The last thing that comes to mind, when thinking about Italian cuisine is “Take Out.” The term sounds a bit like culinary blasphemy when deciding on what and where to eat in Italy. But, I guarantee, you will be in for a tasty surprise… the kind that tastes like Nonna came to your villa and prepared it herself, in all senses of Italian-home-cooked goodness when you visit a Rosticceria. The beauty of staying at a villa is the ability to stop at a Rosticceria at the end of the day, bring home a delicious dinner to enjoy in your private surroundings on beautiful china and leave the dishes for someone else to clean up in the morning.
Partaking of the food culture in Italy, can become just as important as experiencing the sights, the sounds and the art. Even better still, is the unique experience of participating in parts of the culture that give a sense of quotidian life. And just as food is an important part for those who come to visit, it is equally so for the natives. We have all heard stories, had our own experiences, or merely just salivated at the thought of a proper Italian home-cooked meal. Grilled aubergines and zucchini, roasted chicken stuffed with herbs from the garden, lasagna with a slow simmered ragù sauce, fried polenta and vegetable minestrone. So, if not at Nonna’s, where do the Italians go for proper home-style-cooked meals? The local Rosticceria.
Little known to tourists and foreigners a Rosticceria offers a quick option for a simple but hearty meal. The Rosticceria is a type of informal restaurant specializing in roasted meat. That may not sound like much, but during lunch and dinner hours, these places are hopping with Italians, who get in line for some home-cooked goodness to take on the run.
When in doubt, follow the locals. They recently led me to a small gem of a place, called Rosticceria La Spada, in Florence. I stood gazing through the glass-front counter at the different dishes. Finding myself tentative (since it all looked nothing less than scrumptious), before I knew it, the small space had filled up with hungry Italians who were undoubtedly regulars. The man and woman behind the counter greeted each one of them by name, with a smile and a “Come va?” (“How are things?”) I decided to step back and see what the regulars ordered, what combinations they made and to see what daily specials were up for trying.
Soon enough, I was speaking with one of the three owners of La Spada, a kind gentleman named Agostino, who was clearly passionate about his Rosticceria, its service and food. In asking about the different dishes, he led me through the daily specials and the every day staples. In detail, he told me about the cooking processes, stating honestly and proudly that La Spada is known for its meat. Every morning and every evening, the various meats, from whole chickens, to steak to pork, are grilled to perfection on the slow-turning wood fire spit or on the “brace,” of wood embers. He smiled and laughed when I asked him if he eats there, and said “Yes, of course!” I asked him what he had eaten that day and as if still dreaming of the taste, he described the special dish, called ‘Stracotto di Campanello alla Vernaccia.’ They make this dish once a week from large beef cuts with carrots, celery and onion. It is slow cooked all night in Vernaccia. Snapping out of his savory dream, he moved on to tell me about other tasty morsels of La Spada, halting a moment to state that these were all part of typical Tuscan cuisine. When I queried about Rosticcerias in general and typical Tuscan dishes, he humbly stated, “Every place has its own touch on traditional recipes. Even if these dishes are found everywhere, each place personalizes it with a touch that’s only theirs.”
After a quick tour of the wood fire and behind the scenes of the Rosticceria, it was time to place my order. I thanked Agostino and his staff for their kindness and help, took my take out bag and went home to set a lovely table to properly befit my Italian meal. I started out with a light and savory ‘Sformatino di Verdure’, (a type of vegetable quiche), followed by chicken which had been dressed in garlic, sage, rosemary and salt, before being sandwiched in between bread rounds and roasted on the spit. Hearty cuts of delicate roast beef with roasted potatoes and a hint of fresh orange came next and it was then finished off by a one of kind specialty, the ‘Buddino di Marroni’ – chestnut pudding with a caramelized chocolaty top and a creamy center that will make you become a regular at Rosticceria La Spada.
Whether it is slow-roasted meat, grilled or marinated vegetables, soups, pastas or a cornucopia of side dishes that you seek, a tried and true home-cooked Italian meal is just one stop away from your table. On your next visit to Italy, remember there is a no muss, no fuss way to have a simple and simply delicious meal, without cooking or hiring a cook and without an evening at a restaurant. Just keep your eyes peeled for the signs, or simply follow the locals to their favorite neighborhood Rosticceria. And if you are at a loss for what to order, just ask the cooks what they recommend, because I assure you that next to Nonna’s, it’s their favorite place to eat.