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Six springtime foods you simply have to taste in Rome

From fresh fruits to Easter cakes, the onset of spring in Rome is a gourmand’s delight. The Local speaks to resident foodie Katie Parla about the unmissable taste of spring in the Italian capital.

Six springtime foods you simply have to taste in Rome
Seasonal ingredients can be found at the numerous food markets in Rome. Photo: Andreas Solaro/AFP

While tourists tend to pick the same classic pizza or pasta dishes year-round in Rome, the best flavours can be found by eating with the seasons, and pinpointing the right foods for the month.

Look out for daily or seasonal specials in restaurants for an idea of what to try, and make sure to sample the following springtime specialities.

1. Vignarola

Start with vignarola, a typically Roman dish that combines peas, fava beans, lettuce and artichokes. This vegetable stew is full of flavour and you'll find different opinions as to the best way of making it. Why not try a few and decide for yourself?

 

A photo posted by Katie Parla (@katieparla) on May 16, 2013 at 4:37am PDT

2. Carciofi Romanesco

Artichokes are the springtime star of Roman menus, with plenty of different versions, stuffed, braised or fried. Katie Parla advises ordering carciofi romanesco, artichokes cooked the Roman way and farmed locally in the Lazio region.

“There are a lot of other types or artichokes which come from Puglia, Sardinia and Sicily, which are sometimes passed off as Roman artichokes,” she says.

Whichever region’s artichokes end up on your plate they’re in season until May, giving food lovers ample time to sample some of the countless thistle dishes.

Photo: Maggie Hoffmann/Flickr

3. Asparagus

Artichokes do, however, have a springtime rival in asparagus, which again is served a multitude of ways – boiled or roasted as a side dish, or added to risottos, pasta or even pizza.

“We start to see wild asparagus surfacing by late March or early April. It’s very expensive because it’s hand foraged,” Parla says, recommending a serving with fresh pasta. It goes especially well with creamy sauces such as carbonara.

Photo: yoppy/Flickr

4. Abbacchio

As well as all the delicious vegetables in season during the spring months, there are also options for carnivores.

“The absolutely typical dish of Roman spring is abbacchio, suckling lamb. In Rome you can find this served a number of ways; lamb chops, grilled, roasted,” Parla says.

Diners should look out for abbacchio from Agro Romano, an agricultural area just outside of Rome.

Photo: Masolino/Flickr

4. Everything strawberry

Tiny strawberries will soon begin appearing in Rome, to the delight of sweet-toothed locals and visitors. 

Enthusiasts should head to Nemi, a village south-east of the city, for the annual strawberry festival. For those left behind in Rome, Parla suggests sampling the “delicious and intense” strawberry gelato.

Photo: Fried Dough/Flickr

5. Colomba

Forget chocolate eggs, in Italy the foodie's dessert of choice is the colomba.

This Easter cake is similar to the Italian Christmas offering, panettone, but is baked in the shape of a dove or sometimes a cross. The dove can be seen as a religious symbol, heralding peace between God and man – or simply a sign of the arrival of spring.

Traditionally the cake is topped with pearled sugar and almonds but plenty of bakeries cook up their own varieties such as chocolate or fruit-topped desserts.

Photo: N i c o la/Flickr

6. Pizzarelle

One unmissable spring treat remains, tucked away in Rome’s Jewish quarter.

“Something that’s only made in Rome for a very short time is pizzarelle, for Passover,” Parla says.

The soft combination of pine nuts, candied fruits, honey and other sweets ingredients is deep fried and served up at Boccione Il Forno, the Jewish bakery, for just a few days each year.

 

A photo posted by Katie Parla (@katieparla) on Mar 28, 2013 at 8:17am PDT

Katie Parla is a Rome-based food and beverage educator and journalist.

A version of this article was first published in February 2015.

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FOOD & DRINK

OPINION: Michelin-starred cuisine is just not suited to Italy

Michelin-starred food has its merits but it doesn't fit with the Italian tradition of cuisine, argues Silvia Marchetti and some frustrated Italian chefs. There's nothing better than a plate of steaming lasagne, she says.

OPINION: Michelin-starred cuisine is just not suited to Italy

I’ve never been a great fan of sophisticated dishes, twisted recipes and extravagant concoctions that leave you wondering what is it you’re actually eating. T-bone steak with melted dark chocolate as topping, burrata cheese with apples, spaghetti with blueberry sauce aren’t my thing.

Hence, I never eat at Michelin-starred restaurants, and it’s not because of the exorbitant bill – paying €200 for a salad simply because it was grown in the private garden of a chef which he personally sprinkles with mountain water each morning, is a bit over the top.

I just don’t think such fancy food has anything to do with the real Italian tradition.

The ‘nouvelle cuisine’, as the name suggests, was invented in France by chef Paul Bocuse. And it’s ‘nouvelle’ – new – not anchored to past traditions.

The philosophy of serving small morsels of chic food on humongous plates as if they were works of art is the exact opposite of what Italian culinary tradition is all about.

We love to indulge in platefuls of pasta or gnocchi (and often go for a second round), and there are normally three courses (first, second, side dish, dessert and/or coffee), never a 9 or 12-course menu as served at Michelin establishments (unless, perhaps, it’s a wedding).

Too many bites of too many foods messes with flavours and numbs palates, and at the end of a long meal during which you’ve tasted so many creative twists you can hardly remember one, I always leave still feeling hungry and unsatisfied. 

So back home, I often prepare myself a dishful of spaghetti because Michelin pasta servings often consist in just one fork portion artistically curled and laid on the dish. In fact, in my view Michelin starred cuisine feeds more the eye than the stomach.

The way plates are composed, with so much attention to detail, colour, and their visual impact, seems as if they’re made to show-off how great a chef is, than as succulent meals to devour. I used to look at my dish flabbergasted, trying to make out what those de-constructed ingredients were and are now meant to be, and then perplexed,

I look at the chef, and feel as if I’m talking to an eclectic painter who has created a ‘masterpiece’ with my dinner. I’m not saying Michelin starred food is not good, there are some great chefs in Italy who have heightened a revisited Italian cuisine to the Olympus of food, but I just don’t like it nor understand it.

There’s nothing greater than seeing a plate of steaming lasagne being brought to the table and knowing beforehand that my taste buds will also recognise it as such, and enjoy it, rather than finding out it’s actually a sweet pudding instead.

More than once, after a 4-hour Michelin meal with a 20-minute presentation of each dish by the chef, the elaborate food tasted has given me a few digestion problems which lasted all night long.

Michelin-starred food has started to raise eyebrows in Italy among traditional chefs, and is now the focus of a controversy on whether it embodies the authentic Italian culinary experience. 

A Milanese born and bred, Cesare Battisti is the owner of restaurant Ratanà, considered the ‘temple’ of the real risotto alla Milanese.

He has launched a crusade to defend traditional Milanese recipes from what he deems the extravagance and “contamination” of Michelin-starred cuisine. “Michelin-starred experiments are mere culinary pornography. Those chefs see their own ego reflected in their dishes. Their cooking is a narcissistic, snob act meant to confuse, intimidate and disorientate eaters”. 

Arrigo Cipriani, food expert and owner of historical trattoria Harry’s Bar in Venice, says Michelin-starred cuisine is destroying Italy’s real food tradition, the one served inside the many trattorias and historical osterias scattered across the boot where old recipes, and cooking techniques, survive.

“Tasting menus are made so that clients are forced to eat what the chef wants, and reflect the narcissistic nature of such chefs. Italian Michelin-starred cuisine is just a bad copy cat of the French one”, says Cipriani.

I believe we should leave French-style cuisine to the French, who are great at this, and stick to how our grannies cook and have taught us to prepare simple, abundant dishes. At least, you’ll never feel hungry after dinner.

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