Discovering Ancient Rome
From my home kitchen
For years, I and groups of friends hosted weekly dinner parties. I cooked whatever recipes looked interesting from that week’s NYT food section (some of which are now available in the NYT cookbook). It was daunting and gratifying, in success and failure, to cook elaborate meals created by renowned chefs from numerous cuisines. When I started traveling heavily for Duetto, the tradition paused and I have explored local cuisines wherever I wander.
Like so many of you, I have returned to home cooking during months of quarantine. There are some aspects of continuous travel that I do not miss but I am wistful for the cultural discoveries around meal tables. So I spent months scouring the internet to find online markets that would ship local curiosities to my home. Delightfully, I’ve made dozens of discoveries.
This will be the first in a series of posts to celebrate those finds and share some of my favorite sites.
In my virtual travels, I stumbled upon a 2,000-year-old condiment from Rome called garum. Fish are packed in layers of salt and left to ferment for two years. The fluid that accumulates in the barrel is garum, which sounds grim but I was intrigued. Romans served it with everything including mixing it with wine. I am not sure I could stomach that combination (anyone want to try it with me?) but I know now that I love the sharp, umami flavor with food.
One variety of garum that I discovered is called Colatura di Alici from Amalfi, made with anchovies, and is the basis for delicious, simple pasta dishes. I love recipes that ask a handful of superb ingredients to carry the meal. I followed a recipe from Sergio Faella of Pastificio Faella, the oldest artisanal pastificio in Gragnano, and used his spaghettini. Wow.
I’ve enjoyed reading accounts of the 1st Century gastronomical scene and I bought a cookbook with translations of ancient Roman recipes, which I am saving to do a costume party and indulge in some of their customs. Vis cena? (I cannot determine if that actually conveys “dinner anyone?” in Latin but perhaps someone in Romansh, Switzerland could help with the translation…)
Vacche Rosse — Razza Reggiana
The first Parmigiano Reggiano cheese was produced by Benedictine monks in Emilia Romagna around 1254 from the milk of “red cows.” These cows produce less milk than favored modern breeds but there are small producers making cheese the old-fashioned way like I Sapori delle Vacche Rosse, which has 150 red cows. I am addicted to cheese and this cheese feeds it without mercy. I shall not repent.
My latest experiment was an improvised puttanesca with Colatura di Alici, Vacche Rosse cheese, and hearts of palm pasta to minimize carbs (I hope that Ceres does not scold me for that choice but it was delicious). A crisp glass of vermentino was a nice contrast to the big flavors of the pasta. Meals like these have satiated my appetite for adventure just enough to tide me over and helped me through some lonely moments.
The site is exceptional. I’ve placed several orders containing the above ingredients plus numerous other divine Italian regional staples from the finest producers. Check it out.
Originally published at https://patrickbosworth.blog on January 20, 2021.