The city of Rome is rightly famed for its art, architecture, culture and fashion, yet its traditional cuisine remains largely undiscovered outside of Italy. Traditional Roman food is the food of the poor workers of the city. This style of poor or peasant cooking, known as cucina povera, holds a special place in the hearts of all Italians who romanticise the ingenuity and imagination of their forefathers and mothers to create wholesome and hearty food out of cheap, local ingredients. Each region has its own style of cucina povera, dictated by what was available locally, and in Rome that legacy is still strongly felt.
The widespread use of offal in traditional Roman cooking can be traced back to the old working class district of Testaccio, just south of the Aventine Hill. The area is now well-known for its lively and well-stocked open markets but it was once the home of the city’s macelli, or abattoirs. Workers at the abattoirs would have their wages supplemented by the leftover offal from the animals, which became known as quinto quarto, or fifth quarter. The Testaccio district became well known for its inventive and delicious offal dishes, and the recipe for one speciality, rognone in umido, or kidney stew, is given below.
Rognone in Umido
Roman Kidney Stew
450g lambs’ kidneys, skinned, cored and sliced
1 large onion, sliced
3 rashers of streaky bacon, chopped
400g can of chopped tomatoes
3 tbsp dry white wine
Chopped fresh parsley for garnish
Heat the butter in a large frying pan until melted, then add the sliced kidneys. Fry them over a moderate heat until they are browned and the juices run. Remove the kidneys from the pan and keep to one side. Next gently fry the bacon and onion in the same pan until the onion is golden. Add the tomatoes and wine and heat gently for about 15 minutes. Now stir in the kidneys and leave to simmer for 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper, and serve immediately, garnished with chopped parsley.