Anyone who has ever visited Rome can attest to how easy it is to fall love with the city's cobbled streets, baroque architecture, and bustling piazzas. Leaving the charming capital can be downright depressing—and that's exactly why Americans Katie Parla and Kristina Gill never did.
Parla and Gill both traveled to Rome—Gill for work in '99 and Parla in '03 for school—but they found themselves distracted by their need to study the food and cultural traditions surrounding eating in the Italian metropolis. Over a decade later, the duo is still at it: Parla as a freelance food writer, and Gill as a photographer and food editor at Design*Sponge. And now they've brought it all to life, with a distinctly modern twist, in their new cookbook, Tasting Rome.
"The result of our explorations is this collection of recipes that embraces Roman flavors and goes beyond the tight focus on tradition to acknowledge that the city's cuisine has evolved and that strict tradition, while predominant, certainly isn't the only reality," they write in the book.
Until recently, there was little evidence to suggest that Rome had any interest in rerouting its local food traditions into new territory. Like true leisurely Italians, it seemed as if the entire city of 4 million were asking, collectively: "What's the rush to change something that's served us so well for over 3,000 years?"
The city's quintessentially Roman dishes can still be found somewhat preserved in both restaurants and homes—and those recipes go far beyond the pecorino-laced pastas like rigatoni alla carbonara, the crowd-pleasing popularity of which spreads far beyond the city limits.
"Rome has a variety of grilled and roasted lamb dishes and lots of offal," says author Katie Parla. "Coratella, a stew of heart, lungs, and liver, is perhaps the most Roman of all."
So how does a food culture that wouldn't think twice when a plate of trippa alla romana (tripe with tomato sauce, mint, and pecorino) hits the table, embrace change? Slowly—which is the most exciting part for people like Parla who've fallen for the city's traditional specialities. In Rome, contemporary innovation doesn't have to come at the cost of traditions.
"A demand for 'fast food' has brought some really amazing prepared food into the city's produce markets. Mordi e Vai at the Testaccio Market is a perfect example of this," says Parla. "In their tiny stall, the Esposito family cooks traditional Roman dishes—braised brisket, tongue with garlic and parsley sauce, tripe with tomato—and serves them on bread, an innovation for Rome, but one that makes perfect sense, thanks to its clear roots in the flavors of the city."
Young Romans have also created a shift in the drinking habits of the once wine-centric city: Craft beer and cocktails have surged in popularity—take the rise of speakeasies like The Jerry Thomas Project as a taste of what's to come. (While speakeasy-themed bars are hardly a revelation in the cocktail world, they're refreshing for Rome.)
"When I stop to think about it, the number of new restaurant and bar openings in Rome—especially in the past few years—is really astounding," explains Parla. "We might not have a dining and drinking scene with as much movement as Paris or London, but things are certainly moving by local standards."
Here, Parla shares her must-eat spots for experiencing the city like a true Roman—living the perfect balance between new and old.
C'e' Pasta... e Pasta!
"Amazing for Roman Jewish classics like concia [marinated fried zucchini] in a casual cafeteria setting."
Via Ettore Rolli, 29, 00153, cepastaepasta.it.
La Tavernaccia Da Bruno
"Perfect for super honest, affordable, and delicious Roman, Umbrian, and Sardinian specialties—plus pizza served with a smile. The wine list is fun, too."
Via Giovanni da Castel Bolognese, 63, 00153, latavernaccia.com.
"For pizza con la porchetta (Vito Bernabei's porchetta in a crispy flatbread). It's one of the best things you will ever eat. I always pair this visit with a stop at Gabriele Bonci's landmark pizza by the slice joint [Pizzarium] for pizza with potato and mozzarella or with onions or tomato."
Via Trionfale, 36, 00195
Via della Meloria, 43, 00136
Ma Che Siete Venuti A Fà
"One of the best places in Italy for craft beer—local and domestic. I love taking friends there and surprising them with delicious vintage sour ales that are insanely expensive to drink beyond Italian borders."
25, Via di Benedetta, 25, 00153, football-pub.com.
If you can't make it to Rome quite yet, here's the recipe for cacio e pepe from Tasting Rome, out today. Note: Using the starchy pasta cooking water is key to achieving the luxuriously silky sauce of Pecorino Romano and freshly cracked black pepper.
Cacio E Pepe Di Leonardo VIgnoli
Servings: 4 to 6
1 pound spaghetti or tonnarelli
2 cups finely grated Pecorino Romano
2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper, plus more to taste
How to Make It
Bring a large pot of water to a rolling boil over high heat. Salt the water. When the salt has dissolved, add the pasta and cook until al dente.Meanwhile, in a large bowl, combine 1½ cups of the Pecorino Romano, the pepper, and a small ladle of pasta cooking water. Using the back of a large wooden spoon, mix vigorously and quickly to form a paste.When the pasta is cooked, use a large strainer to remove it from the cooking water and quickly add it to the sauce in the bowl, keeping the cooking water boiling on the stove. Toss vigorously, adjusting with additional hot water a tablespoon or two at a time as necessary to melt the cheese and to obtain a juicy sauce that completely coats the pasta.Plate and sprinkle each portion with some of the remaining Pecorino Romano and pepper to taste. Serve immediately.
Tasting Rome by Katie Parla and Kristina Gill (Clarkson Potter), $30, crownpublishing.com.