Back in September, while traveling in Italy, I wrote up an ambitious Roman Party menu as part of one of the Project Food Blog challenges. While I conducted extensive research to come up with this menu, I unfortunately didn’t have the chance to cook it in Rome, being too limited in both space and tools in my small Trastevere apartment and also lacking the requisite friends to invite. When I returned home, my suitcase was full of delicious souvenirs I wanted to share with my friends, but I waited for the just the right occasion to invite everybody over and cook my Roman feast dinner party menu.
A Roman Dinner Party
Welcome cocktail: Limoncello
Platter: Pecorino-Romano and Honey, Aged Parmigiano-Reggiano, Roasted Figs, Fig “Salami” & Fennel-Scented Salami.
To Drink: Champagne for the birthday girl
Classic Bruschetta & Grilled Lemon Shrimp on Arugula
To Drink: Folonari Pinot Grigio 2009
Cacio e Pepe
To Drink: Masi Modellissimo
Secondi Piatti & Contorni
Involtini Alla Romana
Spinach Salad with Crisp Pancetta
Zucchine a ‘Scapece
To Drink: Allegrini Valpolicella 2009
Dark Chocolate Gelato
To Drink: Vinsanto del Chianti Classico, Vignamaggio, 2000
One of my friends was turning 35 at the end of November, and her boyfriend wanted to make her a surprise party. I volunteered, knowing the birthday girl would love everything on my Roman menu, and I enlisted the help of my friend Lucie to assist me in preparing everything. There would be 11 guests at the table, so we planned everything a week in advance. I wrote up a shopping list, reserved some time in my schedule to go to the grocery store, and my friend promised to come and cook with me.
Lucie came over the day before the party, and we split up all the tasks between what could be done in advance and what had to be done at the last minute. We ended up doing the bulk of the work during our first afternoon, so when she came back the following day, we only had a few, small last-minute tasks left to take care of. We then had plenty of time to relax, paint our nails, get dressed, and have a drink while we waited for everybody to arrive.
I’m proud to report that the evening was a great success. Over the course of dinner, we asked a couple of people to help us with specific tasks (pouring wine and water and clearing the table after each course), both to allow us to concentrate on service and to prevent the “everybody gets up to help” syndrome. Everything went smoothly, and the evening was a terrific experience for me.
There was one particular dish that I was very eager to try: the Bucatini All’Amatriciana. First, bucatini pasta are a party to eat in and of themselves: shaped like very long and thin macaroni (imagine a spaghetti with a fine hole in the middle), they are known as the most difficult pasta to eat, because they don’t seem to enjoy cuddling with forks. They curl up and roll off every time you lift up your fork, and they continually threaten to splash the sauce that they’re coated in onto you.and your clothes. Why would you want to eat bucatini? Because they are very popular in Rome, and their coarse nature is precisely what makes them so pleasurable to eat–a great bite and the perfect pasta to host the delicious and legendary Amatriciana sauce.
The sauce was the second but most important reason as to why I couldn’t wait to make this dish. Its main ingredient is guanciale, a special and precious variety of cured bacon made from pig cheeks. Back in Rome, I was given a huge chunk of guanciale by a very kind butcher, remember? It was vacuum-packed, so I lovingly carried it back home. I couldn’t wait to taste its promising, luscious flavor in the Amatriciana sauce, which was how the butcher and our guide, Eleanora, said we would best enjoy it.
Well, the recipe delivered, and it alone made my trip worthwhile. The flavor of the sauce was spicy and rich, the guanciale providing a subtle smoked flavor and its fat melting to a creaminess that coated our palates. This is not a recipe to make if you’re on a diet, but why would you be on one while a piece of guanciale is waiting for you in the refrigerator?
A sweet ending: White chocolate and pistachio biscotti, dark chocolate gelato and fresh raspberries with a glass of Vinsanto del Chianti Classico.