“In the big, internationally minded ristoranti, the fare is less likely to be typically Roman. The places for real local food are the humbler trattorie, or taverns, where the fare and service are closer to those of a private home.” – Waverley Root, The Cooking of Italy
I had only a few hours to spend in Rome before an early-morning flight back to the States. There wasn’t time for ruins, the Colosseum, or strolling through the Trestevere. It was the last day of my annual trip to Italy for Vinitaly’s wine fair in Verona. That meant I had to be precise and disciplined with my time at the Roman trattoria.
The term “trattoria” gets misused quite a bit in America. A true trattoria is an unpretentious eatery with a limited and seasonal menu of local specialties. Real trattorie still exist, and I managed to find several good ones thanks to the help of Fred Plotkin’s excellent book, Italy for the Gourmet Traveler
Vegetables are event-worthy in Rome, and you’ll find arugula, broad beans, fresh peas and artichokes on most trattoria menus. I’ve previously written how tricky artichokes can be to pair with wine, but now I’m convinced that a dry, neutral, high-acid white wine is the way to go. Both carciofi alla giudia (flattened and fried artichokes in the style of Rome’s Jewish ghetto) and carciofi al alla romana (artichokes cooked in olive oil with mint and bread crumbs) seemed completely at home with a chilled pitcher of local Frascati, as did fava beans with ricotta and a peppery arugula salad.
One of my favorite trattoria discoveries was the fritti specialist La Matricianella. Supplì al telefono (little fried rounds of rice with cheese) and fiore di zucca (zucchini blossoms) and the feather-light ricotta fritti are not to be missed. The wine list at La Matricianella is an impressive two-volume set: one entire volume is dedicated entirely to the wines of Lazio, and the other volume is dedicated to the rest of Italy. I was impressed by how well a dry and lemony Grechetto served as the perfect foil for the salty-fried flavors of La Matricianella’s cuisine.
Some of the best known pasta dishes have their origins in the Roman trattoria. Spaghetti alla carbonara, fettuccine al burro (fettuccine Alfredo), and cacio e pepe (cheese and black pepper) are common in most Italian-American “red sauce” restaurants. I managed to scarf down a half-plate of each of these during my trattoria blitz, as well as my personal favorite, bucatini all’amatriciana. I’ve written before how I believe a dry red wine with good acidity is essential for cutting through the spicy-pork flavor of bucatini all’amatriciana. But tasting it again with a chilled glass of the white Trebbiano-based Est! Est!! Est!!! has me thinking otherwise.
I was too stuffed to continue, but I’d be remiss not to mention the excellent porchetta (suckling pig), abbacchio (milk-fed lamb), and Saltimbocca that Romans adore, not to mention the ubiquitous Pecorino cheese that seems to be sprinkled over everything. Dessert, liqueurs, and the red wines of Lazio will have to wait for my next visit to Rome’s trattorie.
posted on September 8 2010 by jesse