There is truly no place like Rome. It's history, culture, sunshine and sheer beauty make it one of the world's most romantic and educational cities. Even if you have never been to Rome before and don't really know where to start, it is very easy to plan your visit ahead of time, by filling your stay with unique and local experiences. There are so many things to do in Rome and it's unique character makes it perfect for couples, families, groups of friends and school trips.
I was lucky enough to visit Rome back in 2011 and stayed just outside of the beautiful Vatican City. The Vatican City was a place of great wonder. The diversity surrounding the real life version of the Da Vinci Code set was on par with a busy London street and the atmosphere quite extraordinary. St. Peter's Basilica and the Sistine Chapel are truly ethereal.
The grandeur was quite stunning and simply walking for hours and taking in the architecture, the culture, the smells, sounds and magical tourist hustle and bustle was a true treat for the senses.
Various bus or guided tours can show you things from a different perspective and lead you to explore the famous sights of the many things to see in Rome, from historical ruins to the awesome Colosseum, there is beauty at every corner.
The Trevi Fountain is absolutely stunning and whether you are superstitious or not, the traditional legend that if visitors throw a coin into the fountain, they are ensured a return to Rome, is a wonderful experience to embrace. Just a ten minute walk from here, you'll find the monumental Spanish Steps within the Piazza di Spagna which also showcases one of Rome's beautiful fountains - Fontana della Barcaccia.
Some of the historical highlights include the famous Roman Forum ruins, the Colosseum - one of the new seven wonders of the world and the Circus Maximus offers a park stroll like no other.
One cannot discuss Rome without mentioning the absolutely divine food that Italy has pioneered over centuries and has become a staple cuisine across the world.
Even in the depths of Sierra Leone, I found myself being offered bowls of spaghetti with a more traditional West African spin of a spicy, oily tomato sauce. In the Western World, Italian food is found in every household in some sort, plus every supermarket stocks every section from dry goods, to canned, to fridges and freezers full of pasta's, risottos and pizzas. Restaurants don't have to be Italian to serve Italian food either with most all rounder's serving at least one style of pizza and/or pasta and/or risotto.
The passion for food is evident even on opening ones hotel wardrobe - expecting to find the usual array of clothes hangers and perhaps a mini ironing board. Instead we were presented with a full stove, sink and fridge. All one would need to prepare a delicious pasta dish. There truly wasn't much more surreal than buying dried pasta and tomatoes from a proper Italian grocer in the heart of Rome to be tossed together in a Roman hotel room.
Eating in small, local, family run eateries, you will taste true Italian food like you've never tasted before.
One of my most favourite regional favourite dishes of Rome is pasta al'arrabiata or pasta with angry sauce. This is a dish that showcases Italy's ability to take just a few simple ingredients and make them something outstanding.
- 500g dried pasta (I love rigatoni here, use GF if needed)
- 2 x 400g (14 oz) cans chopped tomatoes
- 1 tbsp chopped garlic
- 1 tbsp chopped fire roasted chilli in vinegar (or use fresh/dried to taste)
- 1/2 tsp each dried parsley, oregano and Italian blend (or use thyme)
- 1 tsp sea salt
- Prepare a large pan of salted water and bring to a boil.
- Simmer all the sauce ingredients in a pan, the longer the better. Leave for at least 20 minutes, stirring occasionally, before boiling the pasta until al dente, usually about 10 minutes.
- By now, the tomatoes should be thickened and saucy, taste and adjust seasoning if necessary.
- Drain the pasta briefly, a little coating of starchy water will help the sauce coat the pasta. Add the pasta to the sauce, stir gently and toss to cover completely.
- Serve with a scattering of fresh herbs like basil.
Fried Courgette Flowers are another Roman speciality and whilst usually deep fried and filled with mozzarella cheese and anchovies, I prefer a healthier take filled with creamy squash and basil and coated in breadcrumbs to be baked until golden and crispy.
Baked Stuffed Courgette Flowers
Serves 4: Will fill 12 flowers with leftover filling (wonderful on a baked potato or stirred into pasta)
- 2 Pattipan squash
- 1 clove garlic
- 4 tbsp each fresh basil and parsley
- 3 tbsp plain, unsweetened dairy free yoghurt or tofu
- 2 tbsp nutritional yeast
- 1 tsp sea salt
- 1/2 tsp black pepper
- 1 tsp lemon juice
- 2 tbsp breadcrumbs (use GF if needed)
- 2 cups seasoned breadcrumbs (use GF if needed)
- 1/4 cup tapioca or potato starch
- 1 tbsp VeganEgg (optional)
- 1/4-1/2 cup soya milk or water
- Preheat oven to 200'C/400'F. Halve the squash and place on a baking tray in the oven. Roast for about 25 minutes or until the flesh is tender when pierced with a knife.
- Remove from the oven and leave to cool enough to handle. Meanwhile, place the remaining filling ingredients in a food processor.
- Scoop and discard the seeds from the squash and any tough skin or stalks. Add the rest to the food processor and process until mostly smooth but with a little texture (or to your preference).
- Carefully clan your flowers using a damp paper towel. Have a lined tray ready, sprayed with a little oil or cooking spray.
- Have the breadcrumbs for the coating in a shallow dish. Whisk together the starch, VeganEgg (if using) and the milk or water to make a coating as close to the consistency of whisked egg.
- Take each flower and either use a spoon to carefully fill the flower, or use a piping bag, be careful not to overfill and twist the top to enclose the filling. Coat in the starch mixture and then roll in the breadcrumbs. Lay on the baking sheet and repeat until all the flowers are used. Once all the flowers are prepared, bake in the oven for 20 minutes or until golden and crisp. No oil necessary!
Now you can bring a bit of Italy to your kitchen with these two takes on authentic Roman cuisine.