Latium territory stretches over plains, hills, mountains, sea and lakes which makes for a varied and plentiful cuisine. Again, Rome is the most famous part of Lazio and honestly is treated as such in terms of reverence. All of the different monuments that we most often hear about and know of have such rich history and meaning. The Colisseum is the most important and the Romans actually say that "if the Colisseum falls, Rome falls". We honestly didn't get into much detail about Lazio because Michele said that it would take ages to focus on just the history of Rome but we did concentrate a great deal on the food. That's just fine by me!
In Lazio, there are three specific dishes that are served on certain days of the week: baked gnocchi with tomato sauce on Thursday, pasta ceci (pasta with chickpeas and sage) on Friday and tripe (stewed with mint and pecorino) on Saturday. In addition to those specific weekly dishes, there are several pastas well known in Lazio. This leads me to all the favorites I mentioned before! Spaghetti carbornara is probably at the top of the list but there's also cacio e pepe, potato gnocchi (what Americans know the best in terms of what gnocchi is), penne all'arrabbiata and spaghetti aglio e olio (garlic and oil). Allison and I once ate spaghetti aglio e olio for dessert - yes, you read that correctly - at Bar Italia in St. Louis because of how good they make it. I absolutely love it and, the best part of all of these pastas, is that there are so few ingredients in them so they end up being super cheap to make. However, what I've learned quickly in Italy is that the "easiest" recipes to make are actually the hardest. Perfecting simplicity in a dish is an art and one I'm trying very hard to learn as I keep mentioning if you follow along closely with my blog.
While Lazio is the place to go for pasta, it's also known for a couple of meat dishes that are really terrific. Coda alla vaccinara is stewed oxtail cooked with celery, carrot, onion, raisin, pine nuts and dark chocolate. We actually made this back in New York and it's totally delicious. Definitely a winter dish but the flavors are outstanding and, when cooked for the right amount of time, the meat becomes melt-in-your-mouth tender. Saltimbocca is also super popular and something I've actually had in the US a few times. It's a meat roll made of prosciutto and veal that's sautéed in butter and seasoned with sage and white wine. It's so good, especially if you eat it with bread as a sandwich.
Desserts in Lazio are primarily made with a ricotta base which I really love. The crostata di ricotta is a short crust pastry with a filling of ricotta, egg yolk, cinnamon, sugar and lemon zest. I could eat a whooole lot of that, especially because short crust isn't really sweet at all so it truly is more of a savory dessert. Right up my alley, folks.
Chef Andrea Fusco, from Giuda Ballerino, came to show us his view on Lazio and he made a couple of very interesting things! I didn't really connect with him at all but some of his food was innovative and different, particularly his black russian foie grois made with coke and vodka. It was very good, especially with the booze because it cut right into the fattiness of the foie grois:
We learned with Chef Valeria Piccini how vital it is to have balance in your dishes so this was a nice illustration of that.
Another interesting dish he made was black truffle cacio e pepe risotto:
He topped it with culatello, which was a bit superfluous in my opinion, but the flavor of the risotto was delicious. I remain a purist, though. If I want cacio e pepe, I want the traditional, old school pasta dish so, while I enjoyed tasting this, I wouldn't order it.
Keeping right along with the concept of being a purist, I just couldn't get on board with his "carbonara" dish. Hey, being innovative and different doesn't guarantee it's going to be awesome, you know. For the "carbonara", he made homemade tagliolini with chlorophyll, something I'll have to explain later because it's a process, and then created sort of a deconstructed carbonara but he added clams and mussels in addition to the guanciale (originally it's made with pancetta):
Now, I'm all about being different and standing out, but you honestly cannot call this carbonara. I mean, it's not even spaghetti, it's tagliolini! Let's just call it what it is, tagliolini with guanciale and seafood in cream sauce. I don't know, I guess I don't like when people take a good thing and turn it into something it's not.
He did make a couple of other things that were to die for, specifically the red pepper gelato that accompanied his chicken dish:
It was incredible. I could smear it on anything and go to town. He also made a hazelnut semifreddo 'ice cream sandwich' that was fantastic:
I don't like either semifreddo or hazelnut so, I was less than excited to try it, but he knocked my socks off with it.
All in all, it was just an ok demo day for me. Perhaps if I had actually connected with his philosophies or vision more, I would've felt differently but it's certainly ok to have differing opinions. That's definitely what this profession boils down to more often than not so you must always have an open mind, that's the most important part of it all.