After several weeks of isolating, it wouldn’t be so bad to get lost in a story from another time with a delightful travel log of “ol’ familiar places” while enjoying easily recognizable comfort foods made from scratch. I know I could use a diversion, even if it is only for a couple of hours.
It really wasn’t that long ago that the world was in shambles after WWII. During Italy’s post war reconstruction and economic boom, the film and fashion industries helped to build an attractive image, turning a nation that was in ruin into one of the world’s most desirable tourist attractions. It was in the early 1950s that the global launch “Made in Italy” took place. Italy had become, almost overnight, a modern and appealing country. And post-war Italy loved anything American! The film, Roman Holiday, was the first American film to be shot entirely in Italy, kickstarting a whole new era of Italo-American cooperation.
This week’s menu could have been enjoyed in 1950s Italy, as it was before then and most certainly is still today in Roman trattorias. Because it lies in the center of the country, the cuisine of the Lazio region with Rome as its capital, draws from the distinctive cuisines of the north and the south, while still retaining a character of its own. Many traditions can be traced back to some of Rome’s original founders, shepherds who formed their colonies on the seven hills, and who eventually became farmers.
Our first course, Bucatini all’Amatriciana is the Romans version of a dish originating in the town of Amatrice, in the Sabine Hills northeast of Rome, highlighting the age-old famous cheese, Pecorino Romano, considered one of the world’s oldest. It is a simple recipe using only tomato, onion (in the Roman version), hot pepper and “guanciale” or cured pork jowls, though it is totally acceptable to use pancetta (cured pork belly) in its place. The Romans also prefer to use bucatini, a spaghetti-like pasta with a hole down its middle, which we make fresh in house.
Saltimbocca alla Romana is considered another stalwart of the region. It is traditionally prepared with thin slices of veal, which due to today’s limited supply and cost, we have replaced with chicken. “Saltimbocca” loosely translated means “jump in the mouth,” which it certainly does with its flavors of fresh sage and salty prosciutto.
Misticanza is another dish well known in the region. It is a mix of at least 11 different wild and cultivated leafy greens with tender fresh herbs. We have included, romaine, red radicchio, chicory, frisee, endive, arugula, kale, basil, tarragon, mint, parsley and more. The dressing is the traditional version of extra virgin olive oil, fresh lemon and Italian sea salt.
Crostata di Ricotta, which the Romans affectionately claim as theirs, really can be found as a classic “dolce alla casalinga”/homemade dessert everywhere throughout Italy. My first introduction was by Francesco’s Zia Ada. Every Saturday, she would come to the trattoria in Cercina to prepare the weeks’ desserts and I was appointed her apprentice. She taught me how to make the cookie-like pasta frolla and how to prepare the filling with fresh ricotta that we had purchased from the shepherds that day before. It is a simple, genuine dessert that remains one of my richest memories of time spent with the Italians.
In Roman Holiday, Audrey Hepburn’s character, Princess Anne, evades her protectors and advisors by sneaking out at night to discover how ordinary Italians live. How fortunate was I to have lived so many years with these beautiful people, learning, loving and living their traditions. Watching this movie brought me back to simpler, innocent times when riding a Vespa for the first time, eating a cone of gelato, or even just sitting at an outdoor café was a wonderful adventure.
If you have Amazon Prime, you will be able to watch Roman Holiday for free. You may follow this link (https://amzn.to/2YmjHYT) or if your TV is enabled for apps you may find it directly on the Amazon Prime app. You may also rent it for $3.99 on Amazon (https://amzn.to/3bOER5O).
Buon appetito and happy travels to Rome!