Tag Archives: Rome

Italian Jewish Food for Hanukkah

Happy Hanukkah! Every year for Hanukkah we try to highlight some lesser known (at least in the US) foods of Jewish communities. One country with a rich tradition of Jewish foods that you may not think of immediately is Italy. There has been a Jewish community in Italy since at least 150 BC, and it has continued through to the present day. In Rome, the Jewish population was forced to live in a designated ghetto from 1555 to 1870, and in this period a distinctive Roman Jewish cuisine emerged.

One of the most famous Rome Jewish-Italian foods, that has been adopted by Romans of all religions as a signature dish is fried artichoke. Its Italian name – carciofi alla giudia – actually translates to Jewish-style artichokes. This simple and delicious dish is perfect for Hanukkah, where fried food symbolizes the oil in the lamp that burned for 8 days instead of just one. Other Italian Jewish dishes include pinaci con Pinoli e Passerine (spinach with pine nuts and raisins), Baccalà all’ebraica (fried codfish), and concia (fried zucchini). If you are hungry for more recipes check out the cookbooks Cucina Ebraica: Flavors of the Italian Jewish Kitchen and Classic Italian Jewish Cooking.

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Bonci brings Roman-Style Pizza to Chicago

When we were in Rome for our honeymoon years ago, we stopped by a little walk-up pizza counter near the Vatican, the Pizzerium, run by renowned pizzaiolo Gabriele Bonci. The pizza was delicious, and served al taglio – by the piece – which in the case of Roman-style pizza means cut by scissors and priced by weight. Roman style pizza is served on a somewhat thick crust with the texture of focaccia bread, with an abundance of topping varieties. We never expected to have Bonci pizza again (short of taking another trip to Rome) so we were floored when we heard that Bonci himself was opening his first overseas location in Chicago. Bonci himself supervised the opening of the Chicago shop, the eponymous Bonci (161 N Sangamon St. Chicago, IL)  over the summer of 2017, and by the time we arrived in December, it seemed to be a well-oiled machine. 

The Chicago Bonci location was similar to the Roman one – except supersized. The concept is the same – you peruse the pizzas on display and get slices to order, which are then, cut, weighed, heated up and brought out to you. When we were at Bonci there were at least a dozen pizzas on display. They varied by weight but most were $10.99 – $14.99 a pound. You can get any size you want, but we went with the smallest samples possible so we could try many varieties (which ran us about $3.50). The flavor combos ranged from classic margherita, to spicy meatball to salmon, and there is something for every taste. We started out with 3 varieties, but then went back for 2 more.

On our first trip we sampled ricotta, zucchini and lemon; anchovy and zucchini; and arrabiata (red sauce and spicy pepper). We followed up with potato and rosemary, and arugula and prosciutto. As we waited for our order to be heated up, we grabbed some stools behind the counter and watched the pizzaiolos do their thing – pressing the dough into rectangular pans and sprinkling toppings across the surface. One of the great things was that in less than 20 minutes, there were already some new pizza varieties to try on our second trip. We really enjoyed all of the pizzas, and we appreciated the attention to detail in the chewy, flavorful crust and all of the super-fresh toppings. Most of the pizzas did not come with red sauce, and all of the cheeses were fresh and delicate. Our favorite slice of the day was the ricotta with lemon, which was light, fresh and bright – and we felt like we could eat a whole pizza!

The service at Bonci was also excellent, and when the GM noticed that our slices did not have enough arugula, he brought some over himself. If you are thirsty, there is still and fizzy water on tap along with a selection of Italian soft drinks, single-serve wines and beers. Unlike the Rome location, there are counters along the wall to sit, though a good deal of the patrons were taking their pizzas to go. All told, we were stuffed with top-notch pizza for less than $20. If you like high-quality pizza, we highly recommend that you give Bonci a try – it is a little slice of Rome right here in Chicago.

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Supplì vs. Arancini

ItalyWe are extremely intrigued to learn about Suppli, a Roman fried rice ball that is a cousin of the Sicilian arancini. Suppli traditionally have a cheese filling (MOST traditionally with chicken giblets), while arancini have a filling of meat ragu and peas. Of course the fillings of each can vary wildly depending on the creativity of the chef. Overall, arancini tend to be bigger (sometimes even baseball sized) while suppli are smaller. Both suppli and arancini were traditionally found in fried snack shops, but now are popular antipasti at pizzerias and other casual restaurants. We are dumbfounded that we did not have any suppli while in Rome (we need to correct that error ASAP). In any case, we think the US needs some more fried rice treats, whether suppli or arancini.

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Real Sicilian Pizza: Sfincione in Palermo

SicilySfincione is traditional Sicilian pizza which is baked in large squares and is often served by cutting slices with scissors (our favorite part). Sfincione is akin to a thick foccacia bread topped with tomato sauce and (traditionally) anchovies and onions, and maybe some cheese, though definitely not as much as an American pizza. More exotic toppings are not an option. Sfincione originated in Sicily, and was the primary type of pizza on the island until the 1860s. While we were in Sicily, especially Palermo, we partook in many slices from street sellers known as sfinciunaros. In addition to being a street snack throughout Sicily, sfincione is also available in many restaurants and bakeries throughout Sicily and even Rome. Serious Eats has a Sfincione recipe that has been declared to be “spot on.” Looks like we’ll have to try making it this Christmas season, when it is traditionally consumed (though it is definitely a year-round food).


Cross Section of Sfincione by Scott Wiener

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Our first – and last – visit to Testaccio Market

We absolutely love Italian markets. From Philadelphia to Siracusa to Rome, there is nothing better than the hustle and bustle of purchasing fresh produce, fish, bread, olive oil, prosciutto, and cheese from knowledgeable folks who have been doing it for years and years. As such, we were a little disappointed when we went to Campo di Fiori market in Rome and found it overrun with stands catering mainly to tourists seeking weird dried spice mixes (“Taco Spice”, “Aphrodisiac Romance Spice,””Pasta Spice” etc.). Not exactly what we wanted.

Yet relief awaits. Just cross the Tiber river, to the Testaccio neighborhood. It’s full of old buildings and quaint cafes, along with beautiful churches tucked into hidden courtyards.  Testaccio is also home to one of M’s favorite Roman sites – the Pyramid of Cestius – as well as the nearly 100 year-old Testaccio Market.

Right away we could tell that this place wasn’t designed for tourists. The Testaccio market was the real deal. It makes its home in a partially enclosed structure with huge glass skylights, containing vendors selling any kind of delicious item, from meat to bread to veggies. The market was crowded, even at the afternoon hour, and was full of locals chatting and haggling. We spotted tourists, too, but the market certainly wasn’t geared to tourist tastes. One of our favorite stalls was dedicated completely to tomatoes – manned by a kind Sicilian woman who let us sample a few of tomatoes (you can find a few of the varieties below). We also ended up buying arugula, bread, cheese, and some prosciutto all to make a little picnic in the Borghese Gardens.

Sadly, we recently learned that Testaccio Market will only live in its current state until the end of the month. Parla Food give a particularly bleak outlook for the market’s future: moved to a new building, the new market is ugly, built on a parking garage, and worst of all, will charge nearly double for vendor space. Seasoned vendors will probably close up shop instead of pass the expense onto their regular customers, meaning the market could soon morph into another tourist trap like Campo de Fiori. Sounds like a lose-lose situation. Really, since when are Romans known to visit the marketplace by car? Much like the Maxwell St. Market in Chicago, we are sure something will be lost in the move. RIP Testaccio Market.

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Pizza by the Slice in Rome: Pizzarium

Via della Meloria, 43
Rome, Italia

So one of the things we were most looking forward to in Italy was getting some good pizza (cliché we know). When scanning through the blogosphere for delicious places to eat on the cheap in Rome, we came across many glowing reviews of Pizzarium, so when knew we absolutely had to get there. Pizzarium is helmed by Gabriele Bonci, who is known for his bread and pizza know-how (and who was recently featured in the Atlantic). Pizzarium itself is a tiny, bright store, with nothing in the way of seating or much counter space (we ended up eating our pizza on the curb). However, this tight space is only a minor inconvenience.

When we arrived at the tiny Pizzarium we were stunned by the sheer variety crammed into a single tiny glass counter. On that day, there were about 15 varieties of pizza to choose from. Instead of getting pizza by the slice in the way Americans conceive of it, at Pizzarium they serve Pizza al taglio which refers to large, rectangular pizzas that are literally cut with shears/scissors and sold by the kilogram.

We tried 3 varieties of pizza: a classical Margherita Pizza (see above), Potato and Ricotta, and spicy Red Pepper Basil. For four slices we spent roughly 15 Euros – which is a pretty good deal for Rome. The crust was phenomenal, and really set the pizza apart from any we had previously. The crust, while not as thick as Sicilian sfincione (more on that later), had a nice thick crust like foccacia bread. We also appreciated the inventive flavor combos and the amazingly fresh ingredients. Pizzarium was the best pizza we sampled in Italy, and is a must do for anyone after (or before) a trip to the Vatican.


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The best gelato in Rome: Giolitti

Via degli Uffici del Vicario, 40
Rome, Italy

Who knew that something that only cost 2.50 Euros could be so wonderful. We had our fair share of gelato in Sicily, but nothing could compare to the amazing gelato we got at Giolitti in Rome.  Tourists and locals alike fill this place every morning until 1:30 AM, and probably have since its opening in 1900. It became a Roman ritual of ours to get a scoop (or 3) of Giolitti and walk over to the Pantheon, which was a few mere blocks away. Though both of these places were constantly packed to the brim, we never seemed to mind.

The ordering process at Giolitti is a little bit different than most shops. You pay at the front cashier and get a receipt with your order. You then take your ticket to the ice cream counter and elbow your way to the front. You tell the scooper what flavors you want – and fast! No time for pondering!

The only ‘problem’ is choosing between a dizzying array of flavors of ice creams and sorbets. There are common flavors like chocolate, hazelnut and strawberry, but also other more esoteric offerings like Indian Fig, Baba al Rhum and Champagne. The chocolate fondente flavor was the darkest richest chocolate gelato we had ever tasted, so we were pretty much hooked from first bite. But since there were 3 flavors per scoop we felt we had to try a few of the myriad options.  Here are the optimal flavor combinations we arrived upon after days of deliberation:

  • L: Chocolate fondente, Oreo & Raspberry
  • M: Chocolate fondente, Oreo & Coconut

If you wanted any evidence of the gluttony present, this is an example of a single scoop. Yes, a single scoop at Giolitti is in fact a triple scoop with a huge dollop of whipped cream on the top. Heaven! We will never forget our daily trip to Giolitti, and we would be hard pressed to find a better gelato anywhere.

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