Rome is a city that I’ve always wanted to visit; the romance, the history and overall Italian-ness of it all made it next on my list of city breaks. While in Colombia I lived with my very own Roman called Chiara, and after a year and a half apart I decided to pay her a visit in her hometown.
Chiara, a born and bred Romana, shares my interest in all things edible and exciting, and she took me on a food-filled tour of the city. After being welcomed to the city with a fantastic three-course meal at home, we started the next day with an amble around her local area of Tor Pignattara. Taking rest from Rome’s strong midday sun, we grabbed some lunch at Necci.
Necci, opened in 1924, was a favourite haunt of the famous Italian poet and filmmaker Pier Paolo Pasolini, and today serves up a menu that is focused on classic Italian recipes with a slight twist. We shared two plates, a Panzanella salad and a black rice dish with anchovies and an asparagus cream.
The traditional Panzanella salad had undergone a modern makeover, turning up perfectly shaped and formed into a cube. Breaking into this building of bread, the soft and chewy carby bites absorbed the flavours of the vegetables and oil perfectly. The creamy ricotta was delicious in mouthfuls on its own or smeared across the deconstructed bread tower.
For the rice dish I expected a risotto-like recipe, but was pleasantly surprised with a lighter plate of al dente grains with crunchy anchovy breadcrumbs and a smooth green asparagus purée. A more flavoursome, Italian touch on the health food power bowl craze, I liked it a lot.
Having practically eaten a salad for lunch (discounting the fact it was made of bread and rice), plenty of room was left for dessert. Gelato, to be more specific.
Although Rome is filled with gelaterias, finding the very best could prove a tough task for the average tourist. Luckily, my local guide took me to what she guaranteed to be some of the best the city has to offer. “But how do you know?”, I asked. Apparently it has a lot to do with the flavours. Really good ice cream parlours here will choose their flavours according to the seasons. Il Come Latte, Chiara’s gelateria of choice, not only had all the fruits of the season but many more creamy, nutty and chocolatey flavours too.
Ever eaten a cornetto ice cream cone and thought how good that little bit of chocolate is at the end? Clearly the owners at Il Come Latte have too, as they offer the option of drizzling hot melted white or dark chocolate into your cone before the ice cream is scooped in. This chocolate solidifies and becomes like a mini chocolate bar, hidden inside the wafer holding up your mound of ice cream. As well as this, they top the gelato with freshly whipped cream flavoured with vanilla, cinnamon, lemon or left plain. Oh, and then just an extra drizzle of chocolate on top too.
Opting for a combination of blueberry, salted caramel and hazelnut, this gelato was a thing of beauty. The three generous heaps of ice cream stacked onto of each other formed an orgy of nutty, fruity and sweet flavours with just a touch of salt. The texture was perfect – the bite and satisfaction of a quality ice cream, with a hint of the ever so moreish smoothness that the Carte D’ors and McFlurrys of the ice cream world possess.
Chiara’s love of food is clearly a family trait, as her brother is a professional chef who works at Baccano, an upmarket wine bar/restaurant in the city centre. We went to visit him to sample the drinks menu and were treated to some of the kitchens produce; mini sandwich bites with freshly baked brioche bread and hand made sausage inside. I opted for an amber spritz to drink, a sourer twist on the classic bright orange Aperol classic. Chiara enjoyed a peach Bellini – her first ever, it turned out, and it got a thorough thumbs up.
Pizza is everywhere in Italy. But without a Dominos or Pizza Express in sight, on almost every corner you’re able to find genuine Italian pizzerias, baking in wood ovens and lacing the streets with the warm, wafting smell of thin crusts and tomato toppings. For dinner, Chiara took me to a little place called La Focaccia, where pizza options were plentiful.
You had the choice of pizza al taglio, where smaller slices are cut a larger rectangular pizza, a wafer thin larger pizza romana, or focacciotti, small individual round pizzas with puffed crusts and various toppings. Between three people, we each chose one of the smaller focacciotti pizzas; a classic margarita, one ‘alla norma‘ (with aubergine, basil and ricotta) and one with radicchio, gorgonzola and spec.
The charred, airy crust crumbled in my enthusiasm to tear into my mini pizza, a wonderful trio of flavours – the strong gorgonzola cheese, salty ham and tart radicchio leaves. Beer is the perfect pairing for pizza, and as I sipped a pint of freshly pulled local pale ale, I wondered why on earth I hadn’t visited Rome sooner.
Yet sadly, after just a day it was nearly time to leave to start the next leg of my Italian tour. But of course, I wasn’t going to set off without a proper breakfast in my belly. Chiara’s local neighbourhood of Torpignattara is filled with little local gems, from the freshest fruit and veg in the shop on her corner to top-notch take-out pizza and pasta joints. She took me to her favourite bakery Pasticceria Zampilli, which serves up the classic Roman breakfast: cornettos and coffee.
No, the Roman locals don’t start their day with a Wall’s ice-cream – a cornetto is a traditional Italian pastry, similar to a French croissant. They can be semplice (plain) or ripieni (filled), with popular fillings such as crema marmellata (jam) or cioccolato (Nutella). As my friend Chiara is on friendly first-name terms with the owner, we got a very special breakfast treat; a freshly baked cornetto semplice, taken into the bakery and returned with an injection of sweetened ricotta and chocolate inside.
To balance the sugar overload I choose a dark, strong espresso, but when learning I had the option to add a sweet hazelnut drizzle to it, I couldn’t refuse. This is called crema, and apparently a very popular way to sweeten coffee. As someone who never adds sugar to coffee, but absolutely passionate about hazelnuts, I think I have been converted to the sweet side.
Although the cornetto was incredibly sweet as a whole, actually the pastry itself is not, which allows for the rich filling to provide a sugar-rush to start the day. The bakery itself was filled with cakes and tarts, and I got a chance to admire the traditional roman treat of maritozzi – a cream-filled bun, that looked brilliant yet beastly.
Rome treated me well; beautiful buildings throughout the city, a sense of romance and fun in every area I went, fantastic company and some of the best food I’ve had in a long time mean I will most certainly return. Leaving the city though, I was headed to Pisa for a night, and then onto the Island of Elba, off the Tuscan coast. More food filled posts to come!