By Grace Hauck
We enter the house and can smell something already cooking. The aromas fill the air. Today, all the cooking we did included foods and dishes from our region of Lazio. We first make Zuppa di Cecci e castagne, which is a soup with chickpeas and chestnuts a soup that is usually made for Christmas Eve. The soup has dried chestnuts, chickpeas, tomatoes, celery, fresh rosemary, garlic, and one dried chili. Traditionally this served on top of a slice of bread, but already having a big meal, we didn’t have our soup with bread.
While the soup was cooking, we began to make the Tozzetti cookies. Italian baking is very different from American in that it uses olive oil rather than butter most of the time. Tozzetti are made with toasted hazelnuts locally grown in nearby towns of Vallerano, Vignanello, and Caprarola. The cookie contains flour, olive oil, eggs, sugar, lemon rind, baking powder, and toasted hazelnuts–a major product of this region. This cookie is baked twice, first baked in long logs and then cut diagonally into pieces and baked again. As we cut the cookies we can’t help but take bits and pieces to nibble on just to get a taste as we await our meal. As the cookies came out of the oven, our feast could begin with zuppa di Cecci e Castagne. This delicious soup is slightly pureed before serving to give it a thicker consistency. We ate our soup, momentarily filling our growling stomachs.
The Lombrichelli pasta, the classic pasta of Tuscia, came next. The name comes from the word il lombrico, or worm-like, since it is a very thick pasta. Lombrichelli alla amatriciana is a dish using smoked pig’s cheek and pancetta fried in a pan until crispy, and tomatoes, basil, white wine vinegar, olive oil, a hot chili pepper, and topped with freshly grated pecorino cheese. As the sauce is added to the freshly cooked pasta it squishes together combining to make a delicious dish. With this dish we served white wine “Est! Est!! Est!!!”.
Next to tastefully jump into our mouths is Saltimbocca alla Romana. Saltimbocca literally means, “jump in the mouth” because it is simply that good of a dish. We took the pork tenderloin (called Arista here), rolled it flat with the back of a knife, laid a piece of Prosciutto crudo (air cured ham) on top, followed by a sage leaf, and a toothpick to hold everything together. The pan is heated first, then the oil, and is finally followed by the pork for a quick cook time of only about 2-3 minutes. The Prosciutto gets nice and crispy. It leaves fat in the pan to be soaked up after the cooking is done with Marsala wine to make a syrupy sauce served over the pork. The wine to go with this dish is a white wine called “San Marco- Frascati Superiore-Secco.” We learned to smell this wine, look at something white to notice and compare the color, swish it, and finally taste it. The dish did jump into our mouths and we enjoyed every last bite!
The cheese course was next, in which we tried four different types of cheese. They were lined up from least sharp to sharpest on a cutting board sliced for everyone to try. The first cheese was caciotta, which was very mild and not very flavorful. The second was pecorino rosso, which was the perfect marriage of sharpness and smoothness. Following was pecorino del caciotori, which was similar to parmesan cheese to my taste and very mature. The sharpest cheese was the pecorino Romano cheese, which we had grated over our lombrichelli alla amatriciana as well as here to taste.
Next we tried ricotta, which might seem in order following the cheese, but despite popular belief is not really a cheese. Ricotta is really the remains of the true cheese making process – The whey recooked. Topped with either delicious apricot jam or coffee grounds. Both were surprisingly good! Lastly came Tezzotti with Aleatico di Gradoli red wine to dip the cookies in. This wine is made just for dipping cookies in. We all took a deep breath and relaxed after such a wonderful selection of foods.