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I’m going back to Rome, folks. About a month ago, I was sitting in class staring at a map of Europe, trying to figure out where I should go before I start my studies in Berlin. The world is a big, amazing place full of cities and towns and mountains that I would like to see, but at that particular moment (and also right now) I realized that I would much rather go back to Rome and be drenched in pasta.
There's something very luxurious about returning to a city you love for a second or third time. I spent 5 weeks in Rome last summer - I have seen the Colosseum and the Vatican and the Pope. I have some sense of how to navigate the bus system and I know what time I should eat lunch and dinner. I speak enough Italian to make a reservation on my tiny international cell phone (burner phone.)
There are different kinds of vacations, and they are very different. The 5 days I will spend in Rome will not be a sightseeing vacation. They will be a vacation of a few art museums, many long walks, lengthy meals and coffee drinking. I will visit the Colosseum at night because, touristy as it is, that thing is darn gorgeous at night.
One of the best nights of my last trip to Rome was spent in a trattoria eating the best meal I've ever had. It included fried gnocchi with cacio e pepe sauce. Cacio e pepe is a traditional Roman pasta - very simply made with pecorino romano and black pepper. You may or may not be aware that I adore black pepper, so cacio e pepe is my jam. I also adore gnocchi, but it seemed like overkill to make my own gnocchi and then fry it into submission. Let's leave that to restaurant staff, shall we?
Instead, smashed potatoes are a worthy pairing for this thick and chunky sauce. They are far easier to make than gnocchi, and as an added bonus smashed potatoes allow for a better ratio of inside creaminess to outside crispiness, which is my favorite ratio to test. The sauce/dip is a little chunky but completely delicious. I did a grab and dip situation, but you could also drizzle the sauce over the potatoes and probably be greeted with delight. My only concern with drizzling is that I have a real aversion to soggy food. Truthfully, though, it seems unlikely that these would last long enough to actually get soggy. So precede as you see fit.
This dish is my ode to Cesare al Casaletto - I will return there at least once, maybe more, while I'm in Rome. Don't worry, I'll take pictures. These potatoes, though, are truly almost as good as their gnocchi and I'm not even sorry for borrowing the idea. Let's snack.
SMASHED POTATOES WITH PECORINO DIP
serves 4-6 as an appetizer
- 1 pound fingerling potatoes
- 1/4 cup olive oil (or enough to coat the bottom of a large, nonstick skillet)
- 1/2 tsp kosher salt
- 1 1/2 cup finely grated pecorino romano
- 2 tbsp black pepper
Bring a large pot of water to boil. Add potatoes and cook, stirring occasionally, until potatoes are easily poked through with a fork. Remove from water, reserving about 1/4 cup of the hot water.
Whisk together the black pepper, pecorino and water, adding the water one spoonful at a time until you get a thick paste. Set aside.
Using the bottom of a glass, smash each potato. Initially, I tried to get them very thin, but they will fall apart if you get overzealous. I pushed down on them just enough to break the skin, making them about half as thick as they are. naturally.
Heat oil in pan over medium high heat until the oil shimmers. Add the potatoes gently in one layer, cook for about 6 minutes (until golden brown), then flip. Cook the other side the same way, then remove, blotting on paper towels.
Serve immediately with pecorino sauce for dipping or drizzled over the top.