(by Andrea Gropplero - Cinecittario: Archivio Luce)
La Dolce Vita, Federico Fellini’s masterpiece, is one of the most important films in the history of cinema, so there is no need to recount the story here. If you haven’t yet seen it, you must: it is imperative. Meanwhile, here we shall focus on the relationship between Fellini, Ancient Rome and food.Print itinerary
It would be more correct to say that Fellini is Rome. Although born in Rimini, the Maestro chose Rome and Cinecittà (the studios where he lived and made a large number of his films) as his spiritual home in a key expression of his full maturity. The story of Rome in the 1960’s reproduced in La Dolce Vita is, after all, the story of the life of an Imperial city or, better still, of the Empire’s capital in its full decadence. The scenes set at parties or in restaurants all evoke the banquets of ancient Rome with their endless libations and indolence hovering above everything.
In Fellini Satyricon (1969), Fellini tells the story of two young men with no special talent nor ambition – Ascyltos and Encolpius – in a decadent imperial Rome where previously subaltern classes, such as the nouveau riche, the liberti and the knights, are coming onto the scene. The long sequence of Trimalchio’s banquet reveals much of both Imperial and Modern Rome although it is above all a poetic and visionary tale of the birth of Italian cuisine.
When Fellini is describing Rome, whether in La Dolce Vita, Fellini Satyricon or Roma, he creates a timeless continuum where the metro and the catacombs of Rome are equalled to the comings and goings of via Veneto. All roads lead to Rome and Fellini would say that nothing is wasted of Rome; after all, Rome herself would never waste anything, which may be why it is a heartland of offal.
When a huge roast pig is presented during Trimalchio’s banquet in Fellini Satyricon, the host berates the cook because it has not been gutted, angry to the point of threatening his death. His fellow diners rise up to invoke clemency and Trimalchio placidly invites the cook to gut the pig before the assembled company. The roast pig is opened to reveal an outpouring of sausages, livers, tripes, birds and hams, all previously cooked and placed in the animal to provide a sort of trompe l’oeil to the great joy of the diners. The following scene features a veal calf which we imagine to have been stuffed and closed up in the same way, also due for a theatrical gutting with an imperious gesture by the cook to offer up new delicacies. Here: this moment, this gesture of revealing, conserves the secret of Roman cuisines, from its origins to the present day.
Marcus Gavius Apicius was a writer, gastronome and cook who lived between the end of the 1st century B.C. and early 1st century AD and was responsible for recording a great deal of what we know about food in ancient Rome. An aesthete, lover of elegance and splendour, he writes about the food eaten by the privileged classes of the early Roman empire in his book, De Re Coquinaria. As capital of the Empire, Rome was a crossroads attracting people of different ethnicities, races, habits and culture from all over the known world. Naturally, this diversity was reflected in the food of the time. Powerful Romans would see exotic dishes on their dinner tables such as heron, ostrich and flamingo tongue, although the base for local cooking was farro (spelt), pork, veal and beef, fish, shellfish and cheese. The most common delicacy for patricians and plebians alike was, however, offal: the hooves, nose and ears of pigs, ox tails, tripe and liver and assorted innards from various animals. These dishes – meat, fish, farro, vegetables – were all garnished with garum, a condiment made from fermented fish flavoured with juniper, myrtle, bay leaf, rosemary, garlic, fennel, vinegar, oil and salt.
Herewith Apicius’ recipe for garum:
“Take several large fish like salmon, eel or sardine: to these, add salt and dried herbs like dill, mint, peppermint, lovage, thyme. Cover the bottom of a large pot with a layer of the herbs. Then cover with a layer of the fish in its entirety, cut into pieces if the fish is big. Cover with a thick layer of salt and repeat for a further three layers until the pot is filled. Close the pot and let it ferment for seven days. Stir the mixture for the following twenty days. Then gather the liquid that begins to drain”.
This recipe recalls some ancient methods still used today to conserve fish in South American countries like Peru and Colombia: ceviche, even if its flavour is certainly more similar to an ingredient that is commonly used throughout Asia since the beginning of time: fish sauce. In Cetara on Italy’s Amalfi Coast, colatura di alici is still produced today with a preparation very similar to that garum. Here too anchovies are laid out on long nets and salted, the liquid is drained and bottled.
Apicius’s recipe is certainly one for the wealthy, a garum for the privileged classes. The most common recipe for the plebs used fish innards, anchovies, garlic, vinegar, oil, bay leaf, rosemary and the various herbs of the time which would be left to marinate for seven days followed by a further twenty before the liquid would be collected to flavour dishes. Anyone wishing to obtain a garum-like condiment today should combine colatura di alici, anchovy paste, fish sauce, garlic, extra virgin olive oil, vinegar, bay leaf, spices and herbs.
We can say that Roman cooking has two key roots: imperial food as discussed above which established the use of offal and Jewish Roman cuisine. The latter brings together two fundamental influences: Spanish and Mediterranean. One of the oldest in Europe, the Jewish community has been present in Rome since the 2nd century B.C.. When Ferdinand II expelled the Jews from Spain in 1592, many found refuge in the Roman community, bringing with them customs and traditions from their country, including methods of fish preparation and fried battered food. Some of the most famous dishes in Rome’s contemporary cuisine share these roots: carciofi alla giudia (Jewish artichokes), filetti di baccalà fritti (fried fillet of salt cod), fiori di zucca ripieni (zucchini blossom stuffed with mozzarella and anchovies).
Roman Jewish cuisine is also responsible for fish broth and tortino di alici e indivia (made with endive and anchovy), both dishes born from necessity when the Papal government forbade the use of luxurious foods by the Jews in 1611. Pope Paul IV had confined the Jews to the Ghetto near the Port of Ripa Grande on the River Tiber in 1555, in particular to the area around the Church of Sant’Angelo in Pescheria where the scraps and innards from the nearby fish market were kept, from which the Ghetto women would create sumptuous delights despite the ingredients’ poor origins.
Outside of these two traditions, Roman cuisine has also produced extraordinary dishes, many of which use offal. The most interesting examples of recent developments in Roman food include dishes like coda alla vaccinara (oxtail), rigatoni con la pajata (rigatoni with calf intestines), trippa alla romana (Roman style tripe) with mint and sheep’s cheese, cacio e pepe (pasta with cheese and pepper), and the most recent of all, created towards the end of WWII to accommodate the American soldier used to eggs and bacon: carbonara (pasta with egg, guanciale and pepper). However, the recipe suggested here is lesser-known, seasonal and very tasty: vignarola, the prince of Rome’s popular and peasant food heritage.
A seasonal dish, vignarola is usually made between Easter and 1 May, the worker’s feast day. This is the time when vineyards are trimmed and these delicate tips are cooked in a pan with artichokes, fresh fava beans, peas and lettuce after first crisping strips of guanciale (cured pork cheek) and then topped with pecorino cheese. It can be served as a main course and is also an excellent pasta topping, especially when paired with tonnarelli.
Put the strips of guanciale (about 1cm wide and 3cm long) in a pan and fry until crispy, then add thinly sliced artichokes and the podded fava beans and these in the fat for approx. 5 minutes. Then add peas and vine tips with a half glass of white wine and cook for 7 minutes: add the thinly sliced lettuce and cook for further 3 minutes: inish with a sprinkling of pecorino and a dribble of extra virgin olive oil.
This game is for anyone who wants to make a homemade trailer for La Dolce Vita and Fellini Satyricon. We’re providing the time codes for the film clips. Any edit program will work for this. Insert the following data into the timeline and you’ll have your trailer in minutes.