A Local’s Guide to Eating in Rome

The Tasting Table has some of the best articles.  Now I just need to go back to Italy again.  Bypass the tourist traps and get the inside track on the Eternal City’s best trattorias, pizza spots, and gelato joints

Where to Eat in Rome like a Local

Rome is a city of classic fare and ancient flavors, of cacio e pepe and carbonara, artichokes and wild greens, fire-crisped pizzas and silky gelato—and, of course, divine wine. But Rome is also a city of tourists, which means that an unforgettable meal isn’t always guaranteed in the Eternal City.

“Four million Romans live in Rome, while tourists crowd in the center,” says Count Giovanni Bonmartini Fini, a Roman local and winemaker with a 500-year family history making and exporting Italian Pinot Grigio. “For the best food experiences, get out of the center and experience what we eat in our many neighborhoods.”

Rome is a sprawling tangle of ever-expanding neighborhoods, but despite its growth, there’s still a simple, old-world mentality when it comes to culinary culture.

“Our foundation is [we eat] what’s in season, what’s nearby. We’ve never left that,” Bonmartini Fini says. He’s a locavore without trying; seasonality dictates dinner. “People talk about the local food movement, and that’s [a mindset] that has always been here. When it’s artichoke season, everyone is eating artichoke. Pizza with artichoke, salad with artichoke, pasta with artichoke, meat with artichoke.”

Go to one of Rome’s famed open-air markets, and you can tell the time of year by what’s in stock. “My absolute favorite market is one of the ugliest, but it has incredible options: Il Mercato di Via Riano near Ponte Milvio [a 2,000-year-old Roman pedestrian bridge]. Some of my favorite stands are the fresh seafood caught by brothers and wild mushrooms harvested by a little old lady,” Bonmartini Fini says.

Bonmartini Fini insists on being properly caffeinated before food shopping—and what Italian would disagree? He’s devoted to his neighborhood espresso bar in the leafy residential area of Parioli. “Il Cigno is a five-minute walk from my home and run by my friends. It has the best macchiato and pastries. My absolute favorites are the cornetto integrale con miele, a whole-wheat, honey-filled croissant, or the decadently amazing cornetto alle mandorle, a marzipan-filled croissant.”

Besides mainlining shots of espresso (always drunk standing up at the counter), Romans stay hydrated via the city’s many ice-cold, spring-fresh drinking fountains nicknamed nasoni, or “big noses.”

But back to stuffing our faces: There’s always an Italianate locality to Rome’s dining-out culture: “When we go out to dinner in Rome, it’s not like, ‘Are we going to get Japanese, Indian, Chinese?’ No. The question is: ‘Are we going to eat Tuscan, Sardinian, Piedmontese, Umbrian, Roman?'” Bonmartini Fini says.

More often than not, the answer is Roman. Some of the very best Cucina Romana is casual. For the city’s famous thin-crust pizzas, Bonmartini Fini lets his two teenage boys choose: “Al Gallo Rosso is packed with Roman teens and has a paper-thin crust, wood-oven pizzas. You can’t spend more than 15 bucks there.

“If my wife, Scilla, decides, it’s La Sagrestia, located on the side of the Pantheon, a non-touristy pick in a tourist-dominated area.”

For special occasions, the choice is usually seafood, since the fish is shockingly fresh—and even more shockingly expensive. (It’s often charged by weight at a restaurant.) “Scilla and I love to celebrate down the street from our home at Ai Piani, a wonderful Sardinian fish restaurant.”

There are plenty of spots for native dishes like Rome’s classic carbonara, which gets its velvety texture from farm-fresh, raw egg yolks cooked into the still-hot pasta. (Unlike in America, there’s no cream in sight.) “If you ask 10 Romans where to get the best carbonara, you will get 10 different answers. The dish is always made with just eggs and bacon, but every carbonara is different because we have six different ways of saying ‘bacon’ in Italian.

“My favorite is always Trattoria Perilli in Testaccio,” Bonmartini Fini says. Set in a working-class neighborhood, the often-packed Perilli’s is where the owner—a gentleman well into his 90s—can still be found bringing out dishes of carbonara and bottles of wine. Most of the wine Bonmartini Fini makes under his Barone Fini brand is exported to the U.S., but Perilli’s serves Barone Fini Valdadige Pinot Grigio alongside its legendary rigatoni alla carbonara.

Since 1497, the Bonmartini Fini family has been producing Pinot Grigio high in the Italian Alps, where the grapes grow natively and superiorly. Because of this and the naturalist cultivation methods, Barone Fini Pinot Grigio has a DOC designation, a stamp of integrity and authenticity stipulated by the Italian government. DOC regulations preserve the quality of traditional gastronomic products all across Italy “It’s not an opinion; this is a government distinction,” Bonmartini Fini explains.

In Rome, wine is drunk to complement food—its intention isn’t to dominate the meal, but instead to improve it. Coupling heavy pasta with a refreshingly acidic grape varietal is one move you’ll see replicated night after night in Rome. “You need acid and crispness to cut and clean your palate. And the Pinot Grigios from this area [Trentino-Alto Adige]—even though they’re naturally balanced with minerality—they still have the strength to clean your palate.”

Another debate among Romans is the superlative gelato shop. “Every Roman has their own version of the best. The most famous is Giolitti, which is over a hundred years old.” This less-than-secret, old-world gelateria is worth the hype with an array of flavors including Italian wedding cake, Champagne, and stracciatella (a more serious version of chocolate chip). Bonmartini Fini has his own trick: “I always get three different chocolates on a cone.”

A dinner out in Rome is bookended by a classic aperitivo and digestivo. For an aperitivo, Bonmartini Fini drinks a spritz or a glass of bubbly Franciacorta (a sparkling wine from Italy’s Lake District) at the Hotel Eden’s rooftop bar (“the best view of Rome”) or, if he’s in the mood for something buzzy, at Ciampini in Piazza di San Lorenzo in Lucina. As for a post-dinner digestivo, he turns to a bittersweet amaro, a dark, herbal liqueur that’s increasingly popular stateside.
The one thing Bonmartini Fini can’t help you within Rome? Wine bars. “Listen, I make my own wine, so I’m not so good at going to enotecas.”

Fair enough.

A Local’s Guide to Eating in Rome

Spring Pasta Recipes

Pasta dinners featuring spring’s all-star vegetables: asparagus, artichokes, peas, and more from Fine Cooking with links to the recipes.  I can’t wait to try these and I think you will want to too!

Spring Vegetable Ragout with Fresh Pasta

This quick pasta is spring incarnate: fresh baby vegetables and their tender shoots, delicate pasta, and a light, brothy sauce.

 

Screen Shot 2018-04-02 at 8.43.26 AM.png

Bucatini with Peas, Wild Mushrooms, and Creamy Tarragon Sauce

Morel mushrooms are a sure sign of spring. There’s no substitute for their nutty flavor and delicate, crisp texture. If you can’t find them fresh, look for dried morels.

Screen Shot 2018-04-02 at 8.45.34 AM.png

Cavatelli with Shrimp and Asparagus

Dressed in garlicky olive oil and lemon, shrimp and crisp-tender asparagus tossed with cavatelli make a delightful, fresh main course.

asparagus-.jpg

Asparagus Ravioli with Brown Butter Sauce

No time to make homemade pasta? No problem. Wonton wrappers are a quick alternative for ravioli. The rich brown butter, bright lemon zest, and crunchy almond garnish perfectly complement the creamy asparagus filling.

Screen Shot 2018-04-02 at 8.49.00 AM.png

Pappardelle with Spring Vegetables

Bright spring vegetables, a tangy vinaigrette, and fresh microgreens give this vibrant pasta dish delicious layers of flavor and texture.

  • Soft-Shell Crab Spaghetti with Spinach and Peas

    New York Times columnist Mark Bittman came up with this brilliant method of cooking soft shells low and slow so they release all their delicious juice, creating a briny-sweet sauce for cooked pasta. This is my take, using a little less pasta and adding vegetables, chives, and a touch of butter.


Fresh Tortellini with Asparagus, Peas & Mint

This easy weeknight recipe is a complete one-dish meal. Cooking the pasta, peas, and asparagus together is efficient, and adding goat cheese at the end creates a creamy sauce.

Fettuccine Primavera

This quintessential springtime pasta includes lots and lots of fresh herbs, as well as leafy greens. The specific vegetables and herbs used are up to you; choose what looks best at the market.

Asparagus Carbonara

Give traditional pasta carbonara a springtime makeover with the addition of tender asparagus.

Fettuccine with Artichokes, Hazelnuts & Cream

Artichokes love cream, and the hazelnuts here serve to amplify their natural nutty tones. This is the perfect dish for when you want a spring pasta, but you also want something a touch rich for company or a special occasion.

Spaghetti with Green Garlic & Olive Oil

In this riff on the classic spaghetti aglio e olio (spaghetti with garlic and olive oil), green garlic replaces the traditional pungent cloves and lends a more delicate garlic flavor.

Orecchiette with Ham & Peas in Cheese Sauce

Leeks pair well with spring ingredients like spinach and peas. The heat from the sausage balances the vegetables’ sweetness.

Screen Shot 2018-04-02 at 8.49.00 AM.png

Quick Marinated Vegetables and Pasta

Ribbony Mafalda pasta captures briny ricotta salata, tangy vegetables, and nutty roasted chickpeas for great flavors in every bite.

Screen Shot 2018-04-02 at 8.55.36 AM.png

BLT Pasta with Gremolata

This one is perfect when spring verges on summer, featuring crisp bacon, juicy tomatoes, and peppery arugula. Delicious and adaptable, this basic idea can work with what you have on hand: spinach and fettuccine, say, instead of arugula and fusilli

 

Spring Pasta Recipes