A couple of weeks ago I received a pleasant surprise, a message from my friend Jessica that she was back home in Rome for a couple of days before heading to Switzerland for a business trip. Jessica was one of my first friends when I moved here in 2003. She worked at St Stephen’s School where I taught Roman Topography to freshmen and we quickly bonded over our mutual love of food and La Roma (Lazio merda!). After a few months, Jessica moved to NYC and I lost my dearest eating companion. But we always make it a point to get together whenever we can for a meal.
Due to work obligations and time constraints, we only had time for a pizza session at Pizzarium, but Jessica made sure I didn’t go hungry after her departure and set up a date with me and her parents to eat rigatoni alla pajata at their house. This is a typical Roman dish in which tubes of pasta are dressed with a sauce made from tomato and the tied off intestines of a milk fed calf. As the intestines cook, the milk within coagulates and transforms into a substance with a runny, ricotta-like texture. I am not painting a pretty picture with words here, but rest assured it is delicious.
When I got to their place in Colli Albani, Jessica’s dad Fiorenzo was already at work in the kitchen cooking the intestines he had meticulously knotted himself. As tomato sauce sputtered, pasta was added to a pot of boiling water and Fiorenzo arranged lamb chops in a pan with garlic and rosemary. When the pasta was ready, it was tossed gently with the pajata sauce and served. Somehow 70% of the knotted intestines ended up on my plate (thank you Mrs. Bonari for donating your share!). A purer joy does not exist.
When the pajata was done, we moved on to the lamb chops, which Fiorenzo and Jessica had gotten from a mountain village in Abruzzo a couple of days before. This was followed by cheese made from the lamb’s mother’s milk. Transgenerational dining has never tasted so good.