Raise your hand if you love traveling! If you ask me, one can never plant their toes enough places on the globe. The cycle goes: reach a new destination, get homesick, flee home for a few days, then hanker for a new adventure. Of course, my traveling budget is, well, nothing at the moment. Instead, I travel in my kitchen.
First stop: Rome, Italy
Tasting Rome: Fresh Flavors & Forgotten Recipes From An Ancient City
Author: Katie Parla & Kristina Gill
Publisher: Clarkson Potter, March 2016 (click link to look inside)
Length: 255 pg.
Natural hues, gilded title, and matte pages with colorful illustrations, both of the recipes, and of Rome itself, make this stand out on the cookbook shelf with elegance.
If your aim is authenticity, there is nothing more to ask. Each recipe title is in Italian, with the English translation underneath. You may feel lost at first as you turn the pages looking for familiar words like “vegetables” or “fish,” but instead finding “fritti” or “hraimi.” Side effects may include mimicking an Italian accent. Some items on the menu you probably have heard of, but never tried (for example, Beef Tongue in Salsa Verde, or Grilled Pig’s Liver). Others might completely surprise you. Fried squash blossoms anyone? I should be ashamed to admit this, but I did not even know squash had flowers growing on the same vine. Thankfully, the back of the book contains a list of resources for those wondering where to obtain such exotic ingredients.
Not to worry, there are plenty of other recipes consistent with the American palate. In unique combination, dishes span pastas, bread, fish, chicken, savory pie, veggies, pizza, desserts, specialty drinks, and lots of cheese. Each dish is distinctly Roman, often simulating recipes from ancient times, or demonstrating the evolution of a dish into modernity. The recipe for marinated olives is inspired by Cato, whereas Supplì Classici (rice croquettes), though originating from Napoleon’s troops, is portrayed here with alternate fillings and spices. In this same spirit of heritage, I was pleasantly surprised to find many recipes that pay homage to the Jewish Roman subculture. Shabbat classics, and dishes like “concia” (fried and marinated zucchini), or pizzarelle (honey-soaked matzo fritters) form a complete section in the book’s repertoire.
Though the introduction warns that Romans use loose measurements, like “Quanto Basta: as much as you need,” I found these recipes very specific and easy to follow. As I’m always looking for new tips to improve my general cooking skills, I appreciated tid-bits such as how to store roasted tomatoes for future use, or how salty to make pasta water.
Did you know that black pepper was an extravagance before the 20th century? The historical background, cultural explanations, and cooking advice in the beginning, and before each dish and section are tastefully balanced so as to be informative but concise, allowing the recipes to remain the focal point. Untraditional section divisions (Street Food, Classics and Variations, Jewish contributions, Offal, Vegetables, Bread & Pizza, Sweets, and Drinks) and limited glossary do make it difficult to hunt down specific items, though this also invites browsing.
All that specialty cheese makes this more of a date-night cookbook than cheap weeknight meal. Many of these recipes also call for prep work and attention. Though there are certainly a few recipes with pantry regular ingredients and short cooking time, the heart of Tasting Rome is lived out in an evening savoring the cooking process, lighting candles, opening wine, and slowly tasting every bite.