When this post was written, a site called Eternally Cool had a good interview with Maureen Fant, author of both cookbooks and books on how women lived in ancient Greece and Rome.
In it, thanks to the wayback machine, we can discover how to eat like a Roman.
What should one eat in Rome? Can you give our readers some advice about what to look for on the menu?
This is important. I’m trying to remember to keep up with this on my blog. I’m pretty good about reporting what’s fresh at the market, and my next goal is to write up what to order in each season. Please order prosciutto e melone in summer, carciofi and puntarelle in winter. My advice is to visit a market your first morning and see what’s around and what the local housewives are buying. Look for the same things on the menu. Another tip: if you see spaghetti Bolognese on the menu, go elsewhere. Don’t order complicated dishes in simple restaurants. Roman food is what it is. It contains three ingredients? You taste three ingredients. Don’t expect a lot of subtlety, but don’t underestimate its sophistication just because you can tell what’s in it.
Typical Roman pastas include what I call the Gang of Four—carbonara, matriciana, cacio e pepe, and gricia—and spaghetti alle vongole, which should be oily and garlicky, no tomato. Go to restaurants specializing in Roman Jewish food for fried fiori di zucca, zucchini blossoms, but skip them in the pizzeria, where they will almost certainly be frozen. Coda alla vaccinara, oxtail stewed in tomato sauce with a ton of celery, is a fabulous and traditional dish certainly worth a try in one of the few restaurants that still bother to prepare it.
What’s your favorite Roman food?
I love it all. I love the variety. But I actually think I can single out a favorite meat and veg dish that for me typify what I love about Roman food. The preparations are simple, the ingredients local, completely delicious and impossible to find very far from here. And yet “simple” is an unfair adjective. It’s eloquent.
The meat dish I’d choose is abbacchio scottadito, baby lamb chops grilled till they’re cooked through and all crunchy around the edges. They’re just one thing, lamb chops, but with different tastes and textures and no good if the meat wasn’t good to start with.
The other is the wild salad greens of the campagna romana, with all the hairy, spiky leaves and oniony-tasting roots. It has become very hard to find, and so for me represents everything I love about old-style Roman home cooking, and everything I will fight the future to defend.
I (sadly) have to admit that this was the first I had heard of Ms. Fant, in spite of the fact that we seem to lead somewhat parallel lives, moving from archaeology to writing about food and culture in current times.
In fact, these days she has moved back to archaeology and runs Elifant Archaeo-Culinary Tours with archaeologist Elizabeth Bartman.
I was happy to see that we share some of the same pet peeves. One is a proper disgust for the socialized mispronunciation of Italian words—as if saying them correctly in the US was some sort of punishable subversion of national pride.
The “lesson” that follows the shopping is thus an improvisational tour de force, not so much a class as a bunch of friends rolling up their sleeves and getting lunch together. But with me bossing everybody around. This makes for an intense encounter, during the course of which I berate them for mispronouncing bruschetta (it’s broosketta, puh-leez)
Her current web site and blog is rather short, but it includes some gems in the way of PDF files you can download.
Cook like the Romans A pdf about my so-called cooking class.
Maureen’s Quick Rome Restaurant List —Visit her site for more.
So, visit Rome fully informed—and with an empty stomach.