5 years, 5 months ago
Words and uncredited images by Niamh Shields of eatlikeagirl.com, exclusively for Trip+ as part of our #housetripping series.
My first trip to Rome was when I was 19 years old. I hopped off the train from Florence where I had been previously (and not thoroughly enchanted by at that age). I was enamoured by the buzz, pizza and gelato and I fell in love with Rome there and then. I stayed for a while and then I went home because I had to. I have been back several times since.
Romans more than most are tied to their traditions, but it is a very dynamic city also. It has changed so much since my first visit. Less Fiat 500s, which makes me sad, but the city is still gloriously old, a little crumbly and steeped in richness. I mean rich culturally and also where the food is concerned.
Take their pasta. Romans are very strict on this, as most Italians are, and the pasta here is very different to elsewhere. There are four main Roman pastas that you should explore when you visit: gricia, cacio e pepe, carbonara (but likely not as you know it) & amatriciana. These are all very simple and the beauty lies in sourcing great ingredients and taking care that the pasta is done just so and the sauce too. You can make them in the simplest of kitchens in Rome.
My first apartment, perched on a hill near the Vatican but actually overlooking a gorgeous Russian orthodox church had a well-stocked kitchen with everything you might need. I started playing around with my Roman recipes here, gathering ingredients from the Trionfale Market (about a 20 minute walk away).
I was there in spring and the market was lush with courgette flowers, which I couldn’t resist. So cheap too, I was getting bunches of them for less than two euro.
I brought them home along with some gorgeous fluffy sheep’s ricotta (look out for ricotta di pecora) and some fresh herbs (mint or basil work well). I combined the ricotta with some herbs and an egg yolk and delicately stuffed them, before frying them in a batter made with the egg white, some flour and a little water. They were divine and a little addictive.
This is pretty much mainly what I did there, and on repeat.
On to apartment number two, smaller but bright and very well designed. I felt very cosy and comfortable here. It is the perfect apartment for 1 or 2 people (the previous one could accommodate 4 if you wanted), even a small family, lots of things for babies and kids are supplied. The kitchen was cosy but it was well lit and I proceeded to work on my pastas here. I was still using the Trionfale Market as this apartment was even closer to it, and very near the Vatican. There was also a great little fruit and veg shop nearby.
I started here with cacio e pepe, another very simple pasta with pecorino romano, butter and black pepper and gricia, like before but with guanciale too. These are great speedy pasta dishes, perfect for when you want to cook at home and save money, be authentic and spend little time doing it.
In apartment number 3, a little further out but the same distance from the market and on the other side, this was a lovely calm space, tucked in off the street with a large beautiful kitchen, balconies to relax on and a short walk from the Tiber, along which you can stroll on into Rome. This is a perfect apartment to travel with friends and hang out and eat in after a hard day’s exploring of Rome. Here I worked on the amatriciana and the carbonara. Both fabulous and deceptively simple.
It is the recipe for carbonara that I will share with you here as it is one that every home cook should have in their arsenal. So basic and simple and so often maligned. Do not, under any circumstances, put cream in your carbonara. It is not needed, and it is not meant to be there. Also, no pancetta, just guanciale. Ok? Let’s get started.
First go to your local market and get a whole guanciale cheek. Just do, you won’t regret it. You will pay no more than 15 euro (I paid 12) and what you don’t use, wrap and put in your suitcase to take home. You will be very happy you did that when you get home (I would get some lardo too).
Recipe: Proper Spaghetti Carbonara
200g good spaghetti (look out for the best – it makes a difference)
50g pecorino romano, finely grated
100g guanciale cut into small dice, with a layer of fat at each side of the pink meat
2 good large egg yolks
black pepper, freshly ground or toasted and crushed with the back of a spoon if you have no pepper grinder
Cook the spaghetti until al dente. While the spaghetti is cooking, fry the guanciale gently until starting to crisp. Whisk the egg yolks with half of the pecorino and a little of the (slowly added) guanciale fat. Add the drained cooked spaghetti to the egg yolks off the heat (you don’t want to scramble the eggs) and then finish with the cooked guanciale. Sprinkle with the remaining pecorino romano.
Simple! And so delicious. Now go out and see more of Rome again.
Featured image by MakeNmakE.