By Eleonora Baldwin
ome home to cucina romana has plenty of places where folks can score a decent plate of typical local pasta. But finding the best places is an exact science. After extensive research (including card-carrying access to the plus-size kingdom) I've prepared a detailed list of city's signature pasta dishes as well as some of the spots that serve the best of the best. Not all have websites, but if they do they're highlighted and list hours as well as the weekly closing day, if any.
First, an introduction: unlike Italy's other food capitals, Rome boasts an array of "personal" pasta dishes, each one its own universe. The cucina romana's superb pasta, typically rich and hearty, hinges on two factors: faithful use of local ingredients and following tried-and-true recipes.
Take amatriciana. Does it really hail from the Lazio town of Amatrice, a part of the Abruzzo until Benito Mussolini redrew the country's regional maps? Sampling it in its purported namesake town it tasted like nothing I'd ever had before and had little in common with its Rome offshoot.
Authentic "Rome" amatriciana depends on, 1. pecorino sheep's milk cheese, sharp and salty; 2. guanciale cured pork jowl, much sweeter and fattier than pancetta; and 3. bucatini pasta.
Hollow, bucatini-style noodles are obligatory. Properly al dente bucatini can't be easily twirled by a fork (please, no spoons), and that's intentional. The amatriciana ritual requires that you suck them up vacuum-style, nonchalantly snubbing spots and stains on your clothes.
Other authentic amatriciana ingredients are canned tomatoes, chili peppers black pepper and a splash of white wine. Purists absolutely exclude onions, but many restaurants and cooks add them (I'm among them).
Amatriciana cravings take me to a lovely little restaurant called Da Teo in Trastevere (Piazza dei Ponziani, 7/a.; tel. 06.581.8355, closed Sunday). There, superb cucuna romana classics are always served with a smile.
Amatriciana in fact derives from a much older sauce called gricia. Shepherds in isolated pastures once made gricia by gently frying diced guanciale, adding freshly boiled pasta, a healthy dusting of black pepper, and grated pecorino cheese. These were easily portable ingredients with a long shelf life. The result was a creamy grayish sauce that inspired the recipe's name, a Roman dialect adaptation of the word grigia (gray).
Some restaurants enhance their gricias by adding a star ingredient. Among my favorites, Il Quinto Quarto (Via della Farnesina, 13), manages to include slices of raw pears, yielding a wonderful combination of texture and flavor. Another favorite, Osteria Degli Amici (Via Nicola Zabaglia, 25), see charming chef Alessandro add sautéed artichokes (when in season), creating a dish everyone should taste at least once in their life.
Next up is carbonara, the Roman classic made with pecorino, guanciale, cracked black pepper and egg yolks. Perhaps no other Italian dish is as globally copied (and distorted).
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