Roman Cooking!

While there is not a Roman haute cuisine, Rome has a long history of sumptuous feasting. In ancient Rome, banquets presented such elaborate displays of wealth that periodically; "sumptuary laws" were passed to control the waste. Hosts spent fortunes on their guests -- serving fish (sometimes guests were given the pleasure of watching the fish die slowly in a glass jar set before them), roe deer, suckling pig, partridges, flamingoes, and parrots. Garum, ancient Roman seasoning mixtures, combined a huge variety of flavors including dill, anise, hyssop, thyme, rue, cumin, poppy seeds, garlic, fermented fish sauce ... the list goes on and on.

At the beginning of the 16th century, Tuscan Pope Leo X, ne Giovanni de' Medici, brought to Rome the theatrical Florentine feasts that served more restrained food. Today, Roman cooking is resolutely simple. Classic southern Italian flavors such as garlic, black pepper, rosemary, and parsley are all present with an added penchant for mint. Beans, as in all parts of the country, are important. The Romans have a particular fondness for organ meats. You name it, they love it. In keeping with this, Romans are particularly good at fritto misto -- the classic mound of mixed fried meats. Their famous meat dishes include roast suckling pig and abbacchio, the youngest suckling lambs, which have never eaten grass. These suckling lambs are usually between 30 and 60 days old and have lost most of their baby fat but their meat is not yet tough. Abbacchio is traditionally roasted (arrosto); but is also often prepared alla cacciatora (simmered in olive oil, vinegar, rosemary, and garlic), or stewed with a sauce of lemon and egg (abbacchio brodettato). Fish and snails are popular and easy to find in the markets, despite the fact that Rome is not a port city.

The Jewish ghetto in Rome, which was founded in 1554 under Papal orders (the Roman Jewish community dates back at least to the first century of the Common (Christian) Era when the Romans conquered Jerusalem), has developed its own variation on Roman cooking and today produces the best deep-fried baby artichokes around (carciofi alla giudea). It was the cooking in the Jewish ghetto, which demonstrated to Italy and the world that the eggplant, a member of the nightshade family, was not poisonous.