Located in central Italy, Lazio is nestled between Tuscany, Abruzzo, Molise, Campania, and the Tyrrhenian Sea. This Italian region is home to Rome, the Eternal City, where thousands of travelers visit annually to experience the city’s illustrious history, architecture, and art. Rome has many celebrated sites worth exploring, from the colosseum to the Vatican, the Sistine Chapel, the Pantheon, and more. Fortunately, the Eternal City boasts equally enchanting culinary traditions making Rome a must-visit destination for foodies, too. Roman food embraces simplicity and a no-waste philosophy. Firmly rooted in the Italian cuisine customs of cucina povera, or poor cooking, Roman cuisine seamlessly transforms humble ingredients into gastronomic art worthy of a city housing the works of Michelangelo, Bernini, and Caravaggio. Let’s explore the cuisine of Lazio and the best food to eat in Rome so you can make the most of your next food & wine tours to the most fantastic city in the world.
Popular Italian Cheeses in Lazio
As with other Italian regions, cheese is a staple in Roman cuisine and the Lazian diet. Here are the four most common kinds of cheese you’re likely to savor in Lazio.
Pecorino Romano PDO cheese is made from the milk of sheep who graze freely in Lazio and Sardinia. This cheese was once a staple in the diet of Roman soldiers because of its extended shelf-life. From Pliny the Elder to Hippocrates, even ancient Roman authors mentioned Pecorino Romano in their written works. Salting the wheels of Pecorino Romano multiple times over their eight-to-twelve-month aging period result in the salty, sharp, piquant trademark taste of this cheese. When young, Pecorino Romano has a sweet, aromatic flavor. As it ages, the cheese becomes more granular and crumbly with a sharper, smokier flavor.
Pecorino di Picinisco
Produced in the Lazian province of Frosinone throughout the Comino Valley, Pecorino di Picinisco is a hard, uncooked cheese made with raw sheep’s milk. It’s coagulated exclusively with lamb rennet. This production process imparts the aromas and flavors of mountain pastures in which the sheep graze. It’s made in a partially aged style called Scamosciato and a fully matured style called Stagionato. Scamosciato offers a sweeter flavor, whereas the Stagionato is more intensely flavored with spicy notes.
An ancient dairy product from the province of Rome, Ricotta Romana, is made throughout Lazio today, where natural grazing ensures the highest traditional quality. Ricotta Romana is produced exclusively from the whey of sheep’s milk, a byproduct of Pecorino cheese production. This whey is reheated in a process known as ricottura, where ricotta’s name is derived. While reheating the whey to 85-90°C, it’s stirred with a special wooden stick which aids in the coagulation process. Small flakes of coagulated whey rise to the top and are collected in molds called ‘canestretti bucati,’ which shape the cheese. Ricotta Romana is known for its delicate sweet flavor and should be consumed fresh.
Conciato Romano is recognized as one of the oldest cheeses in the world and is known for its powerful aromas and intense flavors. This cheese was written about by the likes of Pliny the Elder and Martial. It’s named for the ancient technique of tanning animal hides with oil, as a similar process is used to make the cheese. Today, Conciato Romano is made with the milk of sheep, goats, or cows and goat rennet. First, the cheese is hand pressed into small molds, salted, and dried in beechwood farmhouses. Then, it’s seasoned with local extra virgin olive oil, a regional wine from Casavecchia grapes, thyme, oregano, and chili pepper. Conciato Romano ages for eight months in amphorae or glass jars, allowing the cheese to develop its intense flavors.
The Top Cured Meats of Lazio
Guanciale is a crucial ingredient in Lazian and Roman cuisine and the star of some of the best pasta in Rome. It’s made from fatty pork jowls, rubbed with salt and black pepper, then aged for at least three months. In Lazio, guanciale is also seasoned with garlic. Though it can be eaten raw, guanciale is frequently used instead of oil for cooking. The rendered pork fat contributes a depth of flavor to dishes like bucatini all’Amatriciana and spaghetti alla Carbonara.
Mortadella di Amatrice
Located in the province of Rieti, Amatrice is a gastronomic center of Lazio. It’s home to two of region’s most popular salumi, mortadella di Amatrice and prosciutto di Amatrice. Mortadella di Amatrice is made from ground pork meat taken from the loin and shoulder of the pig. The meat is seasoned with salt and pepper, then left to cure inside a natural casing. Then after being pressed, mortadella di Amatrice is left to age for four months, resulting in a more strongly flavored and darker mortadella than its more famous counterpart from Bologna. Mortadella di Amatrice can also include a stick of pork fat through the center.
Prosciutto di Amatrice
Prosciutto di Amatrice has been made in Lazio since the middle ages when feudal lords demanded prosciutto as a tax from the vassals who used their land. Under today’s protected PGI-status, it can only be made with the Duroc, Landrace, and Large White pig breeds. First, much of the fat is removed from the ham, which is salted twice over two to three weeks. It’s then washed, dried, and covered in a layer of lard and spices before curing over twelve months. The resulting prosciutto di Amatrice is known for its delicate, balanced flavors and intense aromas.
If you’re a beef jerky fan, seek out copiette in the Castelli Romani area of southeast Rome. Traditionally, copiette was made from the tougher parts of grazing animals like sheep, goats, horses, and donkeys. Today, copiette is a chewy pork jerky made from thinly sliced strips of pork tenderloin cured in salt, chili peppers, and fennel seeds.
A prime example of the no-waste traditions of cucina povera in Lazio, susianella is a pork offal sausage. It’s made from the offcuts of pork like liver, pancreas, heart, cheeks, etc. The offal is ground together and seasoned with pepper, fennel, and chili pepper, then left to cure for one to six months in a pork casing. Susianella has earthy flavors which become more intense with age.
Must-Try Antipasti in Rome
Carciofi alla Romana
Artichokes, or carciofi, are a popular appetizer in Roman cuisine and many preparations feature the local variety called Romanesco artichokes, also known as cimarolo or mammola. These artichokes have a round, flattened shape and trademark sweet flavor. They are thornless and grow near the coast. Carciofi alla Romana sees the artichokes cleaned, then placed stem up in a pan. A mixture of olive oil, salt, pepper, minced garlic, mint, lemon, and a splash of vinegar are added to the pan. The artichokes braise in this liquid until tender and are served immediately.
The Jewish community has an extensive history in Rome. In 1492, Spanish Jews were expelled from Spain, and many found refuge in the Eternal City. However, in 1555, Pope Paul IV created the Jewish ghetto in Rome and forced all Jews living in Rome and the surrounding areas to move there. Judeo-Roman cuisine was born in the Jewish ghetto, and carciofi alla Giudia is a well-known recipe still widely enjoyed today.
Carciofi alla Giudia
Carciofi alla Giudia can be enjoyed as an antipasto or contorno (side dish). Romanesco artichokes are trimmed down to their hearts and cleaned, then marinated in lemon water. Finally, the artichokes are seasoned with salt, pepper and fried in olive oil until deliciously crispy. Learn more about Rome’s Jewish culinary traditions here.
Carciofi alla Matticella
Carciofi alla matticella was first created in the peasant traditions in Velletri. Traditionally, viticulturists planted artichokes at the ends of their vine rows. Then, when the vines were pruned in January, they’d make a bonfire with vine shoots, known as matticelli. They’d then cook their harvested artichokes in the embers of those fires.
The original recipe saw the artichokes doused in olive oil and seasoned with salt, then placed in the embers of the fire. This cooking process gives the artichokes a savory, smoky flavor. Today, fresh mint and garlic also flavor the artichokes.
Found seasonally in Rome from November to April, puntarelle are the sprouts of a unique type of Catalonian chicory. They’re prepared as an appetizer by first removing the outer leaves and soaking the puntarelle in cold water, which causes them to take their distinctively curly shape. Next, the puntarelle is seasoned with a dressing of mashed anchovies, garlic, olive oil, salt, and chili flakes for a delectably crunchy, fresh Roman antipasto.
One of Rome’s best street foods, supplí, is reminiscent of Sicilian arancini. They are fried rice croquettes made from rice that’s been simmered in a tomato meat sauce. Supplí is filled with mozzarella and is known as supplí al telefono in Rome for the long strings of melted cheese, which stretch from the supplí when broken open, resembling a telephone cord.
Classic Roman Pastas
No trip to Rome is complete without savoring at least one (if not all) of these classic Italian pastas from Lazio.
Pasta alla Gricia
Considered the foundation of other Roman pasta dishes, pasta alla Gricia is made with a humble combination of Pecorino Romano cheese and guanciale. The thick layer of fat on guanciale is ideal for rendering into a flavorful pasta sauce. However, the trick is to render the pork fat without browning the guanciale too much. Once the fat is rendered, a splash of pasta water is added to the pan to emulsify the fat. Next, pasta cooked just short of al dente is added to the pan, along with more pasta water as needed to create a rich sauce. To serve, pasta alla Gricia is tossed with grated Pecorino Romano and a few grinds of black pepper. Explore the history of pasta alla Gricia here.
Spaghetti alla Carbonara
Though versions of spaghetti alla Carbonara are widely enjoyed today, the original Lazian recipe utilizes only spaghetti, guanciale, Pecorino Romano, eggs, and black pepper. The preparation follows that of pasta alla Gricia with eggs added to the sauce for enhanced richness. At the end of cooking, egg yolks are mixed with grated Pecorino Romano and stirred into the pasta off the heat, adding a little pasta water as needed to help emulsify the sauce. The pasta is named for carbonaro, a charcoal burner, in reference to the charcoal workers who historically loved this dish.
Hailing from the town of Amatrice in Lazio, bucatini all’Amatriciana takes pasta alla Gricia one step further with the addition of tomatoes. Rather than just adding water to the rendered guanciale, tomatoes are added to create a sauce with more depth of flavor. In addition, grated Pecorino Romano further enriches the sauce. While bucatini is the traditional pasta for all’Amatriciana, spaghetti and rigatoni also work well.
Cacio e Pepe
Cacio e pepe, meaning cheese and pepper, is a flavorful yet impossibly simple dish that’s not as easy to prepare as it may seem. The dish is made by adding pasta cooked just short of the recommended time to a pan with a couple of spoons of pasta water, black pepper, and grated Pecorino Romano cheese. The starch released from the pasta creates a rich, glossy sauce that coats the pasta, typically spaghetti or tonnarelli.
Other Primi Piatti to Enjoy in Lazio
Spaghetti aglio e olio
Another flavor-packed yet straightforward pasta dish, spaghetti aglio e olio, demonstrates the peasant-style traditions of cucina povera. Spaghetti is seasoned with a sauce of minced garlic and chili peppers sautéed in olive oil. The oil takes on the flavors of the garlic and pepperoncino, coating the spaghetti with a spicy kick.
Next, penne all’Arrabbiata also packs a spicy punch. Arrabbiata means angry, referencing how this intensely spicy sauce, made from tomatoes, olive oil, garlic, and chili peppers, can make you red in the face.
Gnocchi alla Romana
Gnocchi alla Romana are a wholesome primo piatto from Lazio. The gnocchi is made with semolina flour enriched with eggs, Parmigiano Reggiano, milk, and butter. They develop an irresistible crispy crust while cooking. Gnocchi alla Romana was traditionally eaten on Thursdays to compensate for lighter Friday meals when Catholics abstained from eating meat.
Finally, rigatoni con la pajata is a classic Roman peasant dish. La pajata refers to the intestines of calves weaned solely on their mother’s milk. The intestines are cleaned and cooked with the milk the calves had eaten still inside. When cooked, la pajata forms a thick, creamy sauce made with onions, tomatoes, celery, carrots, white wine, and spices typically served with rigatoni.
Pizza in Lazio
While in Rome, you’re sure to encounter pizza Romana, which is thinner and crunchier than Neapolitan pizza. It has a much lower, flatter crust as well. Typical toppings for pizza Romana include tomato sauce, anchovies, capers, basil, and Pecorino Romano. Additionally, pizza al taglio is also enjoyed in Roman cuisine. This pizza is rectangular with a moister, thicker dough and is often served by the slice. The most classic version of pizza al taglio is prepared with tomato sauce and a drizzle of olive oil.
There’s also pizza bianca Romana, which is pizza without any sauce. Once cooked in the oven, pizza bianca has a similar soft, thick consistency similar to focaccia and is served with just a sprinkle of salt, olive oil, and sometimes rosemary.
In the seaside town of Gaeta, you’ll find tiella di Gaeta, a stuffed pizza combining ingredients from land and sea, including octopus, local Gaeta olives, tomatoes, zucchini, onions, and escarole. It’s often enjoyed by the slice as street food.
Secondi Piatti in Lazio and Roman Cuisine
Porchetta di Ariccia
Porchetta di Ariccia is a pork roast that’s become a culinary legend in Roman cuisine. It’s made by stuffing deboned pigs with seasonings like fennel, rosemary, and garlic. The pigs are then slowly spit-roasted over a wood-burning fire until the skin is crispy and the meat is juicy and tender. Porchetta di Ariccia is often served as street food at festivals and markets, with the succulent meat used as a filling for sandwiches.
Tripe is a staple in Roman cuisine, and quinto quarto, or the fifth quarter, refers to the traditional peasant preparation of offal in Rome. Quinto quarto includes all the edible entrails of the animal, including tripe, kidneys, liver, spleen, sweetbreads, etc. Until the early 20th century, meat was distributed by social class in Rome. First, the best cuts went to nobility, the clergy, followed by the bourgeois and soldiers. Finally, the fifth quarter or all of the offcuts were distributed to the rest of the working-class population. This became known as the quinto quarto culinary tradition.
Trippa alla Romana
Trippa alla Romana is an example of a quinto quarto. It is traditionally cooked with tomato, onion, garlic, carrot, white wine and seasoned with Pecorino Romano and nepitella, a cross between mint and oregano.
Coda alla Vaccinara
An icon of Roman cuisine, coda alla vaccinara is an oxtail stew. Throughout the quinto quarto traditions of Rome, oxtail was considered amongst the fifth quarter cuts of meat. Today, this braised oxtail is a highly sought-after dish made by sautéing the oxtail with browned pancetta or lardo, tomato purée, wine, carrots, celery, and leeks. Thyme, bay leaves, and nutmeg often flavor the dish. In contrast, traditional recipes include cinnamon, raisins, pine nuts, and chocolate too. Coda alla vaccinara is served on a bed of polenta for a wholesome, rustic dish.
Pollo alla Romana
Pollo alla Romana is Roman dish from Castelli Romani in Lazio. It’s made with different cuts of chicken slow-cooked with onions, garlic, white wine, pancetta, tomatoes, and bell peppers. Then while simmering together, a flavorful sauce forms and coats the chicken.
Saltimbocca alla Romana
One of the most traditional recipes from Roman cuisine, saltimbocca alla Romana, features tender veal cutlets wrapped with prosciutto and fresh sage. The cutlets are sautéed in white wine, resulting in a flavorful dish that jumps in the mouth, hence the name, salti in bocca.
Abbacchio alla Romana
Abbacchio is the name for a milk-fed lamb, a springtime delicacy around Easter in Roman cuisine since ancient times. The lamb is marinated and stewed slowly with olive oil, rosemary, sage, garlic, vinegar, and anchovies. Abbacchio alla Romana offers a succulently tender, aromatic meat with a savory, salty kick often served with roasted potatoes.
Bollito alla Picchiapò
This classic Roman dish was created to utilize the leftover meat boiled to make brodo; usually, veal is cut into smaller pieces and sautéed with tomato sauce, celery, carrot, onion, red wine, and basil or mint. Bollito alla picchiapò is usually served with mashed potatoes or polenta.
Baccalà Fritto alla Romana
Especially popular on Christmas Eve, baccalà fritto alla Romana is a preparation of fried codfish often found as street food in Trastevere. The fish is coated in a simple batter of flour and cold sparkling water, then fried until golden brown and crispy. Baccalà fritto alla Romana is only served with lemon wedges.
Must Try Dolci in Lazio
Maritozzi is traditional sweet buns stuffed with whipped cream which date back to ancient Roman times. The buns are made with a dough of flour, yeast, eggs, sugar, butter, salt, and fresh cream. Also, citrus zest, raisins, or pine nuts can be included for additional flavor. The name means almost-husband, as men would give the maritozzi to their fiancées with a gold trinket inside, customarily on the first Friday of March.
If you’re looking for a refreshing sweet treat during summer in Rome, try grattachecca, a shaved ice served with juice, syrup, and occasionally fresh fruit, too. It’s made by chipping ice shavings off a huge block of ice and is less smooth and refined than Sicilian granita.
A traditional Christmas cake, pangiallo, is savored for celebrations in Lazio. It’s made with a mixture of nuts, candied citrus, figs, and honey, which is covered with a layer of egg batter and baked. This egg batter creates a shiny, golden-yellow crust, hence the name pangiallo, or yellow bread. In ancient Roman times, pangiallo loaves were distributed during the winter solstice to encourage the return of the sun. Some recipes add saffron to the batter to create a deeper yellow color.