Even in ancient times Rome was an overpopulated city. The number of foreigners was equal to, if not greater than, that of its native residents. After the rise of Christianity and the fall of the Roman empire, Rome became a destination for Christian pilgrims from all over the world, as well as ordinary travellers. And as Rome became the headquarters of the church, it became the residence of many clergymen and papal officials. In the seventeenth century these the Christians of Rome where governed by religious fasting, which has slipped into the roman diet and can even today in the regions dietary habits. To avoid committing the sins of gluttony, the people of Rome began to find loopholes to satisfy their appetite on both feast days and days of abstinence. These high-ranking clergymen, in the absence of supervisors, in this world anyway, seemed to become free of such concerns.
These loopholes led to the creation of some wonderfully elaborate dishes, some named after the popes that used to feast on them. One such pope was the Boniface VIII Timbale, the first pope to declare the first Jubilee, created a dish that is still known today. This elaborate dish included macaroni, meatballs, chicken gizzards, whole slices of truffle, all sealed in a pastry crust. The next Boniface, Boniface IX, adored liver meatballs, the so-called tomaselli, which was derived from the secular name, Tomacelli. From the sixteenth century onwards, papal passions for these elaborate dishes grew, and many great chefs worked in the employ of the Boniface. Pope Paul II, who demanded a wide variety of dishes at this table and always praised the worse one, he also was quite a drinker. He loved shrimps, timbales, fish, salt pork, and melons so much that he was killed by a stroke, that many people believe was bought on by his love of rich foods, the night before his feat he ate two hole large plates of melon, not leaving a morsel.
Pope Leo X, a member of the Medici family, brought with him from Florence many lavish culinary customs, endless extravagant banquets with vast amounts of food. Leo X was a bit of a practical joker, for example, he loved to amuse himself at the expense of his guests. He favourite joke was to use hemp rope in dishes instead of eel, so his unfortunate Guests had to chew and choke on them thought the entire evening.
Toward the middle of the sixteenth century Julius III ascended to the papal throne. His biographies show that Julius loved his food, he writes of his cooks stuffing peacocks and the onions of Gaeta, who's aphrodisiac qualities are legendary. Paul IV, who became pope shortly after Julius III, was said to be able to sit at the banquet table for up to five hours at a time, often sampling in excess of 20 courses at any one sitting. The ecclesiastical calendar set out the observance of days of abstinence, between 160 and 200 days a year, and the Romans conformed, some out of devotion, some simply out of decorum. It is for this reason Rome today has so many pasta dishes seasoned with olive oil and all kinds of vegetables are found in the Roman diet today. There is even a specific gastronomy for Lent featuring dishes such as boiled pike, soup of pasta and broccoli in skate broth.
To survive and prosper, the high-ranking inhabitants of Rome had to be good at diplomacy. If they wanted to maintain good relations with the clergy, they knew they must no violate the moral code. Specifically they must strictly observe, in public at least, the rules about abstaining from meat. Two hundred inns an two hundred hostels were recorded in eighteenth century Rome, along with more than one hundred caffes where you could drink a coffee. Bars which serve espresso, cappuccino, brioches, sandwiches and aperitifs, only really appeared in the twentieth century. Until the twentieth century very few people in Rome could read so bars, restaurants and caffes all had brightly coloured and elaborate signs so people could recognise them, taverns would place wine barrels and vine shoots outside their entrance so people would know where to go. Rome is one of those rare cities where the number foreign visitors has exceeded the number of local residents for centuries, and where the number of single men exceeds by far the number of single women, this is due to the male dominated clergy that live there. For this reason there has always been a great demand for caterers and launderers.
The menus of ancient Rome were divided int two categories. When prestigious events were organised - theatrical banquets were organised, the most elegant foods were brought from Greece, Syria, Carthage and Egypt and even at times from India. Then a platter would follow with a gigantic wild boar on it and a cap on it. From the boars teeth hung baskets woven from palm leaves, one was filled with Syrian dates and the other full of Egyptian. Sometimes these foreign rarities were imported in advance and kept in cellars and farmyards. But as the demands for these elaborate events grew larger many Roman gardeners and farmers used to grow and raise the foreign plants and animals out on country estates with a view to be used for banquets.
After the eighteenth century ancient Romans, began to use preserved, imported foods for feasts and fresh products from the countryside for everyday use. The same can be said of the tables of Rome today. For Christmas it is customary to place a plate of marinated Norwegian salmon and, if finance permits, a bowl of Iranian beluga caviar. But on weekdays for lunch, Romans eat tripe, fresh lettuce, focaccia with oregano and marjoram, vegetable frittata and zucchini flowers fried in batter. According to tradition, most of the fresh produce is subject to only minimal processing, since the host is in a hurry to feed their guests. One of the most praised ingredients among the Romans over the centuries is the egg - economical, simple, always available and quickly and easily consumed.
One of the oldest buildings of Rome that have stood in the same place for the last two and a half millennia are the slaughterhouses in the Testaccio district. In ancient Rome the slaughterhouse workers were paid in offal, this may sound rather disgusting but it has led to an amazing array of dishes using these lesser favoured pieces of animals. It is in Testaccio that rigatoni pasta alla pajata was invented. The pajata, or pagliata, is the tender intestine of the calf. I is prepared without emptying or washing the intestines inside, as it will have contained nothing more than the milk of its mother. Another reason it is so clean is made to suffer from hunger for a longtime before being butchered. In Testaccio and Trastevere the dish padellotto ( from the word padella - frying pan) is a beloved dish. A mixture of milk veal entrails, liver and spleen, usually served with artichokes. Another classic Roman dish is coda alla vaccinara, oxtail stew in a hot sauce, but the true pinnacle of Roman cuisine is Abbacchio, roasted milk lamb three or four weeks old, a very delicate but rather expensive product.
The gastronomic emblem of Rome, is that most Romano of vegetables, the artichoke. This vegetable requires lots of care, both when it is grown in the garden and being cooked. Artichokes are planted from August to October, then, according to the calendar, a complex weeding takes place, prior to the dicioccatura (stubbing) and scarducciatura (pruning) operations. As a result, one single shoot, the best one, remains on each plant. The flower forms only in February or March, and the season for eating artichokes begins in spring. There is strict hierarchy of artichoke varieties in Rome. The king of the artichoke garden is the purple, cimarola (from cima, top or best). Following this is the romanesco with its large, rounded petals, which grows in the Castelli Romani area in the south of Rome. This variety of artichoke was also called mammola. There is also a special Roman variety known as catanese, with an elongated shape and no thorns, which grows in the areas of Cerveteri, Sezze and Albano.
The preparation of Roman-style artichokes requires only water and a very small amount of oil, ideal therefore, for straightforward, large-scale cooking. In the more caloric variant of this dish, I is recommended that garlic, parsley and wild mint be inserted between the petals, before drizzling with oil, meat broth and wine. The recipe all' agro (with vinegar) is also much loved by Romans. It is made by boiling the artichokes in water and vinegar, then adding parsley, oil, vinegar, wild mint and salt. Nevertheless, there is a more exclusive, and much more laborious preparation method. It is artichokes alla Giudia (Jewish style), with an incomparable flavour, like the majority of dishes created in the old Jewish ghetto which nestles alongside the Vatican. The artichokes are flattened then plunged int a deep pan of boiling olive oil (at a temperature of exactly 120 centigrade), where the heat causes them to expand and fan out. When the artichokes are removed from the boiling oil three drops of cold water must be sprinkled on them, so that the edges of the petals burst with crisp bubbles, which tinge on the tongue. Roman cuisine also includes an extraordinary dish, which falls into the category of treasures was inherited from the Etruscans; matticella, from matticelle the shoots leftover after pruning the grapevines. These dry shoots are burned in The fire place, and the artichokes are cooked in the residual ashes, after being carefully cleaned. A hollow grapevine is then inserted in the centre of each, through which olive oil with mint, garlic and salt is trickled through int the flower.
A traditional Lazio cuisine - one that differs from Rome's - is practically nonexistent. By the mid-nineteenth century the region around the capital was still a land of desolation and ruins. Between the Lepini mountains and the Appennines stretches the area known as Ciociaria. Until, fairly recently, the Ciociari were considered to be semi-primitive people like the gypsies. On the hills of Ciociari, near the villages of Alatri, Porciano and Feremtino there are lakes which provide the regions inhabitants with freshwater fish.
One of the most interesting places along the Lazio coastline is Gaeta. Throughout history Gaeta was a sort after area of military importance, the areas straight coastline mean it was an ideal vantage point o protect against aggressors. Evan today Gaeta houses a naval base and still retains a place of strategic and military importance. The chief speciality of Gaeta is its olives which are neither black nor green, but the colour of deep red wine. The olives are only picked manually, and are left to soften in running water for a few weeks. Only afterwards are they placed in brine. At this point the sweetness, savouriness and bitterness combine to form a unique bouquet and flavour. These olives are added to octopus salad and put on pizzas. Also famous in Gaeta are the tielle, Focaccias that can be dressed with endive and pine nuts, squid, chopped octopus with olives, zucchini with cheese, tomatoes, fish, garlic, raisins or capers. In addition the sea urchins of Gaeta are renowned and eaten raw.
The Wines Of Rome And Lazio
In ancient times Lazio was considered by the Romans as not only their larder, but also their cellar. It was in Lazio that a grape variety called Aminea was used to make the Romans favourite wine Falerno. The Volsci, the original inhabitants of Lazio before the Romans, had pressed the Aminea grapes and named it after the town of Falernum which was situated in the heart of the regions vine growing area. According to ancient records Falerno was available in both red and white and even Pliny the Elder, famous author and naval captain of the early Roman empire described Falerno as the greatest wine he had ever tasted describing it as been made both sweet and strong (click here to find out more about The Wines Of Rome And Lazio).
Typical Dishes Of Rome And Lazio
Arancini - rice croquettes filled with meat, entrails and mozzarella.
Suppli - from the French word surprise. A rice ball filled with meat, entrails and mozzarella.
Pasta Amatriciana - pasta with a quick to make sauce, made from the five P's - Pancetta, Pomodoro, Peperoncino, Pecorino and Pasta.
Gnocchi alla Romana - gnocchi made from Semolina, which is flattened and cut into rounds. The gnocchi are served with butter and cheese.
Pasta carbonara - introduced by the Abruzzo cooks in employ of the popes.
Sbroscia - a sou made from freshwater fish.
Rigatoni alla pajata - pasta cooked with a sauce made from milk veal intestine with onion, parsley, celery, garlic and tomato.
Sea urchin - either eaten raw of as a pasta sauce.
Saltimbocca alla romana - sliced beef or veal wrapped around pieces of prosciutto with sage leaves, fastened with a toothpick and shallow fried.
Lamb chops a scottadito - lamb chops from the grill.
Nervetti - calves tenderloins with green parsley sauce.
Quail with herbs.
Bass with porcini mushrooms.
Cicoria pazza - "crazy chicory" chicory with garlic, chilli, olive oil and pepper.
Cazzimperio - similar to the pinzimonio of Tuscany.
Maritozzi - leavened sweet buns with raisins and served with cream.
Gelato - various flavours.