I can’t fit it all into the frame! – me
After the escapism of Venice and the rural charm of Tuscany the third and penultimate stage of my adventures through Italy saw us make our way by minibus further down the west coast to the capital, Rome.
When in Rome…
I have to confess I knew little about Italy’s capital prior to our arrival, so I was pleased to have time to explore both the ancient ruins and the more modern shopping districts.
It a beautiful place. Granted, there is a degree of graffiti, traffic and everything else you would expect of a major city, but it’s clean and bright and when the sun shines, utterly beautiful.
The colosseum is so breathtakingly huge that it’s hard to capture in a single photograph. That is, until our guide led us apparently away from the imposing structure, up a gentle hill until, looking back, we were greeted with the view you see above. This huge structure – the definitive icon of imperial Rome – could, in its heyday hold between 50,000 and 80,000 spectators, hosting gladiatorial contests, executions, dramas and more.
Just to the west of the Colosseum lie the Roman Ruins – little more than rubble and pillars today, this section of the City was home to a large, bustling rectangular marketplace, surrounded by some of the city’s most important buildings of the era – temples, royal residences and judicial offices. There’s not much left to see, but standing amongst it all brings home the sheer scale of what once stood in its place.
Of course, no trip to Rome would be complete without a visit to the Pantheon. Behind a pillared, rectangular front lies a circular granite building topped with a large, un-reinforced concrete dome that boasts a hole or ‘oculus’ at its apex. The hole lends natural light to the structure that was first a private temple, but has been owned by the Catholic Church since 7AD. Apparently, the heat from bodies and candles creates an updraft in the dome meaning rain rarely makes it inside. During bouts of heavy rain, any water making it inside drains quickly. Standing in the Pantheon it’s impossible to fail to be impressed by the ingenuity of Roman architecture.
If you make time to see just one more place while in Rome, I’d recommend seeking out the Trevi Fountain, the largest Baroque fountain in the city and a truly magnificent spectacle. Even when surrounded by tourists, it’s still quite a serene place to stop for a moment and marvel at the beauty of the city.
Lunch at Pizzeria La Gallina Bianca
Lunch on our first day in Rome was a simple affair. It’s not challenging to find places to eat in the bustling, tourist-heavy capital, so we settled on a small restaurant on Via Antonio Rosmini and ate the most traditional of Italian pizzas, the margherita – tomato sauce, mozzarella and a little basil.
The crust was thicker than I has expected and the sauce significantly less salty than you would get in most restaurants here in the UK. That same message was coming through once again in our week long Italian food adventure: don’t overdo it, let good quality ingredients speak for themselves.
Appropriate, then, that we quenched our thirst after a walk around the Campo dei Fiori marketplace with pomegranate juice squeezed fresh as we waited.
Dinner at Osteria dai 1931
For dinner, we took a short drive a little south of the city to Osteria dal 1931, Via Di Donna Olimpia 44.
For me, this was the culinary highlight of the trip; my favourite meal of all. As it so happened, all of the cooked tomato dishes were made using Cirio canned tomatoes – an Italian brand with 160 years of history producing great quality canned tomatoes from field to table – and our guides on this #TrueItalian adventure.
We ate Carciofi alla romana, a typical dish for the region of artichokes cooked with mint, lemon and oil, Fagioli all’uccelletto, mixed beans with tomato sauce and onion, Frittata al pomodoro, not unlike a firm Spanish frittata with with tomato sauce and onion alongside slices of baked sweet potato, Pomodoro mozzarella, fresh, creamy balls of buffalo mozzarella and fresh tomatoes, Pasta all’amatriciana, pasta with a tomato sauce made with cured bacon and pecorino cheese, and Ravioli ricotta e spinaci al sugo, ravioli filled with ricotta cheese and spinach, topped with a garlic tomato sauce.
Just as the pasta proved firmer in Tuscany than in Naples, so as we found ourselves further south in Rome, the pasta was firmer still, providing a satisfying, non-glutinous bite that seems to brighten the experience of the sauce. Similarly, the use of seasoning and garlic seemed to increase just a touch – still less than you’d typically get in the UK – but for my tastebuds, just perfect. The ravioli was a pure delight, the tomato sauce rich and bursting with flavour.
It turns out that dishes rich in condiments are typical of the region, and passata – crushed tomatoes, chopped very finely and passed through a sieve with large holes to produce a rich pulp to create a texture thick enough to be picked up with a fork – is favoured as the base for distinctive sauces such as Arrabbiata, Carrettiera, Puttanesca and Amanticiana. This differs from Venice, where a smooth, fine passata is preferred for dishes with long cooking times, or to compliment fish, while in Tuscany, chopped tomatoes best suit the shorter cooking times and fresh, straight from the can dishes such as bruschetta.
Stay with me on this adventure – next week I’ll share with you my experiences of our final stop, Naples, and then we’ll begin on a new journey as I attempt to recreate the incredible flavours and textures we enjoyed in Italy, with a view to capturing some of the culinary magic of the country.
You might also like to read Helen of Fuss Free Flavour’s account of our trip here.
Disclosure: I toured Italy as part of a sponsored campaign to discover ‘True Italian’. All words, thoughts and images are my own.