On 21 April every year, proud Romans celebrate the birth of their city, founded by Romulus in 753BC. The Campidoglio and the Giardino Degli Aranci host most of the action.
From a small tribe, Rome grew to become the most powerful empire in the known world, an achievement never matched again. The testimony of this can be found not only in the monuments of Rome itself, such as the Fori Imperiali and Colosseo, but throughout Europe, North Africa and the Middle East.
After the collapse of the Empire, Rome suffered from constant Barbarian invasions, forcing people to abandon the city, its population falling to a mere 20,000. The resurgence of Rome was due to its Papal seat, and the birth of the Holy Roman Empire. Its emperors granted the Church land rights, and by the 15th century, Rome had become the permanent seat of the popes, who had jurisdiction over central Italy, attracting powerful Italian families who aspired to be chosen for the Holy seat.
During this period the city grew, and the Popes played a great part in the Italian Renaissance, employing artists such as Michelangelo, Raffaello, Caravaggio and Bernini, to adorn the palaces, churches and squares which they built to leave their mark.
Visiting Rome, one cannot help but be struck by its majestic architecture: the Fontana di Trevi with its breathtaking energy, the beautiful squares of Piazza Navona and Piazza di Spagna, the majesty of St Peter’s Church and the intimidating magnificence of the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican.
Searching for the culinary legacy of this history in the local trattorie or sophisticated restaurants, the contrast cannot be greater. The flavours that shine through are earthy and deceptively unassuming, at odds with a grander age. Dishes are based on the local produce, a wonderful variety of vegetables, baby lamb, and endless imaginative ways of cooking offal; even the classic Saltimbocca alla Romana lacks the sophisticated opulence of the city’s architecture. The simple fact is that none of the cuisine of the powerful, aristocratic families that moved to Rome or of the Papal Court was ever part of the culinary tradition of the Roman populace.
The ruling classes lived in their own world, consuming the best cuts of meat. They employed professional chefs who prepared opulent meals using each of the 4 quarters of the animal. Huge quantities of meat were consumed, leaving the butchers with the offal, including head, tail and feet (for whom this was often payment). They sold it to the local trattorie, where with ingenuity, wonderfully tasty dishes were created, such as Coda alla Vaccinara (Oxtail, the butcher’s way), Animelle Inpanate (sweetbreads with breadcrumbs), Pajata (veal or lamb intestines) and other dishes prepared with liver and kidneys. This cuisine has become known as the Cucina del Quinto Quarto (the cuisine of the fifth quarter, a playfully ironic reference to the fact that the hind and fore quarters were reserved for the wealthy).
The Jewish community, which has been in existence for over 2000 years, having been confined to ghettoes, evolved its own cuisine, and dishes such as Carciofi alla Giudea are testimony to this legacy.
Sheep farming, an ancient practice, has ensured that lamb remains a delicacy in Rome, especially the milk-fed baby lamb, simply char-grilled; the intense flavour is due to the wild grasses on which the sheep graze .
Since Rome became the capital city of Italy in 1870, a new cuisine has evolved; people coming from neighbouring areas to settle in Rome, brought with them their own traditions eg Buccatini alla Matriciana (thick hollow spaghetti with pancetta and tomato) from Matrice, a town on the border with Abruzzi; Penne alla Carbonara (pasta with pancetta, egg and black pepper) a frugal dish from the Carbonari; Spaghetti cacio e pepe (Spaghetti with pecorino cheese and black pepper)
Time and prosperity has done little to change the Roman diet; and the local people still treasure their culinary tradition and the tastes that have been handed down over the generations. Today the simple dishes such as Coda alla Vaccinara can be found in the local trattorie as well as in more exclusive restaurants.
Traditionally, the wine drunk in Rome has always been white; Vino dei Castelli. The local trattorie sourced their wine directly from producers, which they sold by the carafe or glass; it was fresh, easy to drink, and drunk in the same year it was made. With the introduction of the DOC law, a number of wines emerged, such as Frascati, Est Est Est, Marino - still of the easy to drink style, which became very popular around the world. Unfortunately, due to their popularity, the standard of the wine dropped, and as happened with Soave and Valpolicella, became associated with cheap plonk. Today, the area is being revaluated in terms of its real potential, thanks to the commitment of a number of producers, and although it struggles to drive up the quality of the region as a whole, the wines are emerging as truly outstanding .
The main white grape varieties of the region are Malvasia del Lazio (Malvasia being the main grape variety for good quality Frascati) and Trebbiano,. Colle Gaio, a Frascati Superiore, is the best expression of this grape variety in Lazio, with excellent ageing potential. Est! Est!! Est!!! di Montefiascone, a wine with a fascinating history; The story goes that Bishop Johan Defuk travelling to Rome would send his servant, Martin, a day in advance to mark the inns that served good wines. He did this with the word Est (it is). When Martin reached Montefiascone, he thought the wine so good, that to distinguish its excellence, he marked the door three times Est! Est!! Est!!! Whether the bishop reached Rome or not, he decided to settle in Montefiascone for the rest of his life. After he died, the locals as a sign of gratitude would pour a barrel of wine over his tomb. Traditionally semi-sweet, it is now being rediscovered in a more appealing dry, crisp style, thanks to producers such as Falesco.
There is no tradition of quality red wine making in Lazio, but the main varieties are Sangiovese and Cesanese, and although there are some excellent examples being produced, they are rarely seen outside Italy. The lack of tradition for fine red wines has encouraged some producers to experiment with international grape varieties, with promising results. Today, the most outstanding red wine by far, is the Montiano, from Falesco, the creation of Riccardo Cotarella, one of the most talented enologists in Italy. The wine is made from 100% merlot, acclaimed by wine critics around the world. Aleatico a red grape variety also found in other Italian regions, and generally used to make sweet wine, is grown on this estate to make the Pomele.
Lazio Recipe - Coda alla Vaccinara (oxtail with celeriac puree)
INGREDIENTS - Serves 4-5
2 kg lean oxtail cut into pieces at joints
30 ml extra virgin olive oil
10 gm lardo (pork back fat) finely chopped
1 small onion finely chopped
2 clove garlic finely chopped
2 whole cloves
325 ml red wine
2 carrots finely chopped
2 sticks celery finely chopped
1 bouquet garni
4 ltr beef stock
1 tin tomatoes chopped
1 stick celery, without leaves, 8cm long
15 g Sicilian sultanas
15 g pine nuts
5 oven-dried tomatoes, cut into
segments, seeds removed
1. Rinse oxtail under cold running water, pat dry with absorbent paper.
2. Heat olive oil and lardo in large heavy-based pan over medium heat
3. Add oxtail and cook, turning occasionally for 10 min till brown
4. Add onion, carrot, celery, garlic, cloves, season with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
5. Cook for 5 mins, add red wine, reduce heat to low, cover and cook for 15 mins until onion is soft and red wine reduced to one third
6. Add tinned tomatoes and cook for 15 mins
7. Add beef stock and bouquet garni, cover and cook gently for
3-4 hours or until meat is almost falling off the bone
1. Sautee celery in pan for 10 mins until tender
2. Remove oxtail from sauce and set aside
3. Add celery, pine nuts and sultanas to sauce and bring to boil
over medium heat
4. Reduce heat and simmer for 30 mins until sauce thickens
5. Pass sauce through sieve so it is smooth
6. Return oxtail to pan and cook till warmed through
SERVE WITH MASHED POTATO OR CELERIAC PUREE
Monday - Thursday, Lunch 12.00 - 14.30, Dinner 18.30 - 22.30
Friday & Saturday, Lunch 12.00 - 14.30, Dinner 18.30 - 23.00