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SPICES, FRAGRANCES AND ROMAN CUISINE

Il pancotto

At the time of the Roman Empire, fragrances and spices were used to enhance dining pleasure. In the Middle Ages, thanks to the influence of the Arabs, new tastes emerged. A number of spices were made available. Major additions, for the wealthy, were black pepper (a long-time favourite) and chilli pepper.   Aromatics have always played a key role. Bunches of celery, basil and parsley are to be found in all Rome’s kitchens and marketplaces to this day. In the Roman dialect, celery is called “sellero”. It reached the capital thanks to Cardinal Luigi Corsaro who had it grown in large quantities in his garden in the vicinity of the Trevi fountain. He frequently passed it on as a gift to the Pope and the cardinals. Together with fennel, radishes, black pepper and extra virgin olive oil, celery is the key ingredient of the cazzimperio (crude vegetable dip), which is served toward the end of the meal.   The flavour of parsley, which is to be found throughout the year, is quite unique, providing an essential accompaniment for such traditional dishes as carciofi alla romana or carciofi alla giudia (Roman-style or Roman-Jewish-style artichokes).   Basil is used not only in tomato sauces and other tomato dishes but also as a vital ingredient in a number of vegetable soups and pasta dishes.   Rosemary is an absolutely essential ingredient for roasts, and it also features in very many marinated specialities.   The remarkable fragrance of sage is absolutely essential to saltimbocca alla romana (sliced veal and ham and sage sauté).   We must not forget fennel seeds, oregano and bay, absolutely essential with pork liver, or pennyroyal – which provides not only carciofi alla romana but also aubergine (or eggplant) dishes with a highly distinctive flavour – or marjoram, for panada or bread-soup, with olive oil (pancotto). Here, we shall look at the pancotto recipe.  

Recipe: Pancotto with olive oil Ingredients water 2 garlic cloves extra virgin olive oil salt pepper marjoram    

Instructions Fill a pan with a sufficient quantity of water for the number of guests expected, and add a little salt, a few drops of olive oil and a couple of peeled garlic cloves. Crumble your bread and add it to the water. Boil for a few minutes while stirring from time to time. Pancotto should be dense but fairly pliable or malleable. Pour onto the plates, and add pinches of salt, marjoram and black pepper.  

Where to buy the spices and aromatics produced in the countryside around Rome: Città dell’Altra Economia. SpazioBio, the organic foods shop. Tuesday-Friday 10.00-19.30 (open all day). Fruit and vegetables, closing at 19.00. Saturday 10.00-13.30/14.30-19.30. Fruit and vegetable; closing at 19.00. Sunday 10.00-16.00.

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