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Nov 13, 2009 04:51 PM

Classic Roman Dishes

When you think of Roman food, what is the first dish that comes to mind? What is your favorite roman specific dish? What dishes should one be looking for in Rome, that are specific just for Rome?

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  1. Here's a fairly useful list:

    Not all the dishes are exclusive to Rome, and many are now served all over Italy, but they all have a strong connection to Rome.

    1. I think it's worth tracking down gnocchi in Rome because there it is more commonly made with semolina, and I think it is more delightful than the potato gnocchi one typically finds elsewhere in Italy. Also, pizza bianca can sometimes feel like a close cousin of foccacia, but it has it's own unique deliciousness, and I try not to miss having it when I visit Rome.

      5 Replies
      1. re: summerUWS2008

        On Thursdays, trattorias all over Rome serve potato gnocchi, and many serve them every day. There is an idea afoot that potato gnocchi are somehow not typical of Rome and that the so-called gnocchi di semolino or gnocchi alla romana (two names for the same thing) are the real Roman gnocchi. However, the gnocchi di semolino are almost impossible to find in restaurants (gourmet shops sell them for cooking at home) and potato gnocchi are common. The semolino ones present themselves as little patties and the potato as little dumplings.

        Focaccia is a broad term, roughly translatable as flatbread (it comes from the word for hearth), that encompasses pizza bianca. The whole terminology is confusing to people who don't eat these things on a regular basis. You're right that pizza bianca sort of resembles what most foreigners think of as focaccia (which, I believe, is the spongy, oily Ligurian focaccia), but rather than "uniquely delicious" (which is true), I would have said "way better than." But that's just me and three million Romans. The word focaccia in Roman pizzerias means a pizza with no topping except maybe a brushing of olive oil. It is used, sometimes draped with prosciutto slices, to keep body and soul together till the real pizza arrives.

        1. re: mbfant


          I don't get into food fights anymore (quit in the 1st grade), but plenty of people -- including some lovely Romans I know! -- enjoy Liguirian foccacie for its own uniquely delicious qualities and perhaps some even like it better than pizza bianca (and certainly I prefer it to anything draped with prosciutto slices). I hope you won't take it too amiss when I observe that I sincerely doubt you speak for 3 million Romans (or anybodies!)

          Regarding gnocchi, are you saying gnocchi made with semolina wasn't eaten in Rome before the arrival of the potato to Italy? I would have thought the idea that semolina gnocchi was the true Roman gnocchi gets its "feet" from the fact that semolina gnocchi -- minus the parm -- was eaten in the Roman empire long before the arrival of the potato to Europe -- combined with the fact that it is semolina gnocchi is seldom called anything but gnocchi alla Romana throughout Italy, as far as I've seen. And I'm pretty convinced that, wherever they get it, Romans eat more semolina gnocchi in Rome than other Italians do elsewhere.

          The only gnocchi I ate in Roma was semolina gnocchi, served at Fiore di Zucca (Via G. Donizetti, 16) -- and I don't remember what day it was, but it was some years ago, so I can't guarantee it's still there. But I think that semolina gnocchi is made in-house and served at Ristorante Barberini (at Via della Purificazione 21), at Il Sanpietrino (piazza Costaguti, 15) and sometimes at Sora Lella (Via Ponte Quattro Capi, 16).

          I still think it's worth tracking down in Rome, because it's even harder to find in restaurants elsewhere.

          1. re: summerUWS2008

            The internet is so wonderful!

            Here is a video of a native Roman speaking for himself, Chef Benedetto d'Epiro of Ristorante Barberini, teaching a cooking class in Milwaukee, explaining why semolina gnocchi is the original Roman version of gnocchi. Alas, there is a long musical introduction of about a minute or more, but the explanation is in the first 3 minutes:


            I think the original poster asked about "classic Roman dishes."

            1. re: summerUWS2008

              Obviously in Europe things made with semolina antedate things made with potatoes. The original question was not "what is the history of gnocchi?" (for which I recommend the new book "Encyclopedia of Pasta" by Oretta Zanini De Vita, translated by me; the whole gnocchi story is much more complex than just semolino vs potato) but what classic dishes should I look for in Rome. Normal potato dumpling-type gnocchi are overwhelmingly more common in Roman trattorias than the semolina patty-type, which are more common (note I am not using absolute terms) in gourmet shops than in restaurants. In other parts of Italy, the semolina-type have different names. In Trentino, canederli di gries, and in Sardinia, pillas. On Thursdays, Romans today, as their grandparents did, eat potato gnocchi.

              1. re: mbfant

                That was the indeed the question -- I didn't bring up the history of gnocchi. You did! The original question is why I returned to post that more than one Roman restaurant or chef who makes a specialty of serving classic Roman cuisine serve gnocchi made with semolina, as cooked up by many a Roman grandparent and great-grandparent. I think gnocchi alla Romana is a classic dish very much worth looking for in Rome, because when it is prepared well, it is delicious gnocchi, and in my experience, it has been hard to find gnocchi alla Romana prepared well outside of Rome.

                Perhaps the difficulty is just the word "commonly." While potato gnocchi may be more commonly found than semolina gnocchi in Roman trattorias, what I was trying to tell the original poster is that gnocchi alla Romana is not commonly -- meaning easily -- found in other parts of Italy, or the US, so it's worth tracking down in Rome because it's usually one's best shot at tasting it -- and it's a taste treat.

      2. If you're into offal and in the Testaccio area, the pajata at Checchino is absolutely delicious. I had it last over three years ago, but I think about it all the time! Pajata is very tipico a Roma cucina.

        2 Replies
        1. re: ttoommyy

          I love offal. I'm actually also living in the testaccio area for six months so that is perfect. Thanks for the tip ttoommy.

          1. re: sutcher

            Perfetto! Then you really must visit Checchino. Buon appetito!

        2. To me one of the best aspects of rome is the great bread, most of it from the Castelli romani.

          Since you are in Testaccio, you can go over to Volpetti and buy slabs of Pane di Genzano, black on the outside from bran, or to Passi which has pane di lariano, a different type.

          Passi also makes the traditional primitive roman sweets, panpepato and pangiallo, . Heavy, full of spice, fruit and nuts. this is the season.

          Also at this time of year, you can eat cicoria and puntarelle - some of the traditional roman veg - you will see the curly precut pieces of puntarelle in the Testaccio market and other street markets. dressed with a lot of garlic and anchovy its sharp and refreshing. We had some fairly unappealing renditions of cooked, fried cicoria on our last trip - Armando does a good one. there are a lot of other unfamilar (to americans) cruciferous greens in the markets around this time of year - they look almost Chinese. - maybe Maureen can suggest some cooking methods for these. We had some delicious Vignarola soup/stew over the Christmas week at La Campana a few years back. I know it is supposed to be a spring dish, but I think they must have used these greens in it.

          1. I am surprised that no one yet has mentioned either carciofi alla romana or alla giudia. Nor have they mentioned spaghetti alla carbonara. For a report on a restaurant that makes a point of being very Roman see:
            Their spaghetti carbonara is just spaghetti, egg yolk, guanciale and ricotta. Quite austere for what we think of as a luscious dish.

            2 Replies
            1. re: beaulieu

              The ricotta is not in a classic spaghetti carbonara. Maybe it is a typo error for grated pecorino or Parmesan. Also a good grinding of black pepper is necessary.

              1. re: PBSF

                Thank you for the correction. I meant grated pecorino.