Mediterranean in Little Italy: Roman Spring Pasta

Olivia Hayo
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photography by
Olivia Hayo
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May 27, 2018

Chef Olivia Hayo of Beautiful Food Inside + Out re-creates her culinary memories of the Mediterranean using inspiration, and local, seasonal ingredients, from her home in San Diego's Little Italy. This week, she brings home the sultry spring flavors of a Roman date night in Trastevere.

The colorful, ivy draped buildings cast their dreamy tint over Trastevere, a quaint neighborhood filled with accordion wielding street performers and packed piazzas.

Our first evening there, my husband Shay and I walked the cobblestone streets trying bites of local specialties along the way—a 150 year old pizzeria, a family run salumeria, an artisanal gelateria—each place offering a glimpse into the city’s history and traditions.

The next evening, after a full day exploring Rome on foot, we decided to return to Da Enzo al 29, a trattoria we’d visited the night before.

Without the recommended reservation, we joined a crowd of hopeful locals waiting for a place at the modest wood tables spilling out from the dimly lit restaurant.

When I asked how long the wait would be, the host returned a weary shrug

We watched a beautiful Italian couple take their seats at a table in front, hardly glancing at the menu before chatting up the server and placing their usual order. Do as the Romans do, right? We planned to watch and see what dishes came out to their table, and place our orders accordingly.

A dish of deeply bronzed, fried artichokes was the first to appear, followed by a plate of cheesy, pepper-flecked pasta. A dish of meatballs in a deep red tomato sauce was placed between them.

Every few minutes the clang of dishes was interrupted by the host saying allora!—the Italian filler word for ‘well then’—as he looked over the wait list. We held our breath each time, hoping to hear our name.

After another allora! that wasn’t for us, we went back to watching the dinner show. A dish of braised oxtail with pine nuts and raisins had replaced the pasta plates. The couple sopped up the sauce with torn pieces of crusty bread.

When the dish was cleared, they lingered, smoking and sipping red wine.

Steaming espresso and tiramisu was placed on their table, just as our name was called.

We sat, and with hardly a glance at the menu, ordered just as the beautiful Italian couple had an hour before.

It was utterly worth the wait. The artichokes were a perfectly tender, crispy start to the meal. The creamy, rich cheese coating our handmade pasta was pleasantly cut by the heat of freshly cracked black pepper.

Then, about half way through our pasta, something terrible happened. Shay and I looked at each other, guilt in our eyes. We were full. Far too full to eat another bite. We couldn’t do as the Romans do, at least that night.

The servers took mercy on us and canceled the rest of our meal. Tiramisu would have to wait for another day.

Back in San Diego, I was reminded of that beautiful roman evening when I saw the tables overflowing with artichokes and asparagus at the farmers market.

Keeping it simple, I made a tangle of lemon-laced spaghetti tossed with sweet, baby artichokes, earthy asparagus, and savory grated ricotta salata. It captured the magic of the flavors and smells of Roman springtime, in a dish perfect for springy weeknights here at home.

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