Tom’s Cookbook Library: ‘Tasting Rome’ celebrates tradition, innovation

“Tasting Rome: Fresh Flavors and Forgotten Recipes from an Ancient City” (Clarkson Potter), a new cookbook by experienced freelance food writer Katie Parla, is designed to paint a complete picture of Italy’s capital and its food – enjoyed by many but completely understood by few.

Parla discusses how traditional trattorias and bars now have company. The so-called “new realities” include speakeasies, 10-table restaurants and street food stalls.

Various chapters focus on snacks, starters and street food; classics and variations; bread and pizza; sweets; and drinks. Others include Cucina Ebraica: Honey-Soaked Matzo Fritters; Spicy Fish with Couscous; and Chicken Meatballs in White Wine Sauce. And Verdure: Baked Tomatoes Stuffed with Rice; Fennel, Radicchio and Pear Salad; and Romanesco Custard.

Don’t overlook recipes from Rome’s historical center, Testaccio’s “quinto quarto” classics such as tripe, intestines and brains. A tasty example is Braised Oxtail, or “coda alla vaccinara” (recipe below).

Appetizing food photos by Kristina Gill add pizzazz to this well-researched volume.


(Serves 4 to 6)

2 1/2 oz. cured fatback or 3 Tbl. olive oil

3 1/2 lbs. oxtail, cut into 3-in. segments

1 yellow onion, chopped

1 clove garlic, smashed

5 to 6 whole cloves

2 Tbl. tomato paste

1 cup red wine

1 (28-oz.) can whole peeled tomatoes

Up to 6 cups beef broth

2 celery stalks cut into 3-in. pieces

1/4 cup raisins

1/4 cup pine nuts

1 Tbl. cacao or unsweetened cocoa powder

Render the fatback over medium-high heat or heat the olive oil until it is shimmering. Add the oxtail segments and cook until browned all over, then remove from the pot and set aside. Reduce the heat to medium-low and add the onion, garlic and cloves. Cook until the onion is translucent and the garlic has just turned golden, about 10 minutes. Add the tomato paste and cook until it turns a deep, brick red, about 5 minutes. Add the wine, scraping up any browned bits from the bottom of the pan and cook until the alcohol aroma dissipates, about a minute, then add the tomatoes.

Return the meat to the pot and cover three-quarters of the way with the beef broth. Cover and cook until the meat is just falling off the bone, 5 to 6 hours, adding more broth if the sauce reduces too much.

Toward the end of cooking, add the celery, raisins, pine nuts and cacao, mixing well. Simmer for 20 to 30 minutes more.

Turn off the heat and allow the oxtail to rest for at least 30 minutes, ideally overnight, in the refrigerator. Serve on its own.

Journalist Tom Witom, who lives in Elgin, has written extensively for years about food and the food industry. Feedback on this column can be sent to