamb seasoned with fresh rosemary), “Spaghetti alla Carbonara” ( a bacon, egg and cheese sauced pasta), “Saltimbocca alla Romana” (marsala braised thin slices of veal topped with ham), and “Suppli al Telefono” (addictive deep fried rice balls filled with mozzarella guaranteed to boost your cholesterol count). Beans, as in all parts of the country, are important, they love their “fagioli” (they have a Bean festival in Sutri in September).

The best insalata caprese is made with mozzarella di bufala

Here’s a warning for vegetarians: the Romans have a particular liking for offal. You name it, they’ll eat it, especially around Testaccio. In keeping with this, Romans are a dab hand at “fritto misto” – mixed fried meats. “Porchetta di Ariccia” suckling pig, boned and roasted with a seasoning of rosemary, garlic, salt and pepper is sold sliced in every market place. “Abbacchio”, the youngest suckling lambs which have never eaten grass, is traditionally roasted (arrosto); but is also often prepared “alla cacciatora” (simmered in olive oil, vinegar, rosemary, and garlic), or stewed with a sauce of lemon and egg (“abbacchio brodettato”). Fish and snails are also popular. “Filleti di baccala” are deep-fried cod fillets, originally a Jewish speciality, that are now a Roman favourite.

But vegetarians, don’t despair! The Jewish ghetto in Rome has developed its own variation on Roman cooking and today produces the best deep-fried baby artichokes around (“carciofi alla giudea”). Interesting trivia coming up: it was the cooking in the Jewish ghetto that discovered the eggplant, a member of the nightshade family, was not poisonous. Think of that when you’re enjoying your “parmigiana di melanzana” in Naples (or everywhere now). And of course, Rome is where “Romaine” lettuce comes from…