When it comes to Rome’s gastronomical history, its continual transformation has evolved over 2,000 years, making the city an excellent ‘foodie’ destination. Since the rise and fall of the empire, it has drawn on various cuisines and cooking styles; from countries they conquered, to those they surrendered to. And so Greek, Spanish and Jewish culture have all had a part to play. Amongst many traditional foods, an authentic collection of pasta dishes forms the backbone of Roman cuisine; guaranteed to be on menus dotted all over the city. We’re talking about pasta ‘alla Gricia’, ‘alla carbonara’ and ‘all’amatriciana’.
There are only two ingredients that make up the heart of these recipes. Pecorino romano – a hard, salty sheep’s milk cheese, and guanciale – cured pork cheek rubbed with salt, sugar and spices.
The secret here is the cooking of the guanciale, which has a beautiful layer of fat, which gives a real depth of flavour. It’s crucial to slow cook the meat and let it render, allowing the fat to melt. Add a splash of pasta water and the sauce emulsifies, creating a creamy consistency. Complete the dish with freshly grated pecorino and ground black pepper. It’s that simple.
So, how is each dish different? ‘Alla Gricia’ solely uses pecorino and guanciale. While ‘alla carbonara’, the famous Roman pasta dish, adds beaten egg yolk with pecorino to create a rich, creamy sauce. Contrary to what some Brits think, this classic recipe doesn’t require any cream. Finally, the addition of bright red ripe tomatoes is added to guanciale to create ‘all’amatriciana.’
Each dish unique in flavour, look and consistency, reiterating that simplicity is key. With a handful of ingredients, you really can create something delicious.
If you would like to eat like a Roman, order one or all three dishes, when next in the Italian capital city. You’ll fit right in!
Paola Maggiulli, a British foodie and passionate cook with Italian roots, has a wealth of knowledge when it comes to all Italian food: pasta, pizza, gelato, you name it. On her blog, The Tiny Italian, she shares her delicious recipes with the world. www.thetinyitalian.com