Rome: La Cena Italiana

I emerged from the familiar Tuscolana train station in Rome yesterday to a balmy warm evening that felt more like summer than late March. Spying a flower stall I stopped to buy some bunches of freesias as an arrival gift and the friendly woman asked if they were a present and then mixed them with some greenery into a lovely bouquet.

The sun was setting as I walked out onto the balcony of the flat; a deep pink-orange on the skyline, San Giovanni in Laterano visible on a slight hill. After an hour or so to unpack and settle in, we set off to Robert and Jenny’s friend Monica for a meal. Monica and Massimo’s apartment was just a short walk along the via Taranto. We entered through huge doors into a courtyard and then went up to their floor in a small cage lift. There was such a wonderfully warm welcome with ciao and buonasera and kisses and introductions all round. More people arrived, including Robert’s cousin, Daniella, and soon we were twelve.

Prosecco was opened and warm little mouth-sized pizzas came. A huge chunk of pecorino sat with a knife on a small table and unshod pods of baby broad beans. People cut chunks of cheese and opened the pods, putting the tiny sweet new fava beans straight into their mouths. Later Monica told me it was traditional to eat the pecorino and broad beans on 1May. We may have been a little early but the weather was definitely May-like!

The meal was a series of courses. First of all, Monica appeared with a huge dish of pasta: calamari in a tomato sauce with calamari-shaped pasta: calamarata. This was wonderful and the calamari tender and sweet. Then in quick succession came more things that everyone just helped themselves to almost one by one: chicoria picante, chicory with chilli; some aubergine, mozzarella, and mushrooms; and there was a wonderful salad of potatoes and octopus dressed with just lemon juice and olive oil. There was also plate of some things that looked like a cross between pancakes and poppadums: guttiau – a special bread. Then we had a fresh fruit salad – but it turned out there was more dessert to come: some Sicilian carnoli, stuffed with sweet ricotta, made by Monica’s friend Aurora, and a kind of vin santo from Pellegrino to drink with them.

It was a wonderful evening and quite different to anything I could experience on my own, and really quite special to be made to feel so welcome in this Italian home. They even happily allowed me to photograph the lovely food and told me stories about the food and traditions. It was well past midnight when we stepped into the street again, but still like a summer’s night outside for our gentle stroll home.

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A lifelong lover of good food and travel; writer and book editor

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