Rome: Fresh Tastes of a Grandparents' Kitchen

Montevecchio features fresh ingredients, homemade pasta and the owner's grandmother's apple cake i i

Montevecchio, tucked into a Renaissance building in a tiny, charming square in Rome of the same name, features fresh ingredients, homemade pasta and owner Anna Maria Tozzi's grandmother's apple cake. Sylvia Poggioli, NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Sylvia Poggioli, NPR
Montevecchio features fresh ingredients, homemade pasta and the owner's grandmother's apple cake

Montevecchio, tucked into a Renaissance building in a tiny, charming square in Rome of the same name, features fresh ingredients, homemade pasta and owner Anna Maria Tozzi's grandmother's apple cake.

Sylvia Poggioli, NPR
Anelli with clams and mullet roe is one of the standout pasta dishes. i i

Anelli with clams and mullet roe is one of Montevecchio's standout pasta dishes. Sylvia Poggioli, NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Sylvia Poggioli, NPR
Anelli with clams and mullet roe is one of the standout pasta dishes.

Anelli with clams and mullet roe is one of Montevecchio's standout pasta dishes.

Sylvia Poggioli, NPR

With hundreds of monuments from antiquity to the Baroque, Rome is a feast for the eyes and for the mind. But the city also abounds in thousands of enterprises dedicated to another kind of nourishment.

In the warm months — which stretch across more than half the year — there isn't a sidewalk or square that's not covered with tiny tables and chairs. Romans love to eat out.

One of the more recent additions to the Rome culinary scene is Montevecchio. It opened in December 2005 and has already become a favorite among food lovers.

It's not easy to find: Tucked into a Renaissance building in a tiny, charming square of the same name, the restaurant is reached by following narrow, winding cobblestone alleys near Piazza Navona. But it's worth the search.

Montevecchio is a work of love. Owner Anna Maria Tozzi collected recipes for decades and dreamed all her life of opening a restaurant that had the feel, flavors and aromas of home. That home was her grandparents' country house south of Rome where everything was raised or grown locally.

When Tozzi retired from her job at the Chamber of Deputies after 30 years, she fulfilled her dream. Together with Neapolitan chef Luca Mazza, Tozzi has created a menu that showcases what she calls clear-cut flavors, where each individual ingredient is easily identified.

Among the appetizers, carpaccio of octopus with olives and celery, and the salad of calamari with citrus fruits and red onions from Tropea are standouts. From the pasta menu, highlights include ricotta ravioli with basil and tomato sauce, anelli (small rings of pasta) with clams and mullet roe and — perhaps my favorite — tonnarelli (a kind of square spaghetti) with fresh crisp vegetables. From the main courses, prawns with lard and phyllo and grilled lamb chops with herbs.

Tozzi says the key to excellent Italian cuisine is freshness and high-quality ingredients — the pastas are rigorously homemade and only the best extra virgin olive oil is used. The menu's only concession to what's trendy is crudo di spigola con emulsione al limone — raw sea bass with lemon sauce — which is excellent as well.

Of the desserts, the item that regularly gets the highest praise is the most nostalgic offering: foccaccia di mele della nonna or grandma's apple cake. Tozzi says she really did get the recipe from her grandmother, who made it for her grandchildren when they were sick with a cough: Steaming hot, cooked apples, she says, are a quick, effective and scrumptious cure. Another delicacy is torta caprese, the chocolate, hazel-nut and almond confection native to the island of Capri. An average meal at the restaurant costs $40 to $50 per person, without wine.

Montevecchio is elegant but simple and welcoming. Along with Anna Maria Tozzi, Jessica and Maurizio offer gracious and impeccable service. The restaurant seats only 20 indoors and a few more on the outdoor terrace, so reservations are recommended.

Montevecchio — Piazza di Montevecchio 22a, Rome, Italy. Telephone: 39 06 6861319. Fax: 39 06 68135412. E-mail: ristorantemontevecchio22@yahoo.it. Web site: http://www.diningcity.com/rome/ristorantemontevecchio21/index_eng.jsp. Open Tuesday through Sunday for lunch and dinner; closed Mondays.

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