• Ildiko

When in Rome, EAT like the Romans do!

Having just blogged about ancient Rome, I feel in the mood to share some authentic Roman dishes. But unlike 80% of the meals consumed by most ancient Romans, consisting solely of grain, olives, and wine, I want to share with you some modern Roman culinary dishes which sound a lot tastier. While Rome is a must-visit for any foodie, in this blog I'll feature four pasta dishes that are AUTHENTICALLY Roman. I learned of them on my most recent trip to Rome during my food tour. I've mentioned previously that there are many advantages to taking food tours in cities that you visit. Not only do you get to sample several dishes at restaurants that prepare them exceptionally well, but you also learn a lot of culinary history which I find particularly interesting.


Basically, there are four classic Roman pasta dishes that can be found in nearly every trattoria within the city. All four are related, plus or minus, a few key ingredients. These four are cacio e pepe, spaghetti alla Carbonara, bucatini all'Amatriciana and pasta alla Gricia. Each is slightly different but all have some elements in common. One thing for sure is that ALL are made with just a few, fresh, quality ingredients, and ALL are delicious. I will tell you a little about each and then detail how to make the first two.


Cacio e pepe (literally means 'cheese and pepper'):

thick spaghetti or thin bucatini

pecorino romano cheese

black pepper


Spaghetti alla Carbonara

thick spaghetti or thin bucatini

pecorino romano cheese

black pepper

guanciale

eggs


Bucatini all'Amatriciana

thick spaghetti or thin bucatini

pecorino romano cheese

black pepper

guanciale

tomatoes


Pasta alla Gricia

thick spaghetti or thin bucatini

pecorino romano cheese

black pepper

guanciale


As you can see, they all have a similar base, but vary subtly with the addition or substitution of only one or two ingredients. One thing that you may notice is that NONE of these recipes include cream as an ingredient. The clingy sauce is actually made by the finely grated pecorino cheese as it mixes with the starch from the pasta water. If you want to make these dishes in an AUTHENTIC fashion then using cream is a No-No! Another important point is that the pasta should be high quality and either thick spaghetti or thin bucatini. Angel hair pasta and thin spaghetti don't hold up to the thick clingy sauce. Flat pasta like tagliatelle, linguine, and fettucini are not traditionally used for these Roman dishes. I checked at a few grocery stores in my hometown in Louisville, including an Italian specialty shop, and the thickest spaghetti I could find on the shelves was a spaghetti No.12. I felt it wasn't thick enough, so opted instead for a thin Bucatini No.11. 'Normal-sized' bucatini is typically No.14 or 15, so the No.11, which I selected, was thicker than the average spaghetti but thinner than the average bucatini. Who would have thought that choosing pasta could be so involved??


The next ingredient to discuss is pecorino romano cheese. This is a hard, salty Italian cheese made with sheep's milk. It is important to purchase a QUALITY block of pecorino romano and then to freshly grate it yourself on a fine paddle grater. You may come across other recipes for these dishes that incorporate some parmesan Reggiano mixed with the pecorino. Parmesan is a strong, robust Italian cheese as well, but made of cow's milk. While parmesan also imparts a nice flavor, the authentic preparations of these four dishes use EXCLUSIVELY pecorino romano.


Lastly, let's discuss guanciale. Guanciale is essentially the fatty pork cheek (jowls). It is cured with salt, garlic, sage, and rosemary. When cooked SLOWLY on LOW heat, the guanciale beautifully renders its fat without burning. I purchased guanciale in our Italian specialty store in a chunk, which I sliced myself at home. If guanciale is not available in your markets then a very acceptable alternative would be pancetta. Pancetta is also a cured meat but is pork belly. Bacon, also made of pork belly, however, is NOT recommended because bacon is smoked and not cured. Hence it will impart a different flavor to the dish.


Cacio e pepe

I listed the 3 ingredients above. Fill a large pot only about 8 cm high with water. (You want to use only a little water so that the starch from the pasta will be more concentrated in the water. It is the starch combined with the cheese that makes the creamy sauce!) Bring water to a boil. Add about 1 Tbsp of salt. Add a handful of the dried pasta. Estimate about 100 gms pasta/person. Note the cook time recommendations on the package. Usually, about 11 minutes for al dente. Let pasta cook in the boiling water for about 8 minutes, then remove pasta. The remaining 3 minutes it will finish cooking in the sauce. (Whatever the cook time recommendation is, subtract out 3 minutes).


Place a saute pan on a separate burner, on medium heat. Coarsely grind some fresh black pepper into the pan. Toast the black pepper and allow it to become fragrant. Do not let it burn. Add ~3/4 ladleful of pasta water to the black pepper in the saute pan and gently stir.


Grate "a lot" of pecorino romano cheese into a small bowl using a fine paddle grater. Estimate about 50 gms of pecorino/person. Pecorino makes the yummy cream sauce, so no need to skimp. Ladle ~1/2 ladleful of pasta water into the cheese. Mix with a rubber spatula to make a thick cream. Should be on the paste side. You do not want it runny.


After about 8 minutes the pasta should be ready to pull from the water with tongs. Place pasta into the saute pan with the pepper-water. Have burner on low. Add a little more pasta water with the ladle. Mix the pasta well in the pepper-water. Add enough water so the pasta does not look dry and it can continue to cook in the pepper-water for another 3 minutes. Continue mixing and you will notice the pasta softening. After 3 minutes, turn off the heat completely. Then add the thick cheese 'paste'. Continue to mix with tongs in the saute pan, or flip the pasta in the pan until the cheese melts throughout and fully coats the pasta with a nice creamy sauce. (May need to add a bit of pasta water again to help the cheese melt). The goal is to achieve a thick sauce clinging to your pasta.


Transfer to plate and garnish with some more freshly grated cheese and black pepper.


Download Cacio e pepe recipe
.pdf
Download PDF • 39KB



Spaghetti alla Carbonara

I listed the 5 ingredients above. Fill a large pot full of water. Bring to boil. Add a palmful of salt. Add a handful of dried pasta about 100 gms/person. Boil pasta in water according to the package recommendations for al dente.


Meanwhile, cut your chunk of guanciale into thin slices about 5-7 mm in thickness and then about 1 cm in width. Estimate about 50 gms guanciale/person. Place a saute pan on the burner on low-med heat. Add the guanciale to the pan while the pan is still cold. Cook the guanciale SLOWLY so that it doesn't burn and renders its fat. The fat will turn translucent. The meat will be a bit browned but the pieces should be tender, not overly crispy. Then turn the heat off.


Next, make the sauce. Use a medium glass mixing bowl. Plan 1 egg/person + 1 extra egg. Crack the whole eggs into the bowl. Beat well with a fork.


Grate "a lot" of pecorino romano cheese into a small bowl using a fine paddle grater. Estimate about 50 gms of pecorino/person. Generously grind some black pepper onto the cheese. Mix the cheese and pepper into the bowl of beaten eggs. Mix well into a cream.


After the pasta has cooked the recommended time for al dente, remove pasta from water and add to the saute pan with the guanciale. Mix pasta and guanciale together well and then let the pasta sit in the pan for about 30 seconds.


Then add 1 ladleful of pasta water to the egg mixture. Mix together well, into a cream. The pasta water helps to make it creamy and smooth.


Turn the burner beneath the saute pan back on to low. Add a bit more pasta water to the pasta-guanciale mixture. Then pour the creamy egg mixture over top. Mix fast and constantly on the low heat. The sauce will thicken with mixing and just a bit of time. When the sauce has thickened enough to cling nicely to the pasta then it is ready to serve.


Plate the pasta. Top off pasta with a bit of the cream sauce and guanciale. Garnish with some freshly grated pecorino and freshly ground black pepper.


Download Spaghetti alla Carbonara recipe
Download • 37KB




Both of these recipes are fantastic. While the recipes have only a few ingredients and the steps seem simple, there are ways to mess it up if you don't pay attention to the details. Also, as I mentioned earlier, quality ingredients are of great importance. I hope you give them a try. Enjoy them in your kitchens or whenever you travel to Rome!


Buon appetito!!!


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