Pasta from Lazio (Rome)
Lazio is located in central Italy. Surrounding Rome, Lazio is influenced by the unique foods of its capital. The cuisine of Lazio is made up of simple dishes that are quick and easy to prepare but with intense flavors. The hills of Lazio are rich and fertile making it easy to grow all types of vegetables which become an important part of the cuisine of this region. The rich soil produces artichokes, cauliflower, fava beans, peas, and the renowned lentils of Onano. Vegetables are cooked with liberal amounts of olive oil, herbs and garlic, and often a good portion of anchovies. In the area of Cerveteri, tasty Roman artichokes are grown, Gaeta olives and olive oil come from Sabina, and chestnuts from the Cimini Mountians. Wine, olive oil, sausages, and cheese are the treasures of this region and the ingredients of a culinary tradition of peasant origins, often referred to as 'la cucina povera.'
Simple pasta sauces, roasted meats and pork products dominate the table. Pork is used to make guanciale (cured pig's cheeks), ventresca (pork belly), mortadella di Amatrice, sausages, lard, and prosciutto. The most popular regional pork dish is Porchetta alla Romana. Chicken is eaten here more than in many other regions. A lot of seafood is eaten with salt cured cod being a staple food. Beef, lamb, and offal are also popular. Veal cutlets made with prosciutto and sage are well known as Saltimbocca alla Romana. In rural Lazio, lamb is often used in dishes like abbacchio (milk-fed baby lamb.)
The Romans have a passion for pasta. As much as Romans enjoy the high life, for the less well-to-do pasta provides an inexpensive, satisfying, healthy and tasty meal. Many people still observe the rules laid down by the Church and many meat-free dishes have been invented in Roman cuisine for periods of fasting when the consumption of meat is forbidden. The sauces that adorn the pasta dishes of Lazio vary from the very simple such as Cacio e Pepe (spaghetti with cheese and pepper) to the more complex recipes that include butter, egg, pancetta or guanciale (cured pig's cheek). Spaghetti alla Carbonara and Bucatini all'Amatriciana both include the local guanciale. Spaghetti alla Puttanesca (spaghetti with tomatoes, olives, capers, garlic,and anchovies), and Gnocchi di Semolino (gnocchi which are made with semolina flour instead of potatoes or ricotta) are also popular in this region.
Pasta sauces are typically served with long pasta noodles like spaghetti, bucatini, or fettuccine. Short or broken pasta often appears in soups. Vegetable and legume soups prepared with beans, chickpeas, and lentils are typical of the Roman countryside. Rice is used to make suppli (rice balls) which are similar to the arancini of southern Italy.
Cacio e Pepe
Cacio e pepe (cheese and pepper) is a classic Roman pasta dish typically made with long, thin spaghetti. The ingredients are simple: pasta, black pepper, Pecorino Romano, butter, and pasta water. Purists beware - butter is not in the classical version, but it helps to more easily create the creaminess of the sauce.
It is important to remember when preparing this dish to reserve some of the pasta cooking water before draining the spaghetti. The heat of the water melts the cheese, while the starches in the water help bind the pepper and cheese to the pasta.
6 ounces spaghetti (reserve about 1 cup of the cooking water)
4 tablespoons butter
2 teaspoons coarsely ground black pepper *
1/2 cup grated Pecorino Romano cheese
Extra pepper and pecorino for serving
Cook the spaghetti in boiling salted water. Near the end of the cooking time, ladle out 1 cup of the cooking water and set aside. Drain the spaghetti.
Melt the butter in a large skillet of medium-high heat. Add the pepper, and sauté for 1-2 minutes. Add 1/2 cup of the cooking water to the skillet. Stir until the sauce begins to thicken, about 30 seconds. Add the drained cooked pasta, the grated cheese and salt. Gently toss with tongs until the cheese melts and the sauce is slightly creamy. Add more of the reserved cooking water if the pasta seems too dry. (Don't add too much water, the pasta should just be lightly coated with the sauce not swimming in it.) Transfer the pasta to a serving bowl. Sprinkle with a little more pepper and pass with additional cheese.
* Two teaspoons may seem like a lot of pepper but it is an integral ingredient in this dish.
All Italian cheeses made from sheep's milk are known as pecorino, but they vary enormously in flavor and texture from soft and mild to dry and strong. The best known pecorino cheeses are Romano from Lazio and Sardo from Sardinia. Pecorino Romano from Lazio is probably the oldest Italian cheese, dating back to Roman times. By law, production of Pecorino Romano is allowed only in Lazio, Sardinia and the Tuscan province of Grosseto. All these varieties differ from one another depending on how long they have aged. The term 'Genuino' can only be applied to Pecorino Romano that is made in Lazio. This special romano is made from milk taken from a dedicated herd of sheep that live just outside the city of Rome.
Pecorino Romano is made using traditional methods. The cheese is dry-salted by hand, the wheels get a salting numerous times with a lengthy aging time from 8 to 12 months. Hard pecorino is a pale, creamy color with a firm granular texture with tiny holes similar to Parmesan. It can be grated and used like Parmesan but it has a more pungent flavor which is well suited to the spicy pasta dishes of Lazio, such as Bucatini all' Amatriciana. Pecorino can also be grated into soups, salads, and casseroles, or sprinkled over vegetables for some added zest. There are vegetarian versions of pecorino, but unless it specifically says so on the package it contains animal rennet. It is best to buy a wedge of pecorino and grate it as needed because the sharp flavor is rapidly lost in the pre-grated powder form. Pecorino Romano will keep well in the refrigerator for several weeks if properly wrapped.
(Serves 4 to 6)
A specialty of the Lazio region, especially the town of Amatrice after which it is names. The dish is traditionally made with guanciale, cured pig's cheek, but pancetta is often substituted. The sauce is served over bucatini, which is a thick rod-type pasta with a hole in the center.
6 to 8 ounces guanciale or pancetta, chopped
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, chopped
Pinch crushed red pepper flakes
1/2 cup dry white wine or chicken broth
1 (28 ounce) can Italian peeled tomatoes, chopped
1 pound bucatini or perciatelli pasta
1/2 cup grated pecorino Romano, plus more for passing
Choose a saucepan that will be large enough to hold the cooked pasta and sauce.Place the guanciale and olive oil in the saucepan over medium-highheat.
Saute until the guanciale is golden, about 4 to 5 minutes. Add the onion, and sauté another 4 to 5 minutes until the onion is tender. Add the garlic and red pepper flakes and sauté one more minute.
Add the wine or chicken broth and allow the mixture to simmer for a minute or two. Reduce the heat to medium-low and add the tomatoes and salt. Bring the mixture to a simmer. Cook, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until the sauce thickens, about 25 minutes.
Meanwhile, cook the pasta in boiling salted water until al dente.
Reserve some of the cooking water and drain the pasta.
Add the cooked pasta to the saucepan and stir to coat well. Add a little of the cooking water if the pasta seems too dry. Add the 1/2 cup of grated cheese, and stir again. Transfer to a serving dish and serve. Pass additional cheese at the table.
Guanciale (pronounced gwan-CHAH-leh) is an Italian cured pork cheek or jowl. Its name is derived from guancia, Italian for cheek. It can be serves thinly sliced as an appetizer , or diced to flavor other dishes. To make guanciale, pork meat and fat from the finest cuts are stuffed into a casing made from the cheek and throat of the pig. Methods of curing guanciale vary from region to region. In Lazio, garlic, sage, and rosemary are usually preferred, while in Emilia-Romagna only salt and pepper tend to be used. The meat is then air dried for three to four weeks until it loses approximately 30% of its original weight. Because it's largely fat, guanciale has a more seductive pork flavor and delicate texture than cured meat that comes from the belly like pancetta. Upon cooking, the fat typically melts away giving great depth of flavor to the dishes and sauces it is used in.
Guanciale adds a very special silky quality to any sauce. It is essential to the traditional pasta sauces of Rome - pasta alla carbonara and pasta all' Amatriciana, but is fantastic in any vegetable pasta sauce. Although pancetta is a common substitute for guanciale, the flavor isn't the same. Though the seasoning and aging of guanciale are very similar to pancetta, if you’ve ever tasted a good guanciale you know the difference. Guanciale often has a couple of streaks of lean pink meat and is surrounded by a delicate, sweet-tasting fat. Guanciale is a real delicacy - a bit stronger than pancetta, with an especially rich, sweet pork flavor and buttery texture.
Spaghetti alla Carbonara
(Serves 6 - 8)
Contrary to the dish so often served in restaurants, real carbonara contains no cream ... it's simply eggs, crispy guanciale or pancetta, Pecorino Romano, and black pepper. The origin of this dish is disputed. Many believe that it was brought to Rome by the Carbonari (coal men) from Umbria. Others claim that it was created with the powdered egg and bacon rations distributed by the Allied troops following the liberation of Rome in 1944. The most obvious reason is that the generous addition of black pepper resembles specks of coal dust.
4 ounces guanciale or pancetta, cut into thick slices
1 tablespoon olive oil
4 large eggs
Salt and pepper
1 pound spaghetti
3/4 cup freshly grated Pecorino Romano
Cut the pancetta into 1/4-inch cubes or 1-inch long strips. Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the guanciale or pancetta and saute until it is golden around the edges, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside.
In a bowl, beat together the eggs, pinch of salt, a generous amount of pepper, and the grated cheese. Set aside.
Cook the spaghetti in boiling salted water until al dente.
Reserve about 1/2 cup of the cooking water and then drain the pasta.
Return the skillet with the guanciale or pancetta to medium heat. Add about 1/4 cup of the cooking water and stir to combine. Add the drained pasta and toss well. Remove the skillet from the heat and slowly add the egg and cheese mixture, tossing gently until all of the mixture is incorporated and the pasta looks creamy. Add a little more of the cooking water if the pasta looks too dry. Transfer to a serving bowl and sprinkle with additional pepper. Serve immediately.
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Artichokes are popular all over Italy but the Romans absolutely adore them. The ancient Romans called the artichoke 'cynara' because an old tale relates how a girl with this name was once turned into the highly prized plant. Later as the artichoke became more widely cultivated, the Italians began calling it 'carciofo.' During the Renaissance, therapeutic powers were attributed to the artichoke, including purification of the blood. Artichokes were sold in herb and vegetable markets at very high prices and only the wealthy were able to afford them.
The Roman artichoke comes from the plains of Lazio. This “Romanesque” artichoke (Carciofo Romanesco) is one of the most appreciated variety of the over 50 artichoke types available in Italy. The Romanesco variety, which is rounded in shape not pointed, has gained Igp (Indicazione Geografica Protetta) status by the European Union. Apart from the Romanesco the only other variety to have gained an Igp denomination in Italy is the Carciofo di Paestum from the Campania region.
April is the month of the artichoke festivals in Italy. One of the most famous Italian food festivals is the Sagra del Carciofo Romanesco of Ladispoli, in the Lazio region, celebrating the Roman artichoke
Join Elizabeth Minchilli as she takes you on a stroll through her favorite open air markets; stop by the best gelato shops; order plates full of carbonara and finish the day with a brilliant red Negroni. Coffee, pizza, artichokes and grappa are starting points for mouth-watering stories about this ancient city.