Whether you stay for a week or a year, a trip to a faraway place is a chance to get to know a culture from the inside -- especially if you shop, cook, and eat like a local. When a New York City food writer and her family found themselves in Italy’s capital for seven months, they started out at the markets, and soon felt as if they’d lived there forever. Here she shares how to find a feast for the soul, wherever you go -- and her delicious recipes.
The small shops of Rome are full of regional delicacies.
Here, just-made pasta all’uovo.
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1. Mornings Are for Markets
Wander the stalls early, while the cobblestones are still cool, and watch for what’s new each week. Stone fruits from Sicily, like the dark cherries (ciliegie) and delicate doughnut peaches (pesca tabacchiera), appear in early summer. They are best consumed within days of harvesting, so let your vendor choose for ripeness based on when you plan to eat the fruit—today (oggi) or tomorrow (domani).
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2. Start with the Classics
And then build on them. Ripe melon and prosciutto di Parma make a perfect couple, but other ingredients pair well, too. Speck, a cured ham from the Dolomite Mountains, brings a smoky note; fresh figs, doughnut peaches, and mellow June apricots are sweet additions; and a creamy cheese (such as Robiola) adds depth.
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3. Talk to the Experts
Once you learn a few basic words, you'll feel more comfortable at the alimentari and the butcher counter. If you don't know how much you need for instance, tell the shopkeeper how many you're serving (for four people: "per quattro persone."), and she will do the math. Or ask, "Posso?" ("May I?") while gesturing at a basket of produce, and the vendor will hand you a plastic bucket to fill yourself.
Guanciale and other salumi at the butcher.
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With ingredients this fresh, you don’t need to fuss. Have the butcher slice and pound your chicken; then you can pan-fry and serve it with greens, a few shavings of cheese, and a squeeze of lemon. This truly is dinner in 10.
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5. Kick Back at Dusk
The aperitivo hour is a tradition worth honoring. Get store-bought marinated peppers, olives, and tomatoes and enjoy them with local salumi, cheeses, artisanal flatbreads, and handrolled breadsticks that speak to regional styles and culture. Then take time out to sit and talk, looking at the golden light with a spritz in hand.
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Italians leave no part of the vegetable behind -- easy enough to do when you have an abundance of fiori di zucchine (zucchini flowers). Use the petals to top ricotta-filled cannelloni, and cook the zucchini into a savory side.
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This recipe for delicate spinach gnocchi with clams -- a Sardinian favorite -- is courtesy of the pastaio (pasta maker). Don’t hesitate to reach out for guidance, even if you have to use lots of hand gestures; the grumpiest of shopkeepers will respond to genuine curiosity and a smile.
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Just-caught seafood, like anchovies and clams, is often sold with a handful of parsley -- a gentle suggestion that the two belong together.
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Fresh anchovies dipped in breadcrumbs and fried up.
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9. Let Someone Else Cook
Romans take shortcuts (when they’re delicious), so why shouldn’t you? Roasted meats and cooked vegetables, such as these stuffed tomatoes are readily available in Rome. After you’ve been out seeing the city, bring something home to anchor a summer dinner with bread and wine.
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10. Enjoy the Moments
The best lesson is simply this: Slow down. I learned to prolong the warm evening hours, watching children kick a soccer ball, or sitting on fountain steps as a zany clown performed in the piazza. Adjust your schedule, share stories of the day with your loved ones while dinner waits, and bring home the ripest berries from a stall or sweetest cookies from your favorite bakery -- it’s the local way.