While Italian waiters will almost certainly tell you that a pizza is the “normal” size and that it feeds one, they almost always feed two easily, especially if you are having a salad with it. Try one of the small restaurants on the Piazza Della Rotunda, which is the piazza in front of the Pantheon in Rome.
One of the classic pasta dishes of Rome – along with cacio e pepe and amatriciana – is carbonara. The creaminess comes from egg yolks, not cream, and the richness comes from pancetta or guanciale. You can find it on many menus, but it’s not always prepared well, so make sure you seek out someone who makes it nice and creamy, not gummy – I loved mine at Vecchia Locanda.
I am a big fan of Ditirambo, near the Campo dei Fiori. They feature a sort of traditional Italian cuisine with a modern flair. For appetizers, try the vegetarian antipasti of burrata, a fried ball of eggplant, and a potato pancake of sorts with black truffles.
For pasta try the vegetable lasagna in bechamel sauce…
…or the spring pea and fave bean pasta, assuming it’s spring (think seasonal).
The beef cheeks are incredibly tender and flavorful if you feel like something heavier.
Raw fennel salad with oranges and pomegranates is a refreshing combination, light and citrusy. Often in Rome the salads are large enough to be a side dish for two or three people.
Seafood pasta? Gone before I could photograph anything other than shells!
One of the things I always do with my groups in Rome is have dinner in the home of the gracious Flavia Pantaleo, through the Home Food Italy program. The experience lets you eat what a traditional Roman family may have eaten, and is the opposite of touristy. We started with zucchini flowers stuffed with the traditional mozzarella and anchovies. You can make these with a traditional batter or a lighter tempura style batter – but don’t skip the anchovy as that’s what gives it a nice salty flavor.
Roman gnocchi are actually made with semolina, cooked with cream and cheese, cooled, and cut and baked – so more similar to polenta than what you might think of as gnocchi in an American restaurant.
Flavia’s entree plate in included an artichoke custard, roasted chicken, and sautÃ©ed peppers. Frankly, this photo doesn’t do it justice – everything was wonderfully prepared.
Another unusual place I like to take guests is to Babette, a quasi-French restaurant in Rome near the Spanish Steps. The appetizers this spring included broccoli stuffed with brie and fried…
…a soufflÃ© of spring asparagus with Parmesan cream sauce…
…and Parmesan pudding with artichokes…
The carpaccio is tender and unusual, served with a huge portion of shaved fresh baby zucchini and grated Parmigiano.
Finally, one of my favorite things to visit in Rome is the Jewish Ghetto. I always take my group on a tour there, as many of the culinary roots of Roman cuisine come from the Jewish traditions in Rome. After the tour, stay for lunch at Nonna Betta, and be sure to have the fried artichokes. One of their most unusual dishes is this vegetarian version of carbonara – same creamy sauce from egg yolks, but only shaved zucchini instead of pancetta. It’s completely different from the traditional dish, but every bit as good!
If you are visiting Rome and would like my restaurant list, please send me an email or join me on my next trip!