Baccalà con patate

Here’s a bit of trivia for you – Italy is second among nations in the consumption of baccalà.  What is baccalà, you might ask?

Photo from http-www-academiabarilla-itricettelaziobaccala-alla-romana-aspx.jpg

Photo from http-www-academiabarilla-itricettelaziobaccala-alla-romana-aspx.jpg

Baccalà is merluzzo, or cod, which has been salt-dried, and is later rehydrated, cooked and consumed.  Baccalà is a relative to stoccafisso, or stockfish.  Legend has it that Norwegian Vikings used to air-dry cod and take it with them for nourishment on their overseas travels.  At the same time or shortly thereafter, whale hunters from Spain’s Basque Country devised a similar plan to support their nutrition needs on whale hunting trips.  Due to the higher temperatures in the Southern Mediterranean, though, the Basque people salt-dried their cod instead of air-drying it, to save themselves from an otherwise very fishy-smelling voyage.


Once considered a food of the people, baccalà is now a delicacy across all of Italy, and is prepared in a multitude of ways, in venues ranging from the household Italian kitchens to high end restaurants.  Recipes abound, their names often reflecting an Italian region or city: baccalà alla vicentina, baccalà alla livornese, baccalà alla romana, baccalà alla napoletana, baccalà alla calabrese.  

Photo from

Photo from

Baccalà is also essential to la Cucina Romana.  Filetti di baccalà are reliably found on the menù of all Roman pizzerie.  These batter-fried pieces of baccalà are the Eternal City’s preferred pre-pizza appetizer.  Moreover, entire baccalà stores, called baccalerie, supply any type of baccalà or stoccafisso you desire.  Alimentari Micheangeli, located in the working class Roman neighborhood of Centocelle, is one such baccaleria.

When Stefano was a bambino, his grandmother had a little neighborhood alimentari, where she sold salt-dried baccalà, and also had a large basin of cold water with rehydrated baccalà ready for shoppers to buy and cook.  Baccalà con patate, a favorite of Stefano’s father, Andrea, was a frequent meal in their household during his childhood.

Remember, you need to start soaking the baccalà the night before!

Ingredients for 4-6 servings
One filetto di baccalà (salt cod fillet)
Half of a medium onion
8-12 medium potatoes
1 28-oz. can (in Europe, a 1 kg. can) of plum tomatoes
1/3 olive oil

At least 24 hours prior, place the salt cod fillet to soak in cold water.  Change the water every 3-4 hours as possible (don’t worry about changing the water overnight).


Chop the onion and cut the potatoes into small, uniform pieces.  Place the potatoes and onion into a large pan with 1/3 cup of olive oil.  Add the tomatoes, passing them through a food mill first.  If you don’t have a food mill, use crushed tomatoes, or run the whole tomatoes though a food processor or blender.

Baccalà con patate

Add a glass of water, cover, and cook over medium-low heat for 20-30 minutes until the potatoes are soft, adding water and lowering the heat as needed to prevent it from burning.  You do not need to salt the mixture – your fish will provide enough salt once you add it.

Baccalà con patate

Remove the fish from the water, rinse it and pat it dry.  Cut the fish into portion-sized pieces, and add it to the potato, onion and tomatoes.  Cook covered for approximately another 20 minutes, time for the baccalà to become tender and release its flavors.  After 10 minutes, taste for salt and add a bit if needed.

Baccalà con patateBaccalà con patate

Serve hot with crusty bread and a chilled glass of crisp, earthy white wine that can stand up to the saltiness of baccalà, such as Verdicchio or Frascati.

Baccalà con patate

Date Night in Rome

Date Night in Rome – cheap wine, an ancient Roman garbage dump, and butchered animal scraps.

The boys were more than happy to stay home with Nonna and eat a big plate of her pasta e fagioli, while Stefano and I enjoyed a rare evening out together – even more rare in that we are in Rome.

Date night in Rome is a definite treat.  The setting sun illuminates the pastel facades of the city’s palazzi, making the everything glow with intense color.  The air finally cools, a breeze picks up and people emerge from their homes and offices to enjoy their marvelous town.  Restaurants and bars buzz, and the many outdoor concerts and festivals are jammed with people.

We decided on dinner at an osteria that we’ve heard a lot about lately – Flavio al Velavevodetto. We first read about Flavio al Velavevodetto in London’s Guardian newspaper.  Then, Kathy from a Food Lover’s Odyssey wrote about it.  Researching it further, we discovered that food writer Elizabeth Minchilli featured it on her blog, as well.  We used to be suspicious of local places that had been reviewed and publicized by the Anglo world, but we’ve come to realize that some of these food reviewers really know Rome, and Roman cuisine.  Plus, the name itself is playfully fun – velavevodetto is Roman slang for, “I told you so.”

As it turned out, they were right – it is a fabulous place!  But before we jump right to the end of the story, we need to explain a few things about date night in a Roman osteria.  You see, it involves cheap wine, an ancient Roman garbage dump, and butchered animal scraps.

Osterie Romane
Osteria comes from oste, or ‘host’ in English.  Traditionally, osterie served wine and very simple food.  More recently, osterie have simple menus and are usually known for serving traditional dishes in a relaxed, neighborhood atmosphere.  They have slightly more informal origins than trattorie, although the two have in common that they feature local food and are usually less expensive than a ristorante.

Monte Testaccio
Some of the best osterie are found in the ancient Roman neighborhood of Testaccio.  Testaccio takes its name from Monte Testaccio, a man-made hill 35 meters high made up of broken clay pots called anfore in Italian or ‘amphorae’ in English, that date back to Ancient Rome.  The amphorae contained olive oil, and were broken and discarded in an orderly and systematic way on the hill.  According to wikipedia, the remains of up to 53 million olive oil amphorae make up Monte Testaccio.

Flavio al Velavevodetto is located along Via di Monte Testaccio, and its dining room rests up against Monte Testaccio.  At the back of the dining room, three arch windows were cut out of the wall and covered with glass to display the amphorae behind them.

La Cucina Romana
Offal (noun).  The internal organs and entrails of a butchered animal.

Throughout history, Rome has been an important city gastronomically.  However, as social classes formed and became increasingly disparate, Rome’s poor became skilled at making good use of what is called il quinto quarto, or the ‘fifth quarter’ of meat, referring to the organs, entrails, brains, of the animal as well as less prestigious cuts of meat such as oxtail. These are carefully prepared, often in umido, stewed for hours in seasoned tomato sauce.

The menu at Flavio al Velavevodetto was typically Roman, and the atmosphere was one of a true Roman osteria, albeit one with a Michelin recognized kitchen.  There were a few tourists, but the place was packed with Romans of all ages, too.  The cute couple next to us who looked no older than their late teens conversed as they ate their generous plates of oxtail in tomato sauce, while two middle-aged Roman women finished off their dinner with a glass of amaro, a bitter, after-dinner herbal liquor that serves as a digestif.

Here were our choices:

I primi piatti
Stefano ordered a first course of rigatoni con la pajataLa pajata is made from the intestine of a veal that has been nourished with its mother’s milk only, and is a delicacy only a true Roman can appreciate.

Cara ordered ravioli alla velavevodetto.  These were filled with fresh cow’s milk ricotta and spinach, and served in a sauce made from minced herbs (mint, mentuccia romana, basil, oregano, thyme, and majoram) blended with ricotta salata, garnished with split cherry tomatoes and a dollop of ricotta.

Our first courses were so good that had the meal ended then we would have gone home satisfied and happy.  But alas, there was more…

I secondi piatti
A true Roman, Stefano ordered trippa alla romana (tripe), the culinary term for the lining of the first chamber of a cow’s stomach  Cara ordered the misto umido, which consisted of one meatball, one oxtail and one involtino alla romana (a thin strip of beef rolled tightly together with herbs and a piece of prosciuto), all slow-cooked in a delicious red sauce until tender and savory.

We ordered a delicious side dish of escarole that was boiled and then sautéed with black olives, capers and pine nutes, and a salad of mixed baby greens with a side dressing of olive oil and anchovy paste.  The side dressing was actually designed to dress le puntarelle, a delicious Roman chicory, but sadly there were none that night.

There is no wine list at Flavio al Velavevodetto.  Instead, patrons are invited to walk right up to the shelves storing the wine selection and choose a bottle that suits them.  The quality and selection of wines was inpressive, and the prices were very reasonable.  Cheap wine, in other words, but very good wine.  We chose a 2007 Poliziano Asinone, and were delighted.

We’d heard about Flavio’s variation on the classic Italian dessert tiramisù, and decided that we had to share one to try it.  Absent were the savoiardi and liquor characteristic to the traditional tiramisù recipe.  Instead, a very smooth, very eggy mascarpone cream sat on top of a tablespoon of espresso on the bottom and a crumbly cookie in the middle of a simple Italian water glass.  Pieces of fudgy dark chocolate floated in the middle of all of that goodness, while a pool of chocolate rested on top.

Stefano told the friendly and helpful waitstaff that second to his mamma’s dinners, it was the best meal he has had since returning to Rome.

Il Cinquino di Zio Marco

A few months back when the new Fiat 500 was released in the States, we test drove it and gave it our review.  As it appears, the car that we really have our hearts set on, the Alfa Romeo Giulietta, may not make it to the States at all, or if it does it may be released as a Dodge Dart.  Nothing personal, Dodge.  But when you really want an Alfa, a Dodge Dart just won’t due.  Sergio Marchionne, are you listening?

The new Fiat 500 Abarth is now out in the States.  It’s sporty and fun, so we just may need to look into that, instead.

Here in Rome, we’ve been having fun with Stefano’s brother Marco’s original 1969 Fiat 500, affectionately known in Italy as il cinquino.  Refurbished and running like a charm, it’s Marco’s get-around car.  The only trick to driving it is knowing how to do la doppietta, a double-clutching technique that prevents the gears from grind when shifting up and down.

La doppietta works like this:

  • Press the clutch down and pull the gear into neutral.
  • Release the clutch.
  • Quickly press the accelerator up and down once or twice to bring rev up the motor.
  • Press the clutch again and gently move the stick shift into the correct gear.

Here’s our photo shoot of our evening of fun in Zio Marco’s cinquino.

Ciao, Roma!

Ciao, Roma!  It’s been too long.

We had a perfect day to visit our favorite city – it was hot but not sweltering, and a cool breeze competed with the splendid sun, offering us reprieve from the heat.

Via Condotti e Antico Caffè Greco
We took the Metro to Piazza di Spagna, and then worked our way down Via Condotti and Via Borgognona, strade romane dotted with the flagship stores of Italy’s most famous designers.  Window shopping for alta moda is hard work, so we took a break and ducked into Antico Caffè Greco, the oldest bar in Rome, for a coffee.

Il Pantheon, Caffe’ Sant’Eustachio ed Enoteca al Parlamento
A trip to Rome’s historical center must include our favorite monument, the Pantheon, a temple originally built in 27-25 B.C. and dedicated to the goddess Olympia.  It was as magnificent as always today!  A quick stop for pizza al taglio was really just an excuse for another coffee, this time a creamy Gran Caffè  from Caffe’ Sant’ Eustachio, arguably the best coffee in Rome.  We found Sant’Eustachio surprisingly calm, and were happy to not have to press up against the other Romans and tourists to work out way to the bar.  Caffeinated and energized, we headed toward Piazza Navona and came upon Enoteca al Parlamento, a historical wine shop and bar filled from floor to ceiling with dusty bottles of Italian wine (some of it very high quality), along with preserves, spreads, candies and other delicacies.

Piazza Navona e Gelateria del Teatro
After browsing the artist stands and admiring Bernini’s famous fountains in Piazza Navona, we headed down Via dei Coronari toward one of Rome’s best gelaterie, Gelateria del Teatro.  This is the epitome of gelato artiginale, hand-crafted, inventive gelato made from all natural ingredients.  The Pistacchio and Ricotta, Fico e Mandorle Tostate (Ricotta, Fig and Toasted Almond) cone was spectacular, and we made a mental note to return for Pesca Bianca e Lavanda (White Peach and Lavender).

Il Tevere e la Grattachecca
It didn’t matter that we’d just had gelato.  We were really craving a Roman grattachecca, hand-shaved ice drizzled with syrup and adorned with fruit.  The grattachecche vendors are typically found along Lungotevere, the road that winds alongside il Tevere, or the Tiber river.  As predicted, we came across one at Ponte Umberto I.  We chose a black cherry and a mint one, and agreed to bits of fresh coconut on top.

The grattachecche gave us just enough energy to walk back to the Metro at Piazza Barberini and ride home in the cool and fast-travelling underground train…just in time for our nephew Davide’s 3rd birthday party, which lasted well into the night.  Stay tuned for birthday parties, Italian style!

Sugo di pomodoro fresco

We’re all packed for Rome.  It didn’t take much – with this heat there simply are not that many clothes we need to bring.  Our weather app showed 100°F/38°C in Rome today, and 97°F/36°C tomorrow.  It’s sizzling.

It doesn’t matter – we’re excited to go!  We’ll take Due Spaghetti on the road, taking foto of the foods we eat, the places we visit, and the people we meet. From Stefano’s mom’s apartment, to our favorite places in Rome, on our road trip through northern Italy’s wine country, and concluding in the Cinque Terre, we’ll chronicle our travels and take note of our favorite finds.  We’ll update the blog as time permits, and tweet in between.  Join us!  We’d love to read your comments, learn of your suggestions, and answer your questions.

It seemed appropriate to make a simply fresh tomato and basil sauce for the final meal before we leave.  Called sugo al pomodoro fresco in Italian, there are no canned tomatoes needed.  Instead, this sauce is made from the fresh, flavorful, tomatoes of summer.  Fresh and light, it is a perfect way to dress pasta.

You will need a food mill to make sugo al pomodoro fresco. Our favorite is made by Oxo, and can be found in most kitchenware stores, or on our Due Spaghetti aStore.

8-12 medium San Marzano or on-the-vine tomatoes
one small bunch of basil
2 Tablespoons olive oil
Salt to taste

Slice the tomatoes into quarters.  Remove the cores and seeds, and place the tomatoes into a sauce pan.  Cover, and cook on medium-low head until they deconstruct, approximately 10-15 minutes.  Pass the tomatoes through a food mill to remove the skin and any sinewy parts, and back into a saucepan.  Simmer over low heat with the olive oil for another 10-15 minutes. Salt to taste, and add the basil during the final few minutes.

Toss together with your pasta of choice cooked al dente, and serve with a grating of Parmigiano Reggiano.

Arrivederci!  Ci vediamo in Italia.

Linguine al sugo di tonno

It’s hot.  Really, really hot.  It’s time to fare il cambio di stagione nell’armadio – the seasonal updating of the closet with summer clothes.  It’s also time to do the same with the refrigerator, making space for farmer’s market vegetables and easy, summertime staples.  Of all the seasons, summer is our favorite from a culinary perspective – there is so much variety and flavor and simplicity.

But before we talk food, let’s go back to clothes.  We’ve finished planning our July trip back home.  We’ll spend a few days in Rome with Stefano’s family, celebrating the birthdays of our young nephews Flavio and Davide, and visiting some of our favorite spots in the city.  We’ll probably take a day trip down to the costiera amalfitana and stop at our favorite restaurant there.  Then, we will throw our kids and Stefano’s madre, Maria, in the car with us and head nord for a tour of northern Italy’s wine regions.

Finalizing our itinerary and booking our hotels got us thinking about what to pack.  It’s hot in many Italian cities in summertime, even in the northern regions where we will be.  We want clothes that are cool and practical, but fashionable, and that won’t make us look like American tourists.

Here’s a quick guide for those of you with similar ambitions:

Women, wear lightweight dresses, skirts, and capris.  Opt for short-sleeved or sleeveless blouses or tops.  Dressier t-shirts are okay.  Keep in mind that low necklines are common, but if you hope to enter a church, keep you shoulders covered or have something to throw over them.  Wear comfortable but feminine sandals or ballet flats.  Heels do not fare well on cobblestone streets; if you really need some height, opt for wedges.  If your hair is long, have something to pull it up and off of your neck.

Men, choose lightweight jeans or cotton trousers.  Linen pants are common.  Knee-length and sailor length pants have been fashionable, too.  On top, wear a light weight cotton button-down or knit top.  Men often wear sandals outside of the office in summertime, or lightweight casual shoes.

Children can get by with pretty much anything.  Keep it lightweight, consider a hat to cover their heads, and be mindful of the scorching sun.

Other tips: Wear lightweight, natural fibers.  By lightweight, we really mean lightweight – if you live in a cold climate like we do, your summer clothes may still be too heavy.  Leave your rugged hiking sandals and your rubber Crocs at home – Italians opt for more fashionable, yet still comfortable, footwear.  Shorts aren’t usually worn by adults, although some stylish shorts are becoming more common with young people.  Avoid baseball hats if you are over 12 years old.  Finally, get used to being warm and a little sweaty, plan your outings after sundown when many cities come alive, and don’t put your feet in the fountains to cool down!

Okay, back to food.  Linguine al sugo di tonno reminds us of a summertime pasta, even though it can, and is, made all year round.  Perhaps it’s the tuna, which makes us think of the sea.  It is a quick and easy, tangy and delicious pasta.  You can use pretty much any pasta shape, although Stefano’s father, Andrea, always insisted that it be made with linguine.  Be sure to find good tuna packed in olive oil, never in water, and splurge on a can of San Marzano tomatoes.

1 large can (28 oz., approx. 800g) whole tomatoes, preferably San Marzano
2 cans (5 oz, or 75g, per can) tuna in olive oil
1 Tablespoon capers
1 quarter of a medium onion
2 Tablespoons olive oil
Dash of dry white wine
Salt to taste
One pack (16 oz. or 500 g) of linguine

Cut the onion into large pieces and sauté in olive oil for 5 minutes, or until translucent.  Drain the excess olive oil from the tuna, and add it, along with the capers, to the onions.  Allow the mixture to cook for a few additional minutes.  Add the tomatoes, passing them through a food mill first so that they are smooth.  Pour a dash of wine into the sauce, and allow to cook for about 30 minutes, adding salt to taste.

Place a large pot of water to boil over high heat.  When the water boils, add a handful of salt to it and then the pasta.  Cook to al dente according the time on the package.  Drain the pasta, and return it to the pot it cooked it.  Add the sauce to the pasta, and stir over low heat until it is well mixed.  Serve and enjoy immediately.

Cacio e pepe (Happy Birthday, Roma!)

April 21st was the 2,765th birthday of Rome!  According to legend, Romolo founded the city on April 21st of 753 B.C.  But to understand that story, we should really back up a few more years yet, to the almost tragic birth of Romolo e Remo, or Romulus and Remus.

The Tiber River and St. Peter's Basilica, image from

Conceived by their mother Rhea, a Vestal Virgin,  and the God Mars, the twins were abandoned at birth, placed in a basket and floated down the Tiber river.  The river was in flood stage though, and their basket eventually washed to shore where a  she-wolf, (lupa) found them and nursed them to health.   Eventually the boys were adopted and raised by a shepherd and his wife.  Upon reaching adulthood, the boys decided to found a town at the same location where the lupa found and nursed them.  They argued, however, over which hill the new city should be build upon.  Romolo wanted the town built on the Palatine Hill, and Remo on the Aventine Hill.  In the quarrel that ensued, Romolo killed Remo, becoming the sole namesake of the city of Roma.

The Capitoline Wolf, a bronze statue of the she-wolf nursing Romulus and Remus located in Rome's Capitoline Museums. Image from

To commemorate Rome’s compleanno (birthday), we compiled some of the web’s best photos of the Eternal City, and prepared one of the most classic Roman pastas, Cacio e pepe.

Cacio e pepe is a classic of the cucina povera Romana.  The shepherds who herded sheep in the hills outside of Rome who would carry aged cheese made from sheep’s milk with them, because it was easy to transport and preserve, and sheep’s cheese is a staple of Roman cuisine.  Cacio e pepe is made from just three ingredients: the hard, sharp and salty sheep’s cheese Pecorino Romano, cracked black pepper, and spaghetti. Disregard recipes that call for blends of cheeses, olive oil, or other ingredients – that’s not the real thing.

Cacio e pepe is a fixture on the menu of Rome’s traditional osterie and trattorie, and a fantastic pasta to make on a whim.  Despite its simplicity, it requires the right technique to prepare it well.  In a well-executed cacio e pepe, the Pecorino will turn creamy and smooth, coating the spaghetti perfectly.

This post is also our entry to the 261st edition of Presto Pasta Nights, hosted this week by Simona of the delightful English/Italian food blog Briciole.  Be sure to stop by and take a look at the pasta entries from around the world!

Ingredients, for 4-6 people
1 package (450 or 500 grams) spaghetti
250 grams (approx 8 ounces or just over 2 cups) grated Pecorino Romano
Cracked black pepper
Sea salt, preferably coarse

Bring a large pot of water to boil, and toss an abundant handful of salt into it. Add the pasta, and cook until al dente according to the time specified on the package.  While the pasta is boiling, prepare your cheese and have your black pepper ready to grind.

Just before draining the pasta, remove several cups of the pasta water and set aside.  When the pasta is al dente, drain it and return it immediately to the hot pot it cooked it.  Add one ladle of the preserved cooking water and about 3/4 of the grated cheese, and toss together vigorously with two forks so that the cheese melts into a smooth sauce.  If it seems too dry, add a little more of the cooking water.  If it is too runny, add more cheese.   Grind black pepper abundantly over the pasta, toss again, and serve immediately with one more dusting of ground black pepper and a sprinkle of grated Pecorino.

Wine Pairing
A dish this Roman needs a wine from Castelli Romani, the hills just outside of Rome where shepherds still tend sheep and produce great sheep’s milk cheese.  One option is Fontana Candida Frascati, which we featured in another Roman pasta dish, la carbonara.  Or, if you prefer a red, we recommend Velletri Rosso Riserva Terre dei Volsci.  This wine reflects the simplicity and earthiness of the Castelli Romani, and it’s freshness and acidity stand up well to the strong flavor of Pecorino Romano in cacio e pepe.

Le foto di Roma

The Colosseum. Image from

Castel Sant'Angelo and the Tiber River. Image from

Piazza Campo de' Fiori. Image from

St. Peter's Basilica rises above the rooftops of Rome. Image from

Piazza Campidoglio, where we were married. Image from

A Fiat 500 parked in Trastevere, one of the oldest parts of Rome. Image from

Piazza San Pietro (St. Peter's Square). Image from

The splendid Pantheon. Image from

Un Cono e Un Caffè al Pantheon

Our favorite monument in Rome is the Pantheon.  Built in 27 B.C. as a temple to the gods of Ancient Rome, rebuilt by Emperor Hadrian in 127 A.D. following the burning of Rome and converted to a Catholic church in the 7th century, it is one of Rome’s best preserved buildings.  The Pantheon boasts the world’s largest unreinforced concrete dome, with an oculus in the center that lets in the Pantheon’s only source of light.  Today, the Pantheon is home to the tombs of famous painters, a composer, an architect, two kings and a queen.

Whenever we return to Rome we be sure to visit the Pantheon, and while we are there we make time to stop for some of the best gelato and caffè in all of Rome.

Gelateria Giolitti is just a few blocks away from the Pantheon.  With its gigantic columns at your back walk straight ahead, passing along the right side of the fountain and down a narrow street called Via della Maddalena.  Proceed three or four blocks until you reach Via degli Uffici del Vicario.  Turn right and walk about a block and a half.  Gelateria Giolitti is on the right.  If you were to continue down that road you’d reach the Italian Parliament and Chamber of Deputies.  Don’t do that, though.  Stop and have a gelato, instead.

Gelateria Giolitti is not exactly a secret, so expect a full house and plenty of jostling and crowding to get your gelato.  Don’t be intimidated – it is worth it!  Stop at the cassa (cash register) first, and pay for your cono (cone) or coppa (cup).  Take your receipt and proceed to the gelato bar.  Practice being assertive – you will need to be in order to get the attention of the gelato servers.  Hold your receipt up to demonstrate that you’ve paid already and make eye contact.  Be ready to call out the flavors of gelato you want on your cono or in your coppa.  If you can’t read the little flavor labels, just point.  You can choose two and sometimes three flavors per cono or coppa, depending on the size you ordered.  Some of our favorites are pistacchio (pistachio) and nocciola (hazlenut), although the fruit flavors are buonissimi, also.  Your server will ask you if you want panna (whipped cream) on top.  Say yes – this panna is natural and much less sweet that what we are used to, a perfect compliment to the gelato.

Of course, if all of this is too intimidating, you can just sit down at a little table and be served by a waiter.  We won’t hold it against you if you choose this option; but know that you will not only pay a hefty surcharge for a table and wait service, you will also miss out on the adventurous and authentic experience of standing elbow to elbow with Italians and tourists alike to order your gelato from Giolitti.

Next, it’s time to get what many claim is the best caffè in all of Rome.  Head back toward the Pantheon the way you came.  This time, however, once you get back to Piazza della Rotonda where the Pantheon is, veer to the right past the fountain and keep walking with the Pantheon on your immediate left until to get to Salita de’ Crescenzi.  Turn right onto Salita de’ Crescenzi.  Proceed until you get to Via di Sant’Eustachio, which turns into Piazza di Sant’Eustachio, home to Sant’Eustachio Il Caffè.

Sant’Eustachio hasn’t changed much since it opened in the late 1930s.  Its tight space sports the original decor, and the baristi are more formal appearing that elsewhere in Rome.  They mean business; watch as they clear away used tazze (espresso cups) and set new ones out on the bar with rhythmic precision.  Expect lines and crowding like at Giolitti.  Follow the same routine of paying first at the cassa and then taking your receipt to the bar.  Order the renowned Gran Caffè, a dense, creamy double-espresso.  You will simply not find a better caffè in Rome, or perhaps anywhere.  Do not order a cappuccino; those are for breakfast with your brioche.  Do not order a regular caffè; you can get those everywhere in Rome.  You are at Sant’Eustachio, and you must order a Gran Caffè.  We hope we are sufficiently clear on this point.

If you do, you just may find yourselves doing what we do when we visit Rome – ensuring we make a visit to the Pantheon, and enjoying a gelato and a caffè while we are there.

Gelateria Giolitti
Via degli Uffici del Vicario, 40
00186 Roma

Sant’Eustachio il Caffè
Piazza di Sant’Eustachio, 82
00186 Roma

This map shows the Pantheon (B), Gelateria Giolitti (A) and Sant’Eustachio il Caffè (C).

On our most recent visit to Rome, we gathered three generations of family for a walk in the historical center, and of course, a visit to the Pantheon, Giolitti and Sant’Eustachio.  Gelato was had by all – Flavio, Davide, Giorgia, Noemi, Luca, Damiano, Sean, Mery, Patrizio, Ivana, Andrea, Debora, Daniele, Valentina, Marco, Cara, Stefano, e Maria.  Only the adults had caffè, though!

Crema di Caffè
If it may be a while before you have a chance to pop into Sant’Eutachio, here is a little trick you can use to render your home-made espresso more like a Gran Caffè.

When you make espresso, set aside a very small amount of the first coffee to come out of your espresso maker.  This coffee is stronger and richer that the coffee that follows.  Add 1 tablespoon of sugar to the reserved coffee.  Stir rapidly until the sugar has dissolved and you have a dense, sticky, cream.  This is called crema di caffè.   Add a teaspoon or two of crema di caffè to each espresso you pour, and stir.  The crema will render your espresso extra-rich and creamy.

La Carbonara

Not wanting to venture out to the market in the downpour, Spaghetti alla Carbonara was our choice for lunch on this stormy Sunday afternoon.   The creamy eggs, crispy guanciale, and sharp pecorino made for a hearty pasta dish that diverted our attention from the dark, thundering sky outside.

There are differing theories about the origin of la Carbonara’s name.  Some say that it was a preferred dish of Italian coalminers (carbonari) because of the non-perishable nature of the dry pasta, guanciale and pecorino cheese, and the availability of fresh eggs from the hens that they carried with them.  Others maintain that the recipe appeared shortly after the 1944 Liberation of Rome – a combination of Italian pasta and the bacon and eggs preferred by North American troops.

Many unauthentic versions of la Carbonara are around.  This one, though, is just like what you’d find in a Roman trattoria.  The trick lies in the authenticity of the ingredients and the technique.

Spaghetti alla Carbonara is one of the classic dishes of Rome, so it is fitting that we paired it with Fontana Candida, a dry white wine from Frascati, one of the hill towns surrounding Rome that make up the Castelli Romani.  Fontana Candida is a refreshing, minerally wine with a crisp acidity and green apple and citrus flavors.

Spaghetti alla Carbonara

1 lb. spaghetti
100 grams guanciale*
Olive oil
6 eggs (5 yolks, 1 whole)
Pecorino cheese**
Black pepper

Put a large pot of water on the stove to boil.  When ready, salt the water (see the Methods section for more information) and add the spaghetti.

In the meanwhile, slice the guanciale into strips 1/4″ thick, and then cut again into small pieces.  Slowly fry the guanciale in olive oil until crisp, but not burned.  Remove from heat.

Separate the yolks from the whites of 5 eggs.  Place the yolks into a dish, and discard the whites.  Add one more whole egg to the yolk mixture, and beat by hand.  Set aside.

Grate enough pecorino cheese to add generously to the top of each plate of pasta.  Set aside.

When the spaghetti are cooked, scoop out a large cup of the boiling water to set aside, and then drain thoroughly.  Return the spaghetti to the pot and place back on the stove on medium heat.  Moving quickly, add first the guanciale and the oil it was cooked in, and then the eggs.  Stir quickly until the eggs are cooked, adding some of the reserved water so that the mixture is creamy but not runny.

Transfer the spaghetti to pasta plates, grind black pepper liberally on top, and finish with a generous sprinkling of pecorino.  Serve immediately.

*Guanciale is cured pork taken from the cheek of the pig.  It is more flavorful than its cousin pancetta, which is cured pork from the belly of the pig.  Both guanciale and pancetta are best purched in Italian specialty delis.  If you cannot find guanciale, pancetta works fine in this recipe.  If you cannot find either use pork belly, which is what we did today because we didn’t want to run out in the rain.

**Pecorino is a sharp aged cheese made from sheep milk.  We prefer pecorino in our carbonara, but parmigiano can be substituted.