No other city in the world tugs at me the way Rome does. Yes, New York is electric, Paris is romantic, and London is hopping. But Rome….well, Rome for me is in another whole category. It may not have the wide boulevards of Buenos Aires, the orderliness of Singapore or the canals of Amsterdam, but none of that matters.
Yes, it’s got graffiti-splattered walls, high rents and a Byzantine bureaucracy if you’re trying to get any official work done.
graffiti in Rome
But walk anywhere in the central part of Rome and you’re assaulted by sights, sounds and flavors that I wouldn’t trade for anywhere else in the world.
Walk by an open air market on a Spring morning and find three different kinds of artichokes, flavorful strawberries the size of a baby’s nail, or a cappuccino to swoon over.
While you’re on your jaunt, you might easily step outside your 18th apartment building and walk by some ancient Roman columns from the first century B.C., into a piazza decorated with a 16th century baroque fountain, before stopping to say a prayer in a 15th century Renaissance church. You’re practically tripping over layers of history throughout the city. They all have a unique beauty that could easily jade local residents, but that never fails to make me wish I were once again living in Rome.
statue inside entryway to apartment building on Via Arenula
Although I’m not a resident now, I consider myself extremely lucky to travel to Rome occasionally, including last week. In the past, I’ve posted some of my favorite things to do and eat in the Eternal City that you can click on here.
Ponte Sisto and St. Peter’s
You won’t find places like the Vatican, the Colosseum or the Forum on the post — they’re too obviously at the top of most visitors’ list, as well they should be, for me to write about. Don’t miss them. But aside from my “Twenty Reasons To Fall In Love With Rome,” I’m giving you now a few other suggestions of places to eat that are a little lower on the radar to first time visitors.
Aside from the tangible, physical, evidence of Rome’s beauty, it’s also the Roman people who draw me in as well. Like the vegetable seller who always remembers your name, and throws in a couple of stalks of celery and a few sprigs of parsley for free. Or the goldsmith who demonstrates how he hammers the 21-carat gold chain he’s making, then shows you pictures of his adorable grandchildren. Or the chef who allows you into his kitchen, then showers you with sample after sample of extra dishes you didn’t even order.
tagliolini with truffles at Le Mani in Pasta
So here are just a few more of my favorite places to stop for a bite to eat or drink in Rome. Buon Appetito.
Oozing with atmosphere, it’s great place to grab a panino or a board of salumi and cheese. Located in Trastevere on via della Scala, it’s been in Florence for a while, but is fairly new to Rome. The porchetta sandwich I ate at La Prosciutteria beat any I’d ever eaten in the past, hands down, including in Ariccia, a town outside Rome known for its porchetta. I considered it my duty to return to La Prosciutteria the night before departing Rome to buy one for the plane ride home. It was late at night and they had run out of my favorite round foccaccia bread. “Oh Dio,” I said. “Isn’t there even one more foccaccia hidden somewhere?” I asked. The salesgirl pointed to an already prepared prosciutto crudo sandwich and said “That’s the last one.” After I mustered up the nerve to ask her if she could take out the prosciutto and replace it with porchetta, she winked at me and complied. Let it be noted that the tray of “food” offered by United Airlines was left untouched as I inhaled my porchetta sandwich instead. Via della Panetteria, 34A.
at La Prosciutteria
I have Beatrice Ughi of Gustiamo.com to thank for learning about this place. Her friend Antonio suggested it to her years ago and she finally met him there last week, and invited me to come along too, since she was in Rome at the same time I was. Panella has been in business for nearly 100 years and it’s not only a fabulous resource for breads, pastries and specialty foods, but a great place for “happy hour” with its prolific buffet dishes, ranging from chickpea farinata to fried zucchini flowers. It’s in the Esquiline neighborhood, not too far from the church of San Giovanni in Laterano. Via Merulana, 54.
buffet at Panella
This recent addition to Trastevere’s dining scene is an informal place for seafood with a hip vibe, but it’s not just 20-somethings who eat here. You’ll feel comfortable no matter what your age and there’s indoor and outdoor seating. You can pick out the fish you want from the counter for a simple preparation, choose a cone of fried calamari or shrimp, or one of the several more elaborately prepared dishes. Gaze at those painted arches inside too, and stop to wonder how many centuries they’ve been there. Vicolo della luce, 4/5
Inside “The Fish Market”
Another casual and tiny Trastevere restaurant that seats only about 25 people. It’s tucked away on a small vicolo on the east side of Viale Trastevere – away from the noisier, more trafficked part of the neighborhood. If it’s artichoke season (and it is still is for a very short while), make sure to order them, either fried alla Giudia, or seasoned and in oil, alla Romana. Both were exceptional, as was their pasta alla gricia, made with guanciale. Via dei Vascellari, 29
artichokes alla Giudia and alla Romana at Da Enzo
I almost hesitate to mention this place because it’s my favorite restaurant in Rome and they’re always lined up to get in – with good reason. The food is exquisite and the waiters are terrific, even while working at breakneck speed. They’re known for their pastas, and rightly so, but the other dishes are fabulous too. I always order the mussels and clams sauté as a starter, the best anywhere. This time I also ordered the steak served with a green peppercorn sauce, a perfectly cooked piece of tender beef, resting in an unctious puddle of winey goodness. If broccoli romano is on the menu, it’s the perfect accompaniment, and is perfectly prepared, with a hint of peperoncino. If you can, reserve the table near the window facing the kitchen. It’s practically theater! Chef Ivano will keep you mesmerized with his deft skills, when you’re not sighing over the unbeatable food delivered to your table. Watch the short video below and you’ll see what I mean. Via Dei Genovese, 37
I can’t resist a good cannolo when I find one and once I stumbled onto Nonna Vincenza a few years ago, I thought I had found the mother lode. There are a couple of locations in town, including one near the campo dei fiori. It’s elegantly appointed, with beautiful armoires displaying pastries, cookies, and almond and pistachio pastes in jars for sale. As much as I love cannoli, I can’t resist digging into Nonna Vincenza’s mini cassata, covered in a layer of marzapan. You can have your purchases boxed to take home if you like, but they’ve also got a few tables and serve coffee if you want to sit and linger. Two locations in Rome – at Arco del Monte 98 (near campo dei fiori) and Piazza di Montecitorio, 116.
Yes, the name Le Levain is French. Yes, they serve French croissants and that’s why I love the place. The owner, Giuseppe Solfrizzi, is originally from Puglia and studied with celebrated chef Alain Ducasse. Italians eat cornetti with their breakfast, and while I like them, to me they don’t hold a candle to the crunchy, buttery croissants that the French are famous for. Everything here is excellent, from the croissants with walnuts to the small domed pastry dipped in white icing, to the multi-grain bread.
Stop in for a few croissants, then take them down the street and around the corner to Café Giselda, where you can order an espresso and sit down, assuaging any guilt you may have had about betraying your Italianness with a French croissant.
My friend Kathryn, who’s living in Rome and is the writing teacher for our writing retreat in September, “Italy, In Other Words,” (still some spaces left, so join us in dreamy Varenna on Lake Como!) introduced me to both places on this trip, and I was grateful every morning when I dug into that croissant that’s unparalleled in Rome, accompanied by my wake-up cappuccino from Caffé Giselda.
pastries at Le Levain
Cafe Giselda itself, at the corner of Viale Trastevere and San Francesco a Ripa, will also impress you with its own pastries, cakes, and salumi. Unlike most caffés, you don’t get charged extra for sitting at a table rather than standing at the bar. And the cappuccino goes down easy.
Le Levain – Via Luigi Santini, Giselda, 22 Viale Trastevere, 52
Have enough ideas for your next trip to Rome? I hope I’ve enticed you to visit this beautiful corner of the world. I could go on and on about my love for the Eternal City, but as the saying goes, when it comes to discovering Rome’s treasures, “Non basta una vita” – meaning “One life is not enough.”
I used to say that Spring was my favorite season, as tulips and daffodils herald a rebirth of beauty, and trees burst out in flowery excess. But every year when summer rolls around, I start to rethink that. Summer’s the time of year for Jersey’s best produce — luscious tomatoes, fragrant peaches and sweet corn; for lazy days at the shore; for catching up on the latest bestseller; and for grilling clams and mussels. I know clams and mussels are available all year long, and I can even use my gas grill during the winter (provided I don’t mind braving the cold out there on the deck).
But when the weather’s hot and you have a hankering for clams and mussels, and don’t want to heat up the kitchen, there’s no easier way to satisfy that craving than to fire up the grill. Save yourself the cleanup too, by using a disposal aluminum pan (ok, I always wash it out and reuse it to be environmentally friendly, but if you toss yours, I won’t send the recycling police to your place.) Just pour a little olive oil and dry white wine around the shellfish, sprinkle with salt and pepper, chopped parsley, a LOT of garlic and a few red hot chili peppers.
Close the lid to the grill and wait for about 15-20 minutes. The shells will all start to pop open and you can sit down to eat right after that. Don’t overcook or they’ll get rubbery.
You can cook up some pasta to go along with it if you like. But I like eating the shellfish with grilled or toasted bread, smeared with garlic and drizzled with olive oil, just like I had recently overlooking the Ionian Sea in Gallipoli, Italy. It’s usually called mussels and clams sauté on menus there. If you can find those tiny cockle-like clams in the U.S., good for you. Otherwise, I use littleneck clams, the smallest available most of the time where I live.
Whenever I’m in Rome, I always order mussels and clams sauté as my first course in my favorite restaurant there – Le Mani in Pasta. They throw in a few shrimp and squid pieces too.
Grill the bread pieces before you cook the shellfish, and you can smear them with a little raw garlic and olive oil while you’re waiting for the shells to open. Serve on a large, deep platter, accompanied by some more dry white wine – preferably the same wine you used to cook the shellfish.
In this case, I used a California chardonnay called “Clambake,” sent to me by its producers, Ripe Life Wines. The company was founded by a Jersey Shore native, Mary McAuley, who’s a culinary school graduate and sommelier. So she knows a thing or two about pairing wines with foods. This one, with its great balance of floral and citrus notes, was perfect with the mussels and clams. If you’re having a full-on clambake (click here for a great Jersey Shore clambake recipe), you’ll want to serve this wine if it’s available near you. You can buy it at stores in New York, Maryland, Virginia and Washington, D.C. Click here for a list of stores.
Oh, I almost forgot – You can now follow what Ciao Chow Linda is up to on Instagram. Lots more food and other photos there. So swing on over to here and take a look.
1 bag of clams (about three dozen – preferably littleneck clams)
1 bag of mussels (about three to four dozen)
1 cup dry white wine
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
at least six to eight large cloves of garlic
1/4 cup minced parsley
2 or 3 small, hot, dried chili peppers (peperoncini)
1 loaf of good French or Italian bread, sliced and grilled
more garlic pieces and olive oil to smear on the bread
Preheat your grill and toast the bread. While the shellfish is cooking, smear a little raw garlic and olive oil on the slices.
Clean the shellfish by washing them in cold water thoroughly to try to remove any traces of sand. Throw out any shells that are already open. Place the mussels and clams in a large aluminum container that fits your grill. Then pour in the wine and olive oil. Add the garlic, parsley, chili peppers, salt and pepper. Place on the grill and close the lid. Toss it all together. Wait about 15 minutes and check. It may take another five minutes or so for most of the shells to open. There will be some stragglers, but remove the ones that are open and leave the others to pop open while you’re eating. Place the shellfish in a large, deep bowl with the juices from the pan, and surround it with the grilled bread.
I’ve mentioned before that “Le Mani In Pasta” was our favorite local restaurant when my husband and I lived in Rome’s Trastevere neighborhood. It has remained so on all my visits back in the last six years. I’ve never had a disappointing dish there – from the fish to the meats to the pastas and desserts. Their mussels and clams in a winey broth is hard to beat and I always order it as a first course, not just because it tastes so great, but because it also takes me back to an idyllic time in my life.
On this last visit, I went with a couple of friends, and one of them – Kathryn – ordered the sauteed squid. Of course I had to have a taste, and that was all I needed to know that it was perfect – not tough, not undercooked, just simply and expertly cooked. I love battered and fried squid rings as much as the next gal, but it’s nice to eat squid a different way too. One of my favorite methods (a Christmas eve requirement) is stuffed squid baked in a tomato sauce. You can find that recipe here. At Le Mani In Pasta, the squid was neither deep fried nor baked in tomato sauce – just prepared with a light coating of fine bread crumbs and a quick saute in olive oil. A squirt of lemon juice at the end imparts the perfect acidic touch. I tried to duplicate the dish at home, and while it wasn’t exactly the same, it was close, and it did bring back a little bit of la bella Roma for a brief moment.
Start with the squid. It’s easy enough to find already cleaned at the fish market. I cut it into small pieces, but you can choose to leave the bodies whole if you like.
Place the pieces on a plate smeared with olive oil and some salt. Flip the squid pieces to coat with the olive oil, then sprinkle some fine bread crumbs all over.
Heat a heavy skillet, place a few tablespoons of olive oil into the pan, then add the squid pieces, cooking briefly for a few minutes on each side. Don’t worry if the pieces curl as you’re cooking. It’s hard to avoid that so just press it down with a fork or spatula.
Serve with a squirt of lemon juice and a sprinkling of minced parsley.