In Roman cuisine, the appetizer is not always a proper recipe, but more often a way to “whet” your appetite, while you’re waiting for the arrival of the first course.
The custom of opening a meal with an “antipasto” is in Rome’s traditions since Imperial times: the so-called gustatio, a simply prepared appetizer, easily eatable by hand, was served among the ancient Romans at the beginning of dinner.
At the present day, many Roman culinary traditions have changed, but the habit of eating appetizers remains intact and has evolved over the centuries.
Below is a list (in no specific order), made by ItalyXP, of the ten (plus one!) appetizers that you cannot miss if you’re in Rome. Buon appetito!
In ancient times, figs were among the main foods of the Roman Legions: not only because they could be dried and stored for long time keeping them from spoiling, but also because they could be used as a condiment for other dishes.
And the passion of the Romans for this fruit has never ceased: during the summer, most Rome’s trattoria serve local figs at the end of the meal (they are, after all, fruit) but as they also go very nicely with thinly sliced prosciutto, they are also served as an appetizer.
Instead of grilling or cooking them in fancy ways (as others do), the Romans simply serve the cut figs with the prosciutto, just like the better-known “prosciutto and melon”. If the figs are fresh and the prosciutto their equal, this unusual combination is perfect as is!
The stuffed zucchini flowers (in Italian “fiori di zucca fritti”), covered in a crisp golden batter, are one of the most common appetizers in Rome and its surroundings.
Compared to the versions from other Italian regions, the authentic Roman recipe stands out for its unique stuffing ingredients: anchovies, green olives and mozzarella cheese, that with the delicate taste of the zucchini blossoms creates an irresistible blend of flavors.
Externally crispy, this classic appetizer hides a soft, juicy heart of deliciousness. The secret of crispiness is related to the batter that should not absorb much oil during the cooking process, making this fried dish surprisingly light. Must try to believe it!
“In a time when poor peasants
used to toast the bread on the coal,
a slice of farmhouse bread
with salt, garlic and oil, served as breakfast.”
The word “bruschetta” comes from the Italian verb “bruscare”, which means “to toast”. In fact, in its basic form, the bruschetta consists in just sliced bread, preferably homemade, toasted until golden brown (however, slightly charred edges are not a problem). And although this simplistic description, this dish represent an icon of Roman cuisine, characterized by its simplicity and freshness.
The secret to an authentic bruschetta alla Romana lies in the quality of the ingredients: grilled bread, rubbed with a garlic clove, fresh tomatoes, extra virgin olive oil and a sprinkling of fragrant wild fennel. After all, since this dish is composed of only a few ingredients, there is nowhere to hide if their quality is poor.
Not a true recipe maybe, but definitely one of the most loved and well-known appetizers in Rome (and not only)!
If you say “Roman cuisine”, you say “artichokes”, because in Rome there is a real cult of the artichokes, which are served in a myriad of forms and preparations. One of the most popular artichokes dishes comes from an ancient recipe originated in the Jewish community of Rome called Carciofi alla Giudía, in which the artichoke is deep-fried whole, turning the leaves crisp and nutty.
The authentic Jewish-style artichokes are prepared using the artichokes of the romanesco variety (large, round, globe) because they are the most tender and thorn-free, and when they’re perfectly fried they look like golden sunflowers.
Raise your hand if you love artichokes! Well, the Romans certainly do: that’s why they have created so many artichokes recipes over the centuries… But among those, together with the Jewish-Style artichoke, there is a dish that reigns supreme: Carciofi alla Romana, literally "roman-style artichokes".
In Rome there is no restaurant that does not give the option to choose this tasty delicacy. The artichokes are stuffed with a mixture of olive oil, garlic, parsley and mint; then, they are braised until tender... The result is a simple yet delicious dish.
There’s no such thing as too much when it comes to artichokes in Rome!
Supplì is a beloved specialty of Rome, nowadays spread throughout Italy, although with variations and recipe adaptations. The dish consists of a ball of rice, generally stuffed with tomato sauce and raw eggs.
The authentic Roman supplì has ancient historical traditions: it seems that the term comes from the French word “surprise”, i.e. the heart of melted mozzarella encased in a crispy shell. Today, the mozzarella is the most common stuffing ingredient, although it can be also stuffed with chicken liver, meat, etc.
Traditionally, supplì were sold at characteristic Roman shops called “friggitoria”, specialized in fried food. Unfortunately, nowadays those shops are disappeared, but supplì are commonly served as appetizers in every pizzeria of Rome.
Fava beans (also known as broad beans) start appearing in the markets of Rome around the Easter period: eaten raw and accompanied by shards of Pecorino Romano (typical Roman cheese made out of sheep milk), the freshly shelled fava beans are a wonderful way to enjoy the freshness and the flavors of Italian spring: a classic combination that most traditional restaurants serve by itself (preferably with some homemade crusty bread) as a starter.
This authentic traditional appetizer is best enjoyable during spring time... Or, to be honest, even at any other time!
Some of the best Italian recipes were inspired by the poverty, which sharpens the creativity and the imagination. And so, many dishes of the Roman culinary tradition were invented due to the economic necessity, using poor ingredients. One of the most emblematic dishes of this period is the Anchovy Crostini, which once was cooked on a wood stove or fireplace.
The Anchovy Crostini is a typical appetizer of Rome, prepared with a few simple ingredients that make this dish very delicate, enhancing at the same time the bold taste of anchovies.
A tasty and comforting appetizer suitable for all seasons, also ideal for an aperitif! Often accompanied by melted cheese, the key to a great Anchovy Crostini is the quality of bread, crisp on the outside but custardy on the inside, so that it can literally melt in your mouth…
The so-called cazzimperio, known as pinzimonio in the rest of Italy, is a Roman-style extra virgin olive oil dip, with salt and pepper, best made with the oil from newly harvested olives. Usually, is served with slices of raw local vegetables, such as fennel, radishes, celery, carrots and artichokes, to dip into the olive oil based mix.
A parsimonious cazzimperio is one of the most common appetizers among Romans, both in traditional restaurants and family dinner. Healthy and fresh, is the ideal starter for a meat-based heavy meal (which is pretty common in Rome!).
The battered cod fish fillet (in Italian “filetto di baccalà”) was traditionally eaten at Christmas as a starter. Luckily, today is possible to enjoy it all year round in many restaurants and takeaways in the Capital.
A soft, tasty cod filet, coated in a thick batter and deep-fried... This ancient recipe, consisting of just a few ingredients, may look simple but it requires experience and technique (both in the fish desalination process, and in the batter preparation).
Generally considered as an appetizer, there are some restaurants in Rome that serve deep-fried filets of salt cod as the main course, such as the renowned Dar Filettaro, near the enchanting Campo de' Fiori square... If you are not afraid about the fried smell getting into your clothes, give it a try!
Coratella is the Roman term for the entrails of small animals such as lamb, rabbit or chicken.
However, the term “coratella” does not only apply to the offal itself, but is also the name given to this great recipe, where the organs (heart, lungs, liver, etc.) are cooked with onion and artichokes.
In Rome’s restaurants it’s served as an appetizer, but it can also be considered a main dish, or as the ancient tradition wants, part of the Easter breakfast.
Coratella is an extremely traditional recipe from the old time when the majority of people were too poor to be able to afford richer cuts of meat, though nowadays is possible to order it in gourmet restaurants too.
Ok, this dish might not be for everyone… In fact, it has become increasingly rare because many people don't seem to like the idea of eating entrails… But trust us, this textual and flavorsome delight is totally worth a try!
Would you like to learn how to make some of these delicious recipes of the Rome’s culinary tradition? Then have a look at our fun-filled cooking lesson with a professional, friendly Chef in the heart of Rome!