When in Rome, Do as Romans Do

May 19, 2016 9:24 am Last Updated: March 8, 2018 5:30 pm

While Katie Parla is touring the United States to promote her book “Tasting Rome: Fresh Flavors & Forgotten Recipes From an Ancient City” (Clarkson Potter, $30), written with co-author Kristina Gill, she can’t help but miss one of Rome’s staple street foods: pizza by the slice. Cooked in oblong slats or on rectangular sheet pans, she calls it the “quintessential Roman fast food,” and it’s rarely made in America.

Parla, a New Jersey native, went with the intention of studying art in Rome when, by her own admission, she became distracted by the local cuisine. The rest is history—with a master’s degree in Italian gastronomic culture, a sommelier certificate, and an archeology and speleology certification, she now gives tours of Rome, ranging from “Cucina Povera: Offal in the Roman Culinary Tradition” to “Underground Rome.”

(copyright © 2016 by Kristina Gill)
(copyright © 2016 by Kristina Gill)

Her latest book, “Tasting Rome,” is filled with recipes that don’t fail to evoke nostalgia or interest, from classic dishes like cacio e pepe to explorations of lesser known cuisines—such as “la cucina tripolina” prepared by Libyan Jews with the flavors of North Africa, perfumed by spices like cinnamon and cumin. The photographs, shot by Kristina Gill, have a beautiful, timeless quality.

The cookbook also contains a recipe for vignarola, a spring stew that has a short season of about a month, when the sun and soil line up just so to offer ingredients like artichoke, lettuce, fava beans, and peas. See below for recipes for vignarola and the classic cacio e pepe, as well as some morsels from Parla about Rome.

Epoch Times: You mention in “Tasting Rome” that certain foods are traditionally eaten on certain days. What if I’m visiting on a Thursday? What should I be eating?

Ms. Parla: I would insist that you eat potato gnocchi at L’Arcangelo. Every Thursday, Roman restaurants—whether they’re classic trattorias or fish restaurants—they’ll serve potato gnocchi.

It’s a Roman Thursday tradition, and often they are made at pasta shops with dehydrated potato flakes and the result is really gummy and dense so it’s not nice to eat those. It’s very nice to eat Arcangelo Dandini’s version, which is made in-house, super light, unbelievably delicious. He serves his gnocchi all’Amatriciana, a really light tomato sauce with guanciale and Pecorino cheese. It’s so good. 

Epoch Times: What’s becoming fashionable again in Roman food?

Ms. Parla: There is a certain small revival in wine drinking. Just statistically speaking a lot of Italians don’t drink as much as they would have in the 1960s and 1970s, and wine consumption was down for a long time. What’s fashionable now are independent wine shops that, rather than going through big distributors, go through smaller distributors or directly to the vineyards to get really, really awesome artisanal wines—which wasn’t the case until quite recently, surprisingly.

Epoch Times: What are the aspects of Roman food that are little known outside of Rome?

Ms. Parla: I think that Roman food is perceived by visitors or outsiders as being super meaty but really there are a lot of vegetables in the cuisine. They’re not always very clear on the menus in restaurants because they are categorized in the contorno (vegetable sides) section, which usually just has a few things that are available year-round, so you’ll always find potatoes and dandelion greens and stuff like that. But the contorno is a very important feature of the meal. Not all the contorno is on the menu so you should know to ask what else is available because there are so many seasonal things.

For more information about Katie Parla’s book or her tours, see katieparla.com

See the recipe for vignarola and cacio e pepe, from “Tasting Rome.”

Tasting Rome