Sunday, May 12, 2019

Pasta Time!

Indexing previous reporting from my 2019 Italy trip:
The Naples Diet
Lines in Italy Explain My Exasperation
His Dying Thought: Oh, right; this is how you die in Italy
The Surprising Truth About Real Neapolitan Brick Oven Pizza
The Surprising Truth About Real Sicilian Rice Balls
Marzipan, You Idiot! Marzipan!
Naples: Mistaking Soulfulness for Danger
Two Recent Glimpses of Ridiculous Death
Pasta Time!

A special treat: a freebie look at the Roman pasta overview in my app, Eat Everywhere (which guides you, on-the-fly, through meals in any type of restaurant; it's like having an insider coach you through the cuisine):
Roman kitchens remain obsessed with the city's storied pasta magic tricks. Elsewhere, they might have faded into a tradition that only old folks remember, prepared uncompromisingly only in one certain restaurant. But I'd bet you could find bowling alleys in Rome making hyper-careful carbonara or arrabiata putting NYC's finest to shame.

To pick the smallest nits, I'll note that Rome whips up metric tons of every pasta shape and recipe you've ever heard of (up to and including beef chow fun), but while local chefs would opt for suppoku rather than produce a flawed version of the Roman classics, the rest is just...pasta. So if you're craving more than the traditional peasant recipes, you're on potentially shaky ground. Unless you opt for the small but impressive local magic tricks, magic will not be assured.

I'd already had state-of-the-art spaghetti cacio e pepe in, of all places, Norwalk, Connecticut at Bar Sugo. Roman friends have pronounced these photos fully worthy:

Pepe Verdea
Viale Gorizia 38, 00198 Rome

Rigatoni alla gricia
I also tried a special, "Straccetti di pollo carciofi e testun al barolo", strips of chicken and artichokes with paper-thin shavings of barolo wine-crusted hard cheese.

This struck me as the quintessential case of a chef coming up with a way to move excess provisions. Dude probably had a poultry backlog, and while the dish was good, it was simple, and without 1200 years of honing to inject magic, tastes like it's missing something. Pretty, though!

Osteria da Fortunata
Via del Pellegrino 11, 00186 Rome

Strozzapreti carbonara
These guys really put the "carb" in carbonara. Not sure this super thick and clunky pasta works for this purpose. I agree with my Roman friend Paola, who prefers strozzapreti with tomato, oil and basilico.

Also, a nice simple artichoke dish. It was the season.

Hostaria da Settimio

Via di Val Tellina 81, 00151 Rome

Bucatini all'Amatriciana
Sometimes when you try an authentic version of a dish hard to find good where you live, there's a surreal deja vu. It reminds you of mediocre or even awful things you've tried that were influenced, way back, by the wonderful original creation you're finally getting to try. So I'm going to do name-drop two culinary abominations prodded into my memory - junior high cafeteria spaghetti, and canned "Beefaroni" - but I need you to understand that I am not criticizing this dish.

The first time I tasted Memphis dry rub barbecue, I finally understood what Wise barbecue potato chips were referencing. Which is not to say that Memphis barbecue is as crappy as a mass-market potato chip. It's just that I tasted it long after I'd ingrained Wise's dumbed-down version.

Similarly, amatriciana is great and conveys deep sentiments. But, through no fault of its own, it seems to be the spiritual grandfather of some of the worst culinary banes of my youth. None of them are called amatriciana, nor were they prepared by people familiar with the word. But the connection is obvious. Perhaps this closeup might jar similar associations:
I'm glad I had this. It redeemed years of disgust and disappointment suffered in institutional lunchrooms. Also (further above): trippa ala Romana and the famous Jewish fried artichokes. This restaurant is considered quite a serious find for non-touristy, highly disciplined cooking in an informal setting at a fair price. But I found the food merely proper, and lacking soul.

Then on to Naples' more free-wheeling pasta scene, unchained from Rome's preoccupation with local classics.

Tandem Sedile di Porto
Via Sedile di Porto 51, 80134 Naples

Paccheri ragú alla Genovese

Tandem is an unpretentious little place with a short menu. They know what they're good at, and excel at the house specialty. It's essentially a two-trick pony, turning out configurations based around two varieties of ragú, Neopolitan and Genovese. A proper ragú is a hell few modern chefs would tackle, involving hours of braising. Tandem makes no shortcuts, and the result is calibration-level ragú. I chose Genovese, and it was properly melt-in-your-mouth and (authentically) almost embarrassingly oniony. Any North Indian customer would be moved to proclaim "Dopiaza!")

Also: a sturdy, smartly-prepared cut of maiale nero, the legendary Calabarian black pig (a fine deal at 18 euros).

Mimì alla Ferrovia
Via Alfonso D'Aragona 19, 80139 Naples

Spaghetti frutti di mare
Also: octopus.

This is an old-school, old-guard place, complete with waiters in tuxedos and snooty xenophobia toward sneaker-clad Americans. The cooking showed echoes of past grandeur, but it's all gone a bit soft (in places still at their prime, waiters have better things to do than study customer footwear). I'd been recommended the linguine frutti di mare, and while it wasn't on-menu the day I visited, the chef kindly offered to whip it up if I was okay with spaghetti in place of linguini. It was the latest of many lessons that pasta shape is critical. This really needed linguini.

Next installment of my Italy trip: Miscellaneous PIzza

No comments:

Blog Archive