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It's no surprise that timeless flavors reign in Rome, the Eternal City. The region's cuisine, called "cucina Romana," is completely unique to Rome and vastly different from every other part of Italy. Chefs play with a simple palette — cheese, tomato, black pepper, pasta, egg — and masterfully create a classic meal to remember.
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- I'm Aida Mollenkamp. I'm a chef and writer with a passion for exploration and I'm in search of the best food a city has to offer. Whether it's a locals only favorite or a chef's secret special, join me as I go Off-Menu in Rome. Rome is truly the eternal city. Everywhere you look, past and present share the same space. The same could be said of Rome's food, a cuisine deeply rooted in history and place that favors simple, bold flavors that were as loved centuries ago as they are today. It's not a question of if it ain't broke, don't fix it, it's why mess with the best? To show me some of the best of the best, I'm meeting up with Katie Parla, a foot writer with an Art History degree from Yale, a masters degree in Italian gastronomic culture, she's also got a Sommelier certificate from the Federation of Italian Sommeliers and an archaeological certification from the city of Rome. Basically she's a walking encyclopedia. So Katie, what really characterizes Roman food? - I think a bold, honest flavor profile spiked with lots of salt brought on by Pecorino or salt itself. We're going to hit some of the most delicious things in town, street food, wine and a fabulous place for Roman classic pasta. - [Aida] Who could say no to that? I think that sounds like a good little itinerary we got going. Starting smack dab in Rome's historic center, a few minutes walk from the Pantheon and the Tiber, we're going to try the exemplar par excellence of one of the city's most traditionally humble dishes. - [Katie] We are going to Supplizio, known for its deep-fried rice balls. - [Aida] Oh that sounds delicious. - Alright, here they are. - Oh that's gorgeous looking. I'm just going for it. - Go for it. - Mmmm. - So good. You really get the herbs and the earthiness of the livers. - I was totally not expecting this and even the mushroom broth comes through. - So what's awesome about this one and about Arcangelo's suppli in general, are that you get all of these different layers with the herbs, the meat, the cheese. And so it's not one note. It's not just that sort of like, salty, greasy, savoriness. - Yeah. This is incredible. It tastes like fall in a bite with this like earthiness and the mushroom and the livers. There's really a good harmony of flavors. Not one flavor's overwhelming all the rest. - Absolutely. - This is incredible. I'm gonna let you led me to where we're going next. - [Katie] Yeah. - [Aida] Right off the bustling Campo de Fiore is L'angolo Divino, a cozy temple of wine culture, where one can find Italian bottles rarely exported outside the country. Like Rome's ultra local wine from the region of Lazio. - I am Massimo Grippa. I am the owner from wine bar Angolo Divino and I am a third generation of this wine bar. For me it's much more important to find the quality for the right wine. So you're tasting something that is very special. - So is this common then to do the cheese pairing with the meats and the wines and everything? - Yeah I mean it's sort of borderline unheard of to drink without having food next to your glass. So people might swing by for a glass and make this their dinner. Or sort of graze through the center and try a lot of things. We only want to drink wines from Lazio. - Are you interested maybe in the organic? - Yes, definitely. - [Massimo] Okay. - Rome in the past five years has radically transformed its drinking offers from craft cocktails to craft beer. Now you have a huge range of wine bars that are focusing on quality more than quantity and that's new. In the 90's places like this stopped selling, like bulk wine and started selling proper bottles and providing, if not a full menu, than at least some cold and hot snacks. - [Aida] Okay. - The white in this case is come from grapes that is called Procanico. - [Aida] Procanico. - Procanico is a type of the grapes that is very popular in Umbria because it's the base for made Orvieto. - [Aida] And this is an orange wine right? - Yeah. It's a very, very, small production. - [Katie] Cheers. - Cheers. - [Massimo] Salute. - Salute. - [Massimo] In Italy. - Yeah that's a very particular wine. It's extremely unique. It has this kind of aged feel to it even though, what year is this? - 2012. - So it's a young wine but it feels mature in the way that it drinks. - For me, the much more important, unusual taste is the tannin that you can feel by the mouth. - So you guys use the term orange wine for any of these naturally produced wines? - Yes. - Just for the ones that are made from white grapes with a long skin maceration. 'Cause there are also natural wines made with red grapes but they're not called orange wines. - Well this is very interesting. I've definitely never had it before, thank you. We're off to a good start. - Do you think this would pair well with any of the cheeses you've got back there? - Yes, of course. Can we do it, a little plate with the cheese I have? - If you insist. - Very well, it's coming. - Okay, thank you. I mean, it's definitely orange wine right? It's. - A little unfiltered. - Yeah. - Looks kind of funky, tastes kind of funky but in a great way. - Oh in a fabulous way, yeah. - It's coming the cheese. - Beautiful. - It's a little assortment with ham and cheese. - Mmm, this is incredible. - You know, this cheese brings out more of the tannins of the wine. Yeah, you like, get a lot more - [Massimo] Did you feel? of kind of the red qualities of the wine coming out of it. - Did you like to taste also a little sip of red wine? - Yeah. - Sure. - [Massimo] Eh? From Lazio and it's called Cesanese. - For a long time it was totally ignored in favor of Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. So it's a really fantastic revival, one that Damiano Ciolli, the producer of this wine, is really leading. - Cesanese for me, is one of the best. It's very elegant. - Okay I'm gonna give it a try, I've never had Cesanese before. Oh you guys are right. There's not an abracing quality to the alcohol. But it does give it a nice backbone. - Mmhmm, for sure, very balanced. - And how much is the focus on the actual local wines coming out? - It's definitely growing. - Well there's just so much pride in the Italian culture for where somebody is from and where they live. - Yes. There's this really wonderful moment in which, like the regional pride is now converging with. - Food and drink? - Exactly. - Yeah. Well, I'm glad to be here trying it. Speck is one of my favorite Italian meats. I can smell the smoke just coming off this. That has like a really nice balance of sweet and salty to it. - So nice. - Max, this has been incredible. I feel like you've made me more fluent in wine because of your vast knowledge, so thanks for giving us that. - Thank you. - Ciao Max. - Ciao. - Grazi. - Aproxima. Ciao. - Ciao. - [Aida] Between meals, one can always find something to do in Rome. Like, say, look at 2,000 year old architecture. The Colosseum perhaps? It's the largest amphitheater ever built. In it's heyday, it could host 80,000 spectators for gladiator sports and mock sea battles. Today, we're just content to admire its beauty. - We're on the Aventine Hill, so not very far from the Circus Maximus or Testaccio, the center of town basically. We're in this totally quiet part of central Rome. Lots of monasteries and convents and in this case the Knights of Malta property. If you peer through, you're gonna be looking through sovereign Maltese territory to yet another nation. - Okay so this whole villa is actually Maltese? - Technically yeah. - Interesting. Oh my gosh yeah. - [Katie] What do you see? - So we're in Rome looking through like, hedges of a Maltese territory and then there's St. Peters. - Perfectly framed in the distance. - That's pretty incredible. - [Katie] It's amazing. - And I love the forethought that went into the gardening just so that they could frame the dome so perfectly. - They're the most manicured floral hedges in town. - I would imagine so. Off the beaten path, outside the historic core, Katie is granting me access to true insider knowledge at a trattoria where reservations are nearly impossible to come by because it's always full of local devotees. We're going to Cesare Casaletto, which is definitely in a part of town that most visitors don't see. So it's a locals only spot and one of my favorites in town. - There's just this like air of elegance in here but it doesn't feels stuffy at all. - Well this is a trattoria first and foremost, so there might be tablecloths and proper wine glasses but this is supposed to be a casual, familiar place that people go back to again and again. And for me, this is the best trattoria in town. Most of the people that come here come here because it's close to their house, it's convenient and there's a sense of familiarity with that ritual. People come here week in and week out for especially the spectacular pastas and the hospitality. And that is the nature of trattoria dining in Rome. We're gonna start with Cacio e Pepe and Carbonara. - Okay. - Which are the two pillars. - The two pastas, yeah, most travelers come here in search of. - As you should. And Leonardo uses some fun techniques to sort of tease out the best possible flavors and textures from these classic dishes. - Wonderful. - So it's gonna be probably different than some of the versions you've tasted before. - Great, I'm looking forward to it. - Alright, here comes the Cacio e Pepe. - Oh my goodness. That is Cacio e Pepe cause, - [Katie] Cacio y Pepe. I mean really, Cacio e Pepe is just cheese and pepper right? And looks like we've got a lot of that going on here. - There's a little bit of that happening. - You can tell he's a master at it right here because this sauce is just beautifully coating every single strand of pasta. Going for a big bite Katie. This looks delicious. Mmm. There is so much umami going on in this plate. There's just so much savoriness coming out with the saltiness of the Pecorino with the black pepper. I mean to me, this is truly Rome in a dish, where you see so many things in this city that are like bold but still balanced. - And super simple. - [Aida] Wow! - [Katie] Okay so this is the Carbonara. - I'm trying not to play a biased here but I have to say the Carbonara was the one I was really excited about. And there should be more guanciale in the world. - [Katie] Agreed. - Proper guanciale in the United States is like almost impossible to come by. - And it's super, super expensive. Here it's much more accessible and it's one of the bases of Roman food culture. - I've gotta start with just a piece of it. Woah, that guanciale is rendered so well that you've got this like deep flavor coming out of it. There might be almost as much of the pork jowel as the pasta on my plate right now and this is making me really excited. I can't lie. - One of the great things about Leonardo's Carbonara is that texture that he gets out of the sauce. - And then there's that misconception that you have cream in Carbonara and that's all eggs tempered with cheese. - Absolutely, yeah. Something very special is about to happen. Leonardo has Pajata today. - I do not know what that is. - Pajata, well, it's a very Roman thing. Really rooted in this city. It's the intestines of milk-fed veal. Romans tie them into these little loops, braise them, cook them in tomato sauce and serve them with rigatoni. It's not on the regular menu, it's only a special that's communicated to regulars. - This is gorgeous. So this right here then is the intestine. - Yes, that's the loop of the intestine, the milk is inside. - Very excited. - [Katie] So I like to slice open the Pajata and then have sort of rigatoni length Pajata segments with each bite of pasta. - [Aida] Ooh, I like your methodology, I'm going for it. - [Katie] What do you think? - I love it and I'll tell you why. I love that delicate sweetness but also a good amount of saltiness and that really does come out in the texture. Again, the matching of the textures of the Pajata with the pasta is just. - It's brilliant. - Excellent. And this tomato sauce is phenomenal. Like I want it bottled, sent back to me in the United States. Well, Katie this has been incredible. Thank you so much. - [Katie] It's my favorite place, I'm so thrilled you enjoyed it. - [Aida] Katie this has been incredible. You gave me a whole new perspective on some of these really classic Roman dishes. - [Kaite] I'm glad you enjoyed yourself. - Yeah, I really appreciate it, thank you. - [Katie] Come back soon, we'll eat the rest of Rome's Carbonara. - [Aida] Okay that sounds good. I feel like I might need a little bit of time to achieve that.