ROME, at HOME: The Spirit of la cucina romana in Your Own Kitchenby Suzanne Dunaway
Suzanne Dunaway has been in love with Italy for thirty years, living in Rome off and on and absorbing as much as possible about the cuisine of the Eternal City. Now she has put the basics of la cucina romana into one seductive book. Rome, at Home will enable anyone to savor the irresistible, straightforward flavors of Rome’s best ristoranti, trattorie, pizzerie, and home kitchens.
Requiring no elaborate techniques, only deep respect for each ingredient, the more than 150 recipes are perfect for quick weeknight suppers or more leisurely weekend dinners for two or ten. Spicy Penne all’Arrabbiata, classic Spaghetti al Limone, and delectable Abbacchio alla Scottadito (tiny lamb chops delightfully called "finger-burners") require surprisingly little fuss but deliver restaurant-caliber results. From artichokes to zucchini, vegetables are the centerpiece in dozens of pasta sauces, antipasti, and side dishes. Luscious but light desserts, such as an ethereal ricotta cake or classic panna cotta make the magical journey complete. Rome, at Home is also liberally sprinkled with Dunaway’s whimsical watercolors for a wonderfully personal touch.
A culinary tour of one of the world's most enchanting cities, Rome, at Home is equally a marvelous gift and a book to cook from every day.
- Crown Publishing Group
- Publication date:
- Product dimensions:
- 7.83(w) x 9.55(h) x 1.00(d)
Read an Excerpt
A Love Affair With Rome
Roma, mai in una vita. In a lifetime, one could not know Rome.
If one must see Venice and die, then one sees Rome and lives. Each time I leave Rome, a piece of my heart stays at Canova, my corner cafe near the Piazza del Popolo, or refuses to leave the outdoor markets at Campo dei Fiori, Ponte Milvio, and Testaccio. I am as smitten with Rome as any Italian teenager with his first amore, and my love grows deeper with each bite of fresh mozzarella and each whiff of autumn's white truffles. My good fortune is to have met and married a man who lived and worked in Rome for ten years and whose passion for the city and la cucina romana merged with mine so completely. My appetite for Rome was nourished over almost three decades, as I saw the city's eternal beauty through his eyes and those of his ex-wife and two Roman children.
The powerful sense of belonging that draws me to Rome began on a graduation trip to Europe that started in Copenhagen, where, as I stepped for the first time on European soil, I was suddenly, unquestionably, home. I almost fainted from the emotion. I knew very little of Europe, but it was as clear as grappa to me that somewhere on this suddenly familiar continent I would find my heart's home. Subsequent events in my life would certainly lead me closer to Rome, even if with a few detours.
Just after college, a girlfriend and I, carefree and adventurous, picked up a lavender Fiat roadster (christened "the grape") in Florence, then headed south to Viareggio, where we, by chance, encountered two very compelling reasons to stay: a pair of handsome brothers we met on the beach that day. It was our great luck to rent a newly vacant apartment belonging to a Milanese doctor whose Roman wife became our landlady and my instant role model. She was of a certain age, dressed in a pale cappuccino-colored designer suit, the top button of which was open just enough to allow a glimpse of exquisite lingerie and ample bosom. Signora Domenici was not like anyone I had known in Houston. Lifting one perfectly shaped eyebrow, she coolly appraised our scandalous miniskirts, long straight hair, and Courreges patent leather boots for a full two minutes. She then took the rent in cash and clicked off on her three-inch Italian heels. We never met again, but if she was a Roman, then Rome would be my city.
I had learned to cook as a child, with my mother's expert teaching followed by years spent plowing through Gourmet's cookbooks Volume I and II, but in Viareggio my Italian food education was begun. Our inexperience was evidentwe almost gave away a whole prosciutto sent us by my parents for Christmas because we thought it too big and salty! The handsome brothers introduced us to prosciutto's affinity for mozzarella, melons, and figs, which of course kept the jewel of Parma securely in our own larder.
From all this bounty we gained a few much-needed pounds and were pronounced "bona," by our friends, a word in romanesco (Roman slang) meaning "voluptuous and sexy." We even began letting our underwear peek out of our blouses.
A year and half later we bid farewell to our outdoor market, our butcher, and what would become the bittersweet nostalgia of youth and returned, each to her own reality and the brothers to theirs. With a longing that still recurs with each departure from Italy, I headed home.
I took back to my kitchen my newfound knowledge of prosciutto and a yearning to return that spanned too many years. I never dreamed that I would be taking daily morning walks to a high terrace over the Piazza del Popolo, gazing whenever I wished over the sumptuous feast spread out before me in all seasons. I could not know then that the fountains of Rome would become sweet voices, murmuring to me to return again and again, and that I would begin hundreds of Roman mornings at our favorite bar, Scapi, and be greeted year after year by the exuberant owner and the barista with his broad smile.
Now, before I step through the door, he pushes the button for my usual tiny cup of caffe macchiato, meaning "spotted" or "stained" with milk, forming a little heart of coffee on the foam. The lovely caffe one finds only in Rome is drunk, almost always standing up at the bar, from cups or glasses, macchiato or ristretto, meaning concentrated almost to a syrup. For reasons I am still trying to figure out, women do not order caffe al vetro (in a glass), but I defy the rule, loving to watch the hot foam swirling through the deep chocolate brown of the coffee. The first moments of a Roman day, of course, begin with beauty.
As I eavesdrop on shop girls having their cappuccino and cornettothe Italian croissant, staple of all brief Roman breakfastsI ponder the custom of never drinking cappuccino after about 10:00 a.m. and never, never at lunch or dinner. A Roman cannot understand this heresy, for who would wish to down a large cup of milk and coffee after savory antipasto, pasta, meat, salad, and fruit? The word espresso is not used in Italy, simply because it means only one thing, caffeorder "caffe" as the Romans do if you'd rather not stand out like pink plaid Bermuda shorts. The sliver of lemon peel is an American invention and finds a better home in the Torta di Ricotta, where it is needed, instead of tainting a creamy, intense elixir of freshly ground beans with citrus oil. Caffe corretto ("corrected" with booze) is another matter. A little shot of grappa in the caffe every now and then can't hurt you and only livens up the cup, especially in winter. I pour the last of my red wine into my after-dinner caffe, a habit, I must admit, I learned from a Neapolitan but which tastes just as good in Rome.
The sexy exchange between the beauties and the barista is Rome's daily language, spoken by all. Flirting, to Romans, is just another necessary form of nourishment. The other barista continues his morning chores, rhythmically slicing, with a long flat knife, a tray of fresh michette, those hollow, crusty little rosettes of bread made only in Rome, to be filled for lunch with prosciutto and mozzarella. Their only competition are Rome's tantalizing tramezzini, the famous triangular sandwiches made on thin slices of soft white bread trimmed of crust and filled with such delectable combinations as mozzarella and tomato, tuna and artichokes, hard-boiled eggs and tomatoes, or any whimsical pairing the barista might invent. These addictive temptations are stacked as carefully and artfully in their glass cases as the stones of the Pantheon, then draped for longevity with a spotless damp white towel in the same way southern matrons preserve their famous tomato sandwiches. Tramezzini are impossible to resist, even if just after a cornetto. I take my leave just as my talented barista, delicately and attentively, whips up a fresh batch of mayonnaise in a blender for the day's tramezzini and panini. I wonder what he whips up in his own kitchen.
The same artistry and care are given to even the smallest event. In the open market my flower vendor will take ten minutes to gift-wrap a 5-euro bunch of tulips as if it were going to Sophia Loren or the pope, weaving ribbons and lengths of straw through perfectly formed folds in hand-printed paper, creating one of his many daily masterpieces. The time spent by Roman merchants on choosing the right paper design, the right ribbon color, the intricate details of wrapping anything from paper clips to panettone, is awe-inspiring. I once received the gift of a small picture frame encased so beautifully that, for a few days, I hung it on the wall without unwrapping it!
On my hundreds of walks down via della Croce to the market, I must always stop to say "buon giorno" and give a coin to the same grizzled-bearded old homeless man who, along with other elderly or unfortunate inhabitants, is supported and nurtured by the neighborhood. From my first day in Rome, he has been on the corner near my bar, engaging everyone in lively if not completely comprehensible conversation or quietly studying the world as it passes by. If I did not see him, a small piece of my day would be missing.
I linger over greetings to now-familiar shopkeepers as they clean their windows with an alcohol smelling of grappaI keep a bottle in L.A. to remind me of Roman mornings. Along with that pungent smell, fragrant smoke from wood-burning pizza ovens turns every corner with me along with the ever-tempting scent of ground coffee wafting out from such famous coffee roasters (torrefazione) as Caffe do Brasil and Sant'Eustachio.
Even fortified with a tramezzino against the danger of shopping while hungry, I can still go completely pazza in Rome's magnificent outdoor markets. I love my daily shopping ritual, which takes place right around the corner from our apartment and which inspires me to think up new dishes.
My beef butcher and pork market (salumeria) are just down the street from the chicken purveyor, and although I might have to hit the big supermercato for larger quantities of staples and paper goods, even those may be found in the compact little neighborhood shops called alimentari, which carry everything from bread, pasta, and cans and jars of necessities such as capers and tuna to Digerseltz, Italy's favorite antacid.
Although I am fortunate to have the Santa Monica Farmers' Market, bountiful and beautiful, I still dream of another of my favorite marketsa seemingly endless stretch of booths along the Tiber at the Milvian Bridge, where Constantine dispatched Maxentius, paving the way for Christianity. Clothing, scarves, and embroidered linens hang from booth struts like colored banners among the salumi and prosciutti, and wondrous bargains abound if you take time to browse.
The Roman housewives and I have our favorite stalls at which we have shopped for decades and will continue to do so. One does not abandon tradition and friendship without considering consequences, and a change in loyalty, an indiscretion that might take months or a lifetime to repair, does not go unobserved. I avoid the whole dilemma by happily patronizing all.
Over the years, market vendors have been my best teachers, passing out such tidbits as how to air-dry meats in the proper way, how long to stir polenta, the best days to buy fish and mozzarella, where the best fruits or vegetables are grown (near Rome), and philosophic comments about the world of Italian soccer (this often heated dialogue can last most of the day if I'm not careful), Rome's place in the universe (number one), and where politics is headed (down the drain).
Rome's feast continues at the vast covered market in via Guido Reni, where our truffle purveyor presides over his heady, earthy wares of tartufi bianchi and porcini. The sweet and sharp smell of pepper-studded pecorino and the creamy dairy smells of caciotta, a delicate cheese from nearby farms, hang heavy in the air. The intoxicating perfume of broad-leafed basil, oregano, arugula, and mentuccia, the Roman mint, are almost more seductive than caffe.
Although most vendors prefer not to have their wares handled, my repeated visits and a friendly chat with each eventually made me one of the cognoscenti, left alone to sniff melons, gently press peaches, and bag my treasures at will. I learned quickly that a casual "Sto guardando" ("I'm just looking") or "Posso scegliere?" ("May I choose my own?") would help me move at my own speed through markets without offending. A perceptive merchant will see that you are purposeful and serious about food and will not stand in the way of your pleasure at planning the most important times of the day. After all, his demeanor will say, you and I share the same pursuit of good tastes. We both know what makes life worth living.
Testaccio, one of Rome's oldest neighborhoods, named after a mountain of broken shards from amphorae (a kilometer in circumference, 150 feet high) that arrived for three centuries on ships at the nearby port on the Tiber, is the site of a market that covers more than a city block and can take several hours to visit thoroughly. Standing sentry behind her booth, the tomato seller with cheeks like her wares offers me suggestions on what to do with more than twenty shapes and sizes of the mainstay of la cucina romana: tiny deep red Sicilian cherry tomatoes called Pomodori di Pachino; rich, meaty, dense globes the size of small grapefruit called cuoredi drago (dragon hearts); tomatoes with the name Costolutto Genovese that look like little Cinderella coach pumpkins; and plump plum tomatoes for a perfect pasta sauce.
Near the market, on the via Mastro Giorgio, is da Felice, a legendary trattoria where actors such as Italy's beloved Roberto Benigni (Life Is Beautiful) often have lunch. The crotchety owner, who can be contrary if you stop at two courses, serves huge bowls of Bucatini alla Gricia, mostly to regulars.
At the open market in Campo dei Fiori, the heart of one of Rome's most raucous, lively neighborhoods, I visit a particular mushroom vendor for intensely flavored porcini, found and dried in Calabria by his wife, who, without fail, adds an extra handful to my already generous kilo. Next to her stand are sensual, curvy little eggplants for Caponata; dark green and purple artichokes destined to be steamed with mint or deep-fried (Carciofi alla Giudia) dried red peppers, no bigger than teardrops, with the taste of sweet pimientos lurking under their heat. These tiny fireballs add the "angry" to Penne all'Arrabbiata and the zing to Spaghetti all'Aglio,Olio, e Peperoncino, but it is the lively camaraderie among so many with the same purpose that adds the real spice to my day.
I return again and again to my familiar tiny neighborhood market in the via Bocca di Leone at the corner of via della Croce near the Piazza di Spagna, which occupies a space no bigger than two parked Ferraris and yet contains everything a cook could want. It is also close to home, and I have ninety-two steps to climb! My husband buys salmon-colored pepper-scented Sonya roses, 8 euro an armload, to place on the table in the middle of our apartment, celebrating yet another return. In summer the vendor's enormous buckets are filled with plate-sized sunflowers, even more roses, and of course daily, in all seasons, chrysanthemums for the dearly departed, never for gifts or inside the house, as one might end up in the same place.
As I stand awestruck yet again, unable to decide among this particular morning's riches, the tiny lady who has been my morning connection to the evening's menu for so long at once sees my consternation and begins to offer her own suggestions.
Meet the Author
SUZANNE DUNAWAY is the author of No Need to Knead: Handmade Italian Breads in 90 Minutes, which was nominated for a James Beard Award, and the founder of Los Angeles’s renowned Buona Forchetta Handmade Breads, which began in her home kitchen and now bakes up to 15,000 loaves a day. Her illustrations have appeared in The New Yorker, Bon Appétit, Gourmet, and the Los Angeles Times. She lives in Los Angeles but is frequently in Rome.
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