Since I made the decision to study abroad in Rome, I have been dreaming about my first real Italian meal in the Eternal City.
I’ve imagined myself swimming in a pool of spaghetti alla carbonara, dousing my jet-lagged soul with a glass of Prosecco and relishing in the sweetness of the best gelato Rome could offer.
But as I missed my original flight to Rome, I made a detour to London’s Heathrow airport and didn’t arrive at my apartment until the late evening. My first bite of real Italian food was of a slightly cold piece of sausage and cheese pizza. Because I had had nothing but stale Goldfish and horrible airplane food in the previous 24 hours, a bite of that pizza (which had been sitting out all day, no doubt) was more than welcome. But as the next day arrived, my stomach grumbled for a big bowl of pasta.
Eden, a tiny twinkle-light adorned restaurant, is nestled along the Via Fonteiana in Trastevere, Rome. It sits across the piazza where my apartment is located, and now holds the honor of being my first taste of authentic Italian cuisine. With a glass of Pinot Grigio in my hand, I perused Eden’s menu and savored the fact that I could not understand a word of what I was reading. I recognized gnocchi al quatro formaggi (a rich dumpling made of potato, drenched in a delicious four-cheese sauce) and the bruschetta pomodoro (diced tomatoes dressed in olive oil and basil, atop a crispy slice of bread), but I settled on the bucatini amatriciana.
Bucatini is essentially spaghetti, but is hollow and much thicker, and is commonly paired with a carbonara sauce. It also happens to be one of my favorite pastas (yes, when you’ve eaten as much pasta as I have, you pick favorites). Amatriciana is a classic Italian pasta sauce, made from tomatoes, pecorino, garlic, onions and pepper flakes. I couldn’t wait to taste them both together.
The recipe for the classic sauce originated around the 15th or 16th century in the small Italian town of Amatrice, just on the outskirts of Rome. Poor migrant shepherds in Amatrice used local ingredients to make an alla gricia sauce, which consisted of pecorino romano cheese, guanciale (salt-cured pork cheek), and black pepper. The sauce was originally paired with spaghetti, and was known as amatriciana bianca, referring to the color of the sauce.
It wasn’t until sometime in the 17th century, when tomatoes were introduced to Italy from the New World that amatriciana bianca became amatriciana rosso. As tomato-based sauces became the norm throughout Italy, amatriciana rosso moved its way across the country. When the Amatrice natives migrated to Rome, they brought their own regional cooking into the city, including the amatriciana rosso. It was there in Rome that the dish was renamed as pasta alla matriciana. Over the years the recipe was adapted and wine, basil, sage, onions and garlic were added to the sauce. Nowadays, pasta amatriciana is considered to be one of the most famous and traditional Roman dishes.
But I didn’t care about the history. I didn’t care that Italian peasants invented the dish. And I didn’t care that my new study abroad friends were discussing their mutual love for “Glee,” because when I took my first bite of bucatini amatriciana, all I cared about was pasta.
The sauce was thick with sweet tomatoes and dotted with cubes of salty guanciale, and paired (though non-traditionally) well with the bucatini. Let’s just say that if I were to be featured on Food Network’s “The Best Thing I Ever Ate,” this would be the dish that I would rave about. I can only hope that the cuisine in Rome will get better as I venture farther into the gastronomical delights it has to offer. But if not, there’s a charming little restaurant across the street with my name all over it.