We were in Rome this past weekend to celebrate a friend’s 30th birthday and the ancient/modern city far exceeded my expectations. I feel like those who travel to Italy rave about Florence or Venice but don’t say much about Rome. This led me to believe it wasn’t going to be that awesome, but I can report that Rome is indeed awesome, and stunningly beautiful, and has a rich history and many archeological marvels. All that stuff was incredible, but it should go without saying that the best part of Rome, for me, was the food.
Let me start with cacio e pepe (cach-oh e pep-pay) or cheese and pepper, a dish that is as fun to say as it is simple. It’s basically grown-up mac and cheese, and it’s Rome’s most famous pasta dish. It’s also become very popular in the U.S. in the past year and is showing up on all the hip menus. It’s a spaghetti-like pasta (but a tad thicker), butter, black pepper, and pecorino cheese. That’s it. The butter and the cheese form all the sauce you need and the black pepper keeps it from being bland. I ate a lot of this over the course of the weekend (like five plates of it), but my favorite was at a charming trattoria called Angelina.
The pistachio gelato was also predictably good (I gorged myself on this when we were in Lake Como in the summer a few years ago).
Another summertime treat that we just went ahead and indulged in even while shivering: Aperol spritz, the refreshingly sweet and slightly bitter combo of Aperol (an orange Italian liquor), prosecco (Italy’s answer to champagne) and soda water.
Speaking of drinks: The cappuccinos!
Also: Good pizza. (Although the Roman style is a little too simple for my taste, which tends towards mounds of gourmet toppings and lots of cheese).
And tiramisu and cannoli.
I think most of all, I enjoyed all the incredible Italian cheese. The salty pecorino and parmesan regiano on pastas, the smokey scarmoza affumicata, the mozzerella stuffed inside of fried squash blossoms, and mozzerella’s sexier and creamier cousin, burrata.
Everything was too good to leave behind, so we brought back a lot of it, including a dozen bottles of Italian wine.
Our group went on a really good food tour with Secret Food Tours (led by a beautiful Florentine-turned-Roman named Giada) and we also ate in some great restaurants, but I was most excited by two less glamorous food experiences: First, we stumbled upon a little storefront, open 24 hours, home to the best selection of vending machines imaginable. These machines contained all sorts of gourmet goodies: Wine and beer, cheese, liquors, jarred artichokes and olives, artisanal jams, crackers and cookies. I could have eaten several meals in the vending machine area, and when our New Years Eve plans appeared to be fizzling and someone suggesting making our own party at the vending machines, the suggestion was taken very seriously.
Second, we visited an epic speciality food store called Castroni (apparently they’re all over Rome) that had every gourmet Italian and international ingredient and treat you could imagine. I bought cheese, prosecco, dried mushrooms, truffles in oil. I had whatever the opposite of buyer’s remorse is and I wanted to go back and buy much more.
I returned to Jerusalem with lots of cooking inspiration, such as frying (but not battering) a whole artichoke; stuffing a squash blossom with mozzarella, dredging in egg and bread crumbs and frying it (which I did about an hour after arriving home); and making arancini with risotto instead of just rice (and adding red sauce and melty cheese center) like they do with this version of the Roman suppli.
I did other things in Rome besides eat. I also saw all the sites! The Roman Forum, the Colosseum, the Pantheon, the Sistine Chapel, lots of the ruins, the Spanish Steps, and more. Here’s proof:
Em in Jerusalem