RomeWords Holly O'Neill
Photography David Loftus
It’s a terrible thing to leave the bread,” says Massimo Riccioli, recalling the month he didn’t eat it. He’s waiting for a pizza bianco (dough brushed with olive oil and sprinkled with sea salt) to come out of the oven at Forno Roscioli. “My first recipe I made was a sandwich, when I was six years old.” Massimo is the owner of one of Rome’s top restaurants, La Rosetta. Located in the centro storico (historical centre), just near the Pantheon, La Rosetta puts paid to the theory that there is no decent food in the touristy areas of a city. Massimo is about to open a new restaurant in London’s Corinthia Hotel, which will see him relocate for some time, so he’s taking a day off to do a tasting tour of some of his favourite places in central Rome. After a quick visit to two iconic coffee bars near the Pantheon, Tazza d’Oro and Sant’Eustachio, for kick-starting espressos, he heads to an area near the famed Piazza Campo de’ Fiori for breakfast. Forno Roscioli bakes bread and cakes, and does an excellent porchetta sandwich that pairs the roasted rolled pork with chilli-braised chicory. (“Good,” says Massimo, “but I prefer it with broccoli.”) They also do the delicious Roman pizza, which is baked in lengths then cut with scissors and sold by the weight. Toppings might include thin slices of potato, or courgette flowers in season, or ham, but Massimo rates the bianco as one of his favourites in the city. And it’s not just because of its taste (although that’s excellent).
“I like when people work hard to make something good,” Massimo says of the Roscioli family, who also own a newer delicatessen-cum-restaurant round the corner that he likes to visit for lunch. It’s also the reason he loves the nearby Beppe E I Suoi Formaggi, a relatively new shop in the old Jewish Ghetto area of Rome. Here Beppe (Giuseppe) Giovale sells cheese, some of them made by his family in Piedmont. The initially gruff Beppe warms up when asked about his cheese, offering tastings and giving a tour of his ageing cellar, complete with ancient Roman foundations. After a leisurely stroll up to Campo de’ Fiori it’s time for more snacking, this time at Antica Norcineria Viola. This salumi butcher is festooned with sausages and offers plenty of delicious tasting samples. Massimo stops in to buy some guanciale – sweet, cured pig’s cheek that’s an essential ingredient in the Roman pasta sauce amatriciana (or ‘matriciana’ if you’re from Rome). “Not pancetta,” says Massimo, clarifying that no self-respecting Roman would ever use cured pig’s belly in the dish. “And no onions. If someone puts in the onions, send them outside. You don’t need them. Guanciale, red chilli pepper (or ground black pepper), tomato, pecorino. This is a perfect recipe. A genius recipe. For me, the best pasta in the world.”
What are some other classic Roman dishes? “Carbonara, of course. Cacio e pepe, gricia.” Even for a Michelin-starred chef, the allure of simple, local pasta can’t be denied. Gricia is what Massimo describes as “white matriciana”, without tomato, while carbonara is the creamy pasta sauce made with eggs and guanciale – but in Rome, never any cream. Cacio e pepe is not as well known outside the Eternal City. It contains pasta (rigatoni, bucatini or tonarelli), local pecorino (a salty, creamy parmesan-style hard cheese), black pepper and occasionally olive oil. A sauce is created by combining the cheese with a little of the pasta cooking water, and the finished product can range from quite dry, such as at Da Augusto in Trastevere, to rich and creamy, like at Maccheroni near Piazza Navona.
“Roman Jewish cuisine is important,” says Massimo. “The dried cod, fried anchovies, artichokes.” Romans are crazy about this vegetable, a relative of the thistle, and it’s in the Jewish Ghetto area that you’ll find the best artichokes (carciofi), in season, piles and piles of them stacked outside restaurants. The two most typical ways to serve artichokes here are alla Romana, in which they are stewed in olive oil and herbs, and alla Giudia, in which they are flattened to resemble rosettes and deep-fried in olive oil till crisp.
In fact, Romans like a bit of deep-fried food generally. Fritto misto (mixed fried vegetables and fish) is a typical antipasto in restaurants, and it’s not seen as a cheap way of cooking. “Fried is one of the best ways to cook fish,” says Massimo. “Also, in Rome, we like to use the inside of the animals – the organs, the tripe.”
Trippa alla Romana appears on most traditional menus in the city. In this famous recipe, the stomach lining (cow’s, never pig’s) is stewed for five hours in a tomato and vegetable sauce till it’s tender and has taken on all the stock flavours, then finished with herbs and pecorino or parmesan. Offal aficionados should also seek out a Roman speciality called rigatoni con pajata. This is calf’s intestine, taken from calfs that are still milk-feeding. When it’s cooked, the milk in the tubes adds a creamy sweetness to the tomato sauce. It’s a textural sensation, delicious when done perfectly, but rubbery and weirdly grainy if overcooked.
The area of Testaccio is particularly known for its offal restaurants. Checchino dal 1887 is the most famous, but there are plenty of reasons to visit this working-class suburb, formerly known for slaughterhouses. For those tourists who like to get off the beaten path and see ‘the real city’, Testaccio and its central market (not to mention the amazing deli Volpetti, where Massimo picks up some sausages and porchetta) is a pretty good place to start.
But so is Campo de’ Fiori. It may be full of tourists but there are locals too, who come early to pick up their vegetables for the day. Massimo gets some broccoli to go with the porchetta, which he’ll use in his own version of a porchetta sandwich back at La Rosetta.
EAT & DRINK
La Rosetta Via della Rosetta 8; +39 06 6861002, larosetta.com. A meal at Rome’s best seafood restaurant doesn’t come cheap, but it’s the place to be if you like your dining fine and the fish almost-shockingly fresh. Even simple pasta dishes (see page 101) are perfectly executed.
Sora Margherita Piazza delle Cinque Scole 30; +39 06 6874216. Call or knock on the door in the morning and see if you can get a lunch reservation. If successful, you’ll be rewarded with Rome’s best artichokes, plus tender liver and fried fresh anchovies, all produced from a kitchen so small the chefs can barely turn around. If you don’t book, you take your chances.
Casa Bleve Via del Teatre Valle 48–49; +39 06 6865970, casableve.it. Tucked behind the Pantheon, this is a temple to fine wine and fine antipasto housed in an old palazzo. If you’re looking for a refined respite from tourist central, with all the charm of the centro storico, it fits the bill.
Salotto 42 Piazza di Pietra 42; +39 06 6785804, salotto42.it. Halfway between the Pantheon and Trevi Fountain, Salotto 42 is open during the day for coffee, juice and reading one of the art mags from the wall. At night it buzzes when Rome’s hip and pretty spill outside, cocktails in hand.
Caffè della Pace Via della Pace 3–7; +39 06 6861216, caffedellapace.it. On a cobblestoned corner behind Piazza Navona, ivy creeping up the walls, this old bar is a favourite of a creative crowd who order wine from good-natured, good-looking but generally disinterested staff. Perfetto.
Gusto Piazza Augusto Imperatore; gusto.it. This sharp gastro-emporium comprises casual and contemporary restaurants, pizzeria, wine bar, cheese room and excellent kitchen shop.
Dal Pollarolo 1936 Via di Ripetta 4; +39 06 3610276, dalpollarolo1936.it. This small tratt gets the Jamie mag vote for the best rigatoni matriciana in Rome, and top marks for puntarelle salad. Decent and cheap house wine, charming stuff, and pizzas in the evenings.
Caffè Rosati Piazza del Popolo, 4/5a; +39 06 3225859, rosatibar.it. If you’ve eaten your way up
Via di Ripetta, stand at the bar and let the gentleman in a bow
tie sort you out with an espresso and a Fernet-Branca.
Forno Roscioli Via dei Chiavari 34; +39 06 6864045, anticofornoroscioli.com. Between the Ghetto and Campo de’ Fiori, you’ll find some of the best bread, pizza and porchetta rolls in Rome.
Pasticceria Boccione Limentani Via Portico d’Ottavia 1; +39 06 6878637. This tiny corner bakery in the Ghetto would seem nothing special, if it wasn’t crammed full of people who know how good the cookies, crostata and brioche-style yeast cakes are.
Pasticerria Linari Via Nicola Zabaglia 9; +39 06 5782358, pasticcerialinari.com. Pretty cakes, marzipan fruits, pastries and, of course, great coffee in Testaccio.
Osteria La Quercia Piazza della Quercia 23; +39 06 68300932, laquerciaosteria.com. Though it’s nearby, Campo de’ Fiori seems miles away when you’re under the tree of this family restaurant. Roast meats are good, tripe very good, homemade pastas great and pistachio brûlée best of all – not traditional, but a contender for the city’s sweetest finish.
Tazza d’Oro Via degli Orfani 84; +39 06 6792768, tazzadorocoffeeshop.com. Any time is good for a caffeine fix at this bar within sight of the Pantheon that probably hasn’t changed much since its opening in 1946. If you don’t want it hot, the granita, all coffee ice crystals and whipped cream, is a thing of beauty.
Sant’Eustachio Piazza Sant’Eustachio 82; +39 06 68802048, santeustachioilcaffe.it. The other iconic coffee bar near the Pantheon, this one serves espresso with a thick crema that, unless you ask otherwise, is very sweet.
Trattoria da Augusto Piazza de’Renzi 15, Trastevere; +39 06 5803798. Always crowded thanks to good, hearty Roman classics. (Don’t ask for Tuesday’s squid and peas or Sunday’s lasagne on a Thursday.) Prices can’t be beat, and neither can the tiramisu.
Maccheroni Piazza delle Coppelle 44; +39 06 68307895, ristorantemaccheroni.com. The maccheroni and rigatoni are perhaps too al dente for non-Romans’ tastes, but simple dishes – pasta cacio e pepe, steak, zabaglione – hit the spot.
Trattoria Monti Via di San Vito 13a; + 39 06 4466573. Friendly brothers work the floor at this tratt which specialises in food from the Marches. It’s had a facelift, controversial in a city where locals like constancy.
Da Tonino Via del Governo Vecchio 18; +39 06 6877002. Popular with Romans out for a cheap meal. Aubergine is the pick of the steaming bowls of pasta.
Il Forno Campo de’ Fiori Campo de’ Fiori 22; +39 06 68806662, fornocampodefiori.com. Famous for its thin pizza sold by weight, this busy shop also has a branch across the way selling stuffed pizza (calzone) and sweet treats.
Giggetto Via del Portico d’Ottavia 21a–22; +39 06 6861105, giggettoalportico.it. Iconic restaurant in the Ghetto. Go on a Sunday and queue for a table with Roman families who go for artichokes and slow-roasted lamb.
Il Gelato di San Crispino Via della Panetteria 42 (near Trevi Fountain); Piazza della Maddalena 3 (near Pantheon); ilgelatodisancrispino.it. Regarded by some as the best gelato in the world, it’s made with carefullysourced ingredients and a nod to seasonality. Staff will suggest complementary flavours – or raise an eyebrow if they think you’ve chosen incorrectly.
Giolitti Via Uffici del Vicario 40; +39 06 6991243, giolitti.it. Massimo’s preferred gelato parlour; try the burnt fig.
Palazzo del Freddo Via Principe Eugenio 65; +39 06 4464740, palazzodelfreddo.it. This huge ice-cream parlour is a family-run operation. Check out the news clippings describing the frozen treats prepared for Hitler, and the time the Red Cross made gelato for US troops.
Beppe E I Suoi Formaggi Via Santa Maria del Pianto 9a–11; +39 06 68192210. Beppe Giovale’s family in Piedmont makes some of the excellent cheese on sale at this shop in the Ghetto. There’s an adjoining room for lunches, and wine and whisky tastings.
Enoteca Buccone Via di Ripetta 19–20; +39 06 3612154, enotecabuccone.com. You can eat here, one of the most famous wine shops in town, but the attraction is the wine – shelf upon shelf, on every wall.
Cucina Via Mario de Fiori 6; +39 06 6791275. This well-stocked kitchen shop has both everyday essentials as well as Italo-specific produce tools such as puntarelle cutters.
Antica Norcineria Viola Piazza Campo de’ Fiori 43c; +39 06 68806114. Strung with cured pig pats, this salumi butcher is the place to find local guanciale for matriciana, liver salami, creamy lard and a moreish, chewy, chilli-flecked sausage for snacking.
Campo de’ Fiori Piazza Campo de’ Fiori. Rome’s most famous produce market is great for gifts such as herb mixes for pasta and stews, or oils and dried pasta.
Testaccio market Piazza Testaccio. If you’re in the area, it’s worth a detour to see where the locals shop. Meats, fish and vegetables, cheaper than Campo de’ Fiori.
Volpetti Via Marmorata 47; +39 06 5742352, volpetti.com. An unmissable Rome food experience. Emilio and Claudio Volpetti and their team charm regulars and tourists alike with bawdy jokes and thoughtful food recommendations. They stock all manner of deli produce, including fresh bread and pizza, chocolate and biscuits, cured meats and cheese, which they’ll vacuum-wrap and package beautifully for you to take home.