Friday, October 5, 2018

Penne rigate

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Viale Trastevere, Rome, October 4, 2018—
NEW TO US, one of today's places; a familiar, the other — and as it happened penne at both.

I'll start with dinner, at a pretty darn good place we discovered a couple of years ago when we were staying near the Piazza Dunant, around the corner, in the Monteverde region here in Rome. There, hungry, I opened with two fritti: a stuffed zucchini blossom and a filet of baccalà.

Both were delicious, lightly battered with bread crumbs and deep-fried just so in vegetable oil — semi, the waiter said, seed — safflower I suppose: in any case, light and neutral.

Filetto di baccalà seems to be considered a Roman specialty by the Romans, who, like all metropolitans, think of their pleasures as characteristic of their city. I eat salt cod wherever it's offered, and have enjoyed it especially in Venice (mantecato), Seville, and Porto. The Roman deep-fried version, certainly as prepared in this restaurant, preserves the flaky delicacy of the flesh. I could eat it every meal, maybe even breakfast.

I went on, at dinner, to penne rigate alla gricia, one of the Roman trinity of "white" pasta preparations. (The other two are cacio e pepe, soon to be discussed, and carbonara, to be discussed (perhaps) another day. (There is a "red" one, too: Amatriciana, also to be investigated another day.)

Gricia, according to Wikipedia, was likely associated with the town of Grisciano, like Amatrice not that far east of Rome. It is a frugal dish involving only five ingredients: the pasta, salt, guanciale, Pecorino, and black pepper. Six, if you count the water the pasta is cooked in.

Here the guanciale was properly cubed, say an eighth of an inch to a side, no more; and fried I'm sure in only its own fat, and tossed along with the grated pecorino into the pasta, which clearly had had some of its cooking water added back.

Part of the pleasure of these dishes, especially when served with penne, is scooping the thick sauce up with a little penne boat at the end of your fork. The cheese and thick pasta-water combines to make a kind of poor man's besciamella or béchamel. Salt and pepper were present but subtle. The dish was superb.

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penne cacio e pepe alla gricia

     🍷House wine, white
•C'era Una Volta, Piazzale Enrico Dunant 13, Rome; 📞+39 06 53627 8

LUNCH HAD BEEN at an Internet-discussed place up the Viale from home — why not try out the local joints? Here I ordered penne cacio e pepe, which is essentially alla gricia with the guanciale left out and a little more black pepper put in. The trick, of course, is to use good ingredients, and the pepper must be freshly ground. At home we use Tellicherry, and I'd be surprised if such good (and expensive) pepper had been used here — but I wasn't complaining.

The dish was nearly as good as the evening's gricia. With it I had a simple salad of narrow leaves of arugula, dressed at table (by me, not a waiter) with olive oil, salt, and "Balsamico". I'd have preferred lemon juice, but hadn't tnought to request it.

     🍷House wine, white

•Bruciapadelle, Piazza Ippolito Nievo 13, Rome; 📞+39 06 58138 60

RESTAURANTS VISITED, with information and rating: 2016      2015     2017

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