There were a lot of things in Italy that it took me a long time to get used to. Shops closing in the middle of the day. Unannounced strikes. Late trains. But one thing I took to immediately was the idea of a big Sunday lunch.
I grew up in a family where dinner was the only serious meal of the day and breakfast was a non event. My sisters and remember that while driving through Italy as youngsters (we lived here for a couple of years in the ’70’s) our breakfast would consist of tick tacks from my mothers purse. To this day my sister Robin gags at the mere sound of tick tacks clicking in their box.
Lunch was similarly frowned upon, and was never really a sit down planned affair. In fact, my mother still ‘picks’ at lunch and my father considers a big lunch an enormous waste of calories.
When I moved to Florence in 1988 to work on my dissertation I was faced with endlessly long Sundays when the libraries and archives were closed. I am pretty sure it was my friend Marietta who had the great idea of going out to lunch, which we did with gusto almost every Sunday. While during the week I made do with panini from the bar around the corner from the archive, Sundays we headed to our local trattoria for full three course meals with wine. A walk and a nap followed, and I can’t think of a more perfect formula for a Sunday afternoon in Italy.
Now, twenty years later, I’m living in Rome and lunch on Sunday has become one of the highlights of our family’s week. I feel especially attached to this tradition as Sophie and Emma are about to head off to University. While I often cook at home, (buccatini all’amatricana is a standard) we also like to go out in famiglia. Here follows both the recipe for Amatriciana as well as our favorite places to go out for Sunday lunch in Rome. We favor traditional Roman restaurants with hearty food!
Our all time favorite place for Sunday lunch. But also, evidently everyone else’s since it’s near to impossible to get a Sunday lunch reservation here unless you call a few days ahead of time. But it’s worth the effort. Founded in 1911, the old fashioned place still has a distinct Roman trattoria feel to it. Located in Testaccio, where the old slaughter house was, many of the dishes feature those odd cuts of meat known as the quinto quarto (innards, etc.)
I think this is the best carbonara in town, full of huge chunks of chewy guanciale. Sophie swears by the amatriciana (but then again, Sophie would probably order amatriciana even if she was in China). Either way, you can’t go wrong. Fun when more than one orders the same pasta dish, since they bring it to the table in one huge serving bowl. They portion out the plates to whoever orders, but the lucky last person gets the big bowl, with all of the good bits at the bottom. Un-button your pants, and have a second course as well. I waffle between the maialino, the coratella (lamb innards) and ossobuco.
(Perilli, Via Marmorata 39. tel: +39 06 574 2415)
Giggetto get’s a lot of grief from food snobs in Rome, but while it may have had it’s ‘off’ years, it’s back as good as ever. If it’s spring or fall, and not too hot, nab a table outside. It’s located in the Ghetto, right near Portico d’Ottavia, and has a fantastic view of that and the Teatro Marcello. Besides all the Roman standbys, I think they do the best carciofi all giudea in town. These are crispy whole fried artichokes that are as delicious as they are beautiful. (See the piece I did for Diary of a Foodie for the process, Season 1, episode 3). A few times a week cases of artichokes arrive and are carefully trimmed in the front room by the waiters. Actually, all their fried things are excellent, including the zucchini flowers when in season. Save room for dessert, since they come from the son of the owner’s bakery next door Dolce Roma (yes, the best sacher torte in town.)
(via Portico D'Ottavio 21)
I’ve been going here since I was 12, and have a soft spot for this place. When my father can be convinced to have lunch, this is where we go. Not just because it’s the closest restaurant to his house and he doesn’t have to walk, but also because it’s usually got excellent food. Also, on a summer afternoon, you can’t beat this jewel sized piazza for pretty. And in winter their green cloth covered walls makes the old fashioned dining room extra cozy. To order: carciofi alla giudea (which is one of their specialties), anything fried, including zucchini and zucchini flowers. Save room for their pala di nono (grandfather’s balls): deep fried, chocolate speckled balls of ricotta. I’ve never had them anywhere else (and not quite sure I need to).
(Monte de Cenci 9, sort of hard to find)
Located in Piazza Ricci, which is one of the few really pretty piazza’s in the center closed to traffic, this is my go to place for outdoor dining when the weather is good. Don’t bother if you can’t sit outside. The food is good, but not the same without the setting. This is by far the chicest of the places we frequent, and you are more likely to run into Luca di Montezemolo (big wig at Fiat and Ferrari), who I saw there last weekend, rather than big Roman families. What I love: The soppressata di polipo, which is paper thin slices of pressed octopus, drizzled with olive oil and lemon. Although they have a wide selection of pastas, I almost always end up ordering the spaghetti alle vongole. They also have something called Insalata Catalana, which is a heavenly version of seafood/potato salad with rughetta.
1 pound buccatini
2 tablespoon olive oil
1 small onion, chopped
3 thick slices of guanciale, chopped into small cubes*
1 large can of san marzano tomatoes
1/2 cup or more of grated pecorino romano
Place quanciale in a large saute pan and heat up. Let it cook and and sizzle, until just starting to brown. It should give up quite a bit of fat. Turn off heat, and scoop the guanciale bits up and set aside.
If there isn’t a lot of quanciale fat, add a bit more olive oil to pan (you may not need to. There should be at least 3-4 tablespoons of fat) Turn heat back on and add onions and cook at low heat until softened. Do not let them brown, but make sure they are quite soft. (if you like, you can add a bit of red pepper to give it some kick at this point)
Add tomatoes and their juice to pan, along with reserved guanciale. Let it bubble away, slowly, for at least a half hour. It should reduce quite a bit, and get thick. If you think it’s getting too thick, add a bit of water.
Bring large pot of water to boil, add salt, and cook buccatini. When done, drain (reserve a cup of pasta water), and add pasta to pan with sauce. Stir it all up, over gentle heat, just to meld the flavours. Take off heat, and stir in cheese. If it seems to thick, add a bit of reserved pasta water.
Serve with extra cheese on table.
*Somebody should write a book about guanciale. Oh, wait, they did! My friend Ari Weinzwieg wrote an entire book about bacon, Zingerman’s Guide to Better Bacon. His section on guanciale features yours truly, otherwise known as Guanciale Girl. Here I am: Guanciale Girl.