Great Veg Food in Rome and Sicily?
My husband just surprised me with a trip to Italy for my 40th birthday. We leave in 2 weeks and will be in Rome and Sicily (we will have a car in Sicily). We appreciate good food and wine, prefer local restaurants that aren't filled with tourists and places not specifically for vegetarians since they often don't incorporate the best of the local cuisine. Any reccomendations?
We are big cooks and will also be looking for markets with a good selection of local ingredients (packaged) to bring back to the States (Olive oil, dried mushrooms, etc).
I love Checco er Carretiere. They have a refrigerated display case at one end of the dining room that is usually filled with veggies. You can have them whip up a meal from the fresh selections. We had agretti (a type of coastal grass) for the first time there. Via Benedetta in Trastevere.
I would learn to say in Italian that you don't eat meat but you love good vegetables. As far as I'm concerned, Sicily grows the best vegetables on earth and any restaurant would be proud to show of their fantastic bounty. Pasta alla norma is a traditional Sicilian pasta dish made with tomato and eggplant (I didn't like eggplant before I visited Sicily). When I was in Siracusa I rented an apartment so I could take advantage of the market and cook all the wonderful produce myself, so that's something to consider. The cauliflower, broccoli, eggplant, tomatoes, peppers, melons, lemons, prickly pears, are all amazing.
The food markets in Sicily are mind-boggling, especially in Palermo but also in Catania, Siracusa, etc. Look out for the 'strattu di pomodoro, a tomato paste that is dried in the hot Sicilian sun. Definitely worth bringing home, cause you can't find it in the U.S. And don't miss out on the amazing sheep-milk ricotta! Also look for other great Sicilian cheeses: caciocavallo, tuma, primo sale, pecorino. And amazing breads covered in sesame seeds. And the best gelato. If you're passing through Messina they each brioche filled with gelato for breakfast!
I'm less familiar with Rome, but the artichokes (if they're still in season) are unreal. You can eat them raw.
If you travel in Sicily. I suggest you a wine tour of the Etna. The best places is Castiglione di Sicilia. Here there is a winery called "Torrepalino" tha produces good red wine. Are available tastings like pork meat, sausages, typical cheese and hand made bread.
Prices are very low (1 day tour complete is 15€)
If you want a great market area in Rome that is not mobbed with tourists, try the Via Andrea Doria near the Vatican. Go down the steps in front of the Vatican Museum and walk down that street a couple of blocks until you see the food stores and the market stalls.
Ahhh, Sicily... we just came back from a week in Siracusa and Taormina. I highly recommend two places in Siracusa, on Ortygia island, for great vegetarian fare: Trattoria La Foglia (www.lafogila.it). The proprietor (Beppo) is a vegetarian himself and will guide you through the menu, which is simple but has great pastas, mixed vegetable plates, and wonderful lentil soup. They also serve seafood. Another fabulous place is the tiny little Gazza Ladra (on Via Cavour) which is actually a wine bar, sort of, with a great menu. This is not a vegetarian place but the reason to go is the incredible vegetarian antipasto which we ordered for lunch. It had whatever was seasonal, beautifully prepared including local faves like fennel, pumpkin, fantastic zucchini, eggplants, etc. You won't regret it. They also have great pastas and panini (the real thing). I had a mushroom and mozzarella panino that was amazing. Don't miss Ortygia, it's a fantastic place, full of ancient history and not swarming with tourists (at least when we were there, in late May.) Buon appetito!
Also -- there's a little market in the central market area of Ortigia -- not sure what it was called but it's near the extreme east end of the market area near the main fish markets. It's a tiny little shop that sells local honey, mushrooms, dried tomatoes, almond paste, and some homeopathic cures. Try to find it, it's worth the time.
While you're planning your food shopping, remember the regs have changed for liquids. Technically, olive oil hasn't been allowed on flights since, at least, 2001 because the oil is defined to be a combustible material. Thankfully, the Italians have tended to ignore that regulation and we've all happily hauled the good stuff home.
Since the foiled airline bomb plot in London in fall 2006, liquids in carry-on luggage for flights within/departing from Europe face the same restrictions we have in the US. The difference is that their limit of 100ml works out to be 3.3 ounces. Now, 100 ml is plenty when it comes to pricey DOP balsamic vinegar, but that's a fairly scant amount when it comes to olive oil. If you want to bring more home, you'll have to determine your risk tolerance for packing larger bottles of olive oil in your checked luggage.
In our carry-on luggage, we hauled home 10 boxes of seasoned salt from Bologna to give as gifts. We were pulled aside to show the contents of our carry-on luggage. Happily, being Italy our boxes brought great smiles and compliments on our good taste in food. Interestingly, our 100ml bottle of balsamic vinegar, in the same carry-on luggage, was ignored. I suspect that may have been the result of the fact that we bought a DOP product from Emilia-Romagna. All DOP balsamico is bottled in the same shaped bottle regardless of producer, although the Emilia-Romagna bottle is different from the Modena DOP bottle. I image that the scanner in the Bologna airport knows his balsamico bottle shapes and didn't need to see what we were carrying. Interestingly, the scanner in the Paris airport -- for the trans-Atlantic portion of our flight -- ignored the seasoned salt and needed to inspect the vinegar. Having seen the vinegar, he was kind enough to let me keep the bottle in it's protective packaging without making me put it inside a plastic baggie.
Thank you for all the great suggestions. We leave tomorrow and look forward to visiting all of these great places.