The traditional cuisine of Rome includes very many seafood or fish recipes. Ever since the Roman Empire –an empire stretching from the Atlantic to the Caspian Sea – various fish species have provided the key ingredients of many excellent recipes and seasonings or dressings, as notably attested in the treatise by Apicius, De Re Coquinaria, dedicated to the cuisine of his times, including sauces for (boiled, fried and roasted) fish dishes. Fish were always to be found on Rome’s market stalls.
Over the centuries, the quantities and variety of fish available has always amazed travellers to Rome. This extraordinary fish trade centred around Octavia’s Portico, with its Corinthian order columns and other structures, as seen in a number of watercolours by Franz Roesler. The prime importance of fish in the diet of the Romans is reflected in the number of folk recipes for the various culinary fish species, adopted to this day. Notable among these are the recipes dedicated to two bivalve molluscs.
These are cannolicchi – jacknife-clams (Ensis minor) – and lupini – lupins (Venus gallina ). With the tellina, the molluscs are among the common seafood species of the local coastline, brought to the capital directly from the harbours of Anzio and Fiumicino. The flavour of the jacknife-clam is both sweet and intense, while the lupin’s favour is delicate and distinctly marine.
The recipes for both products, which we find at the shops and stalls at this time of the year, are very simple indeed. These recipes bring out the delicacy and fragrances of these products and preserve their characteristic flavours. However, if we are to fully appreciate these delicacies, we must know how to handle them. The jacknife-clam and lupin are fished by a means known as the hydraulic dredge, which, at a depth of 2-5 metres, for jacknife-clams, and 5-8 metres for lupins, dredges the sea floor. Jacknife-clams can be fished at all times of the year, except April and May. These molluscs are extremely sensitive to pollution; in fact, for about ten years they were unavailable (returning only at the start of the 2000s).
Compared to the jacknife-clams of the Atlantic, these jacknife-clams, or cannolicchi, are sweeter and with a softer flesh. We also recognise them because they are smaller and the shell is lighter in colour. Lupins, which are not fish-farmed, are the typical clam of Mediterranean fisheries. Fishing, on our shores, takes place the year round, interrupted for the months of April and September. With their ovoid or ovate form, the lupin is smaller than the short-necked clam (vongola verace). The following recipe – simple and wholly traditional – fully conserves the delicacy of flavour of jacknife-clams or lupins
Recipe: Sauté lupins or jacknife-clams
Ingredients (for 4):
• 1 kg lupins or jacknife-clams
• 1 bunch of parsley
• 2 garlic cloves
• hot chilli pepper
• extra virgin olive oil (to taste)
Instructions If the molluscs which you have bought are still sandy, leave them to soak in salty water (1 spoonful of coarse salt in 1 litre of water) for a few hours in a cold place. In a pan, heat the garlic, olive oil and chilli pepper. When the fried ingredients are ready, add the lupins or jacknife-clams, cover the a lid and cook with a high flame until all the shells have opened. Now, transfer the molluscs to another vessel while discarding the molluscs which have not opened. Filter off the sauce, add it to the molluscs and sprinkle chopped parsley on the final dish. Accompany with toasted bread.
Where to enjoy traditional Roman fish and seafood dishes
L’Osteria di Monteverde, via Pietro Cartoni, 163-165, Rome. Tel. 0653273887
Tram Tram, via dei Reti, 44-46, Rome. Tel 06490416
Palatium, via Frattina, 94, Rome. Tel. 0669202132
Ristorante Pinzimonio, via Formoso 95, Fiumicino (province of Rome). Tel. 0665029764 http://www.pinzimoniofiumicino.eu/Dove acquistarliEataly
Rome, Air Terminal Ostiense, Piazzale XII Ottobre 1492, tel. 0690279201, http://www.roma.eataly.it/ Agrimar,
Centro di depurazione e spedizione molluschi (mollusc cleaning and shipping centre), via Merope 32, Anzio, tel. 0698610190, 3289121948