If you are planing a vacation in Rome, Elizabeth Minchilli’s Eating Rome: Living the Good Life in the Eternal City, should be your travel guide. And, if you don’t plan to travel to Rome soon, pick up the book anyway so that you can use her recipes to prepare and enjoy Roman food.
Minchilli, raised in the Midwest, first visited Italy with her family when she was 12. Shortly after, the family decided to move to Italy. Worried about leaving her school and friends behind, Minchilli soon adjusted and fell in love with Italy. Through college and graduate school, she returned again and again, finally settling there full time, marrying an Italian, and having children. She began to write about Italian food, art, architecture, and other topics for U.S. publications. She now has a blog, “Elizabeth Minchilli in Rome,” and also offers day or week long food tours.
Eating Rome is a valuable guide for another reason: helping Americans understand the Italian way of enjoying food and drink. Want to avoid looking like the clueless tourist? Her book will help you do that.
Right off the bat, she talks about something that Americans love and Italians often skip – breakfast. There are no IHOPs in Rome serving groaning plates of overly sweet pancakes and waffles. Eggs, too, are rarely eaten early in the morning. Minchilli made some adjustments for her family, preparing pancakes (although without maple syrup, these are served with cherry preserves), and eggs with pancetta rather than bacon.
What do Italians eat for breakfast? Usually a quick cup of strong espresso. And cookies. “While in the States you have entire supermarket aisles dedicated to cereal, in Italy you can walk down breakfast cookie lane,” she writes. As a child growing up in upstate New York, our breakfast consisted of my grandmother’s homemade cookies which we would dip into a bowl of coffee. (Yes, as children we drank coffee.) Eggs were usually prepared in a frittata with vegetables and served for lunch or a light dinner.
About that coffee. In America, we’re used to walking around with that Starbucks at the ready. In Italy walking around eating and drinking is forbidden.”In fact, there was a recent law passed in Rome aimed specifically at tourists,” Minchilli writes. “No eating anything within ten feet of any historic monument. Since Rome is basically one big historic monument, that pretty much meant no eating anything, anywhere, anytime outdoors.” While the law is probably impossible to enforce, the fact that the city pronounced eating in the street a crime shows that Italians take how and where people eat very seriously. Minchilli says that Italians only eat two things while walking – pizza bianca, or white pizza, which must be consumed while hot, and gelato, which comes in a small cone or cup and is ideal for a mobile snack.
Minchilli includes places to dine and shop for food in Rome. Want to enjoy a traditional panino, the Italian style sandwich? She has terrific suggestions. Her tips for stocking your pantry in order to cook Italian will work no matter where you shop.
While Eating Rome isn’t a cook book per se, the recipes she includes are varied, the instructions easy to understand, and the results, as we experienced, delicious. My husband and I have always enjoyed Roman food, whether actually in Rome or in the U.S. So we couldn’t wait to try some of the recipes. My husband decided to make the artichoke lasagna as a first course for our Easter dinner. (Romans love artichokes and Minchilli dedicates a whole chapter to this vegetable.) This recipe is not an easy one, involving cleaning and cooking the artichokes and making a besciamella sauce to place between the layers. The recipe does allow the use of no-boil lasagna noodles which eliminates the need to make your own pasta. Still, try this before you make it for a dinner party.
My husband is an excellent chef and although I’m totality biased, this was an amazing dish. We followed it with a rack of lamb and green beans with butter and parmigiana. Truly a feast.
We will continue to work our way through Minchilli’s recipes and will definitely pack Eating Rome for our next trip, which, we hope, will be very soon.
Eating Rome: Living the Good Life in the Eternal City