Gourmandistan recently returned from a trip to Italy, celebrating the 30th anniversary of Michelle and Steve’s official union. (We don’t use our “shacking up” years in the official count.) While we spent the majority of our time in Venice, the trip began and ended in Rome. There we enjoyed a delicious, deep-fried version of Rome’s famous cacio e pepe (pasta with pepper and cheese). The path to enjoying it, however, had a few ups and downs—and not all the ups were good.
For the first day or so, Rome was great. Our nice hotel in the hip Monti was convenient to the Colosseum, the train station and a Metro stop. We took a tour of the Trionfale market, afterwards enjoying takeaway from a nearby baker reputed to be “the Michelangelo of pizza.” We saw the Spanish Steps and the Trevi Fountain, passed through the Pantheon and several churches and snickered at tacky souvenirs, including what seemed to be a bafflingly oblivious “sexy priest” calendar. Just our kind of travel.
Checking out Rome’s Termini station in preparation for our train trip to Venice, we made sure to get some wine and food at the station’s Mercato Centrale, including some delightful fried chicken strips with oatmeal batter from Martino Bellincampi’s stall. Satisfied with our snack and our ability to walk our luggage to the train, we passed up Bellincampi’s fried cacio e pepe pucks, thinking we could grab some either departing or returning to Termini. Then our plans (and Michelle’s stomach) got upset.
Some sort of nasty food poisoning or virus left Michelle disinclined to either explore or eat for an entire day. Still not in the mood to eat, she managed to actually enjoy our guided visit to the Vatican (albeit with greenish-hued skin and gritted teeth).The day we left for Venice, Michelle was feeling better and (understandably) a bit hungry. We arrived early at Termini station, only to watch the metal doors of Mercato Centrale not open. Instead, two employees argued over how and where to post a sign noting “special circumstances”—meaning no fried cacio e pepe for us.
Venice was wonderful, and we hope to add more detail in a future post. (Spoiler: there will be no squid ink.) It was over all too soon, and we once again found ourselves in Termini Station, with plenty of time to enjoy a wide-open Mercato Centrale. While we wished there were also carciofi alla giudìa (fried artichokes), we did finally enjoy deep-fried cacio e pepe, which we thought was something we could recreate at home.
Back in America, we purchased dried Italian pasta and a hunk of Pecorino Romano, along with a Dutch semi-soft sheep’s milk cheese. (We weren’t able to find the cacio di Roma cheese our cacio e pepe recipe called for.) Putting the cheese, pasta and starchy water together was simple and delicious, giving us another easy dinner option. Chilling the surplus cheesy pasta in round molds overnight, we soon managed a reasonable recreation of Bellincampi’s fried snack. It was a lovely way to remember Rome, where we hope to someday return—this time with less sickness and more snacks.
Place leftover pasta in oiled rings (we used English muffin rings), pushing down firmly with your fingers. Place on a flat surface (we used a cutting board covered with waxed paper) and refrigerate overnight. Remove pasta pucks from rings and dip first in flour, then in eggs, then in breadcrumbs. Deep-fry in neutral oil at 350° F until well-browned. Drain on paper or a cooling rack.
FRIED CACIO E PEPE
Place leftover pasta in oiled rings (we used English muffin rings), pushing down firmly with your fingers. Place on a flat surface (we used a cutting board covered with waxed paper) and refrigerate overnight.
Remove pasta pucks from rings and dip first in flour, then in eggs, then in breadcrumbs.
Deep-fry in neutral oil at 350° F until well-browned. Drain on paper or a cooling rack.