The Gannet Q&A

Katie Parla

29th March 2016

Interview: Killian Fox

Katie Parla is a New Jersey-born food and drinks writer based in Rome. She has dedicated the past 13 years tracking down the best food, wine, craft beer and cocktails Italy has to offer. Her new cookbook, Tasting Rome: Fresh Flavors and Forgotten Recipes from an Ancient City, is out now and we’re sharing an exclusive recipe from the book – cacio e pepe as cooked by Leonardo Vignoli at Cesare al Casaletto – here.

1. If you could revisit one meal in your life, which would it be?

Dinner with my mom and sister at Bağarası in Bodrum last summer. It’s this very simple meze place with tables outside beneath light-strewn trees. The Aegean mezes – stuffed squash blossoms, wild greens, and olive oil-simmered vegetables – are so good, but the liver is even better. It’s in one of those tourist-free bits of Bodrum that is so serene, not to mention increasingly rare.

Smoked eggplant, samphire, black eyed peas, rice filled zucchini flowers. First meal in Bodrum is a success. Thanks to Emre Erol who knows all.

A photo posted by Katie Parla (@katieparla) on

2. What was your favourite food when you were 10?

Fried shrimp for sure. Perhaps it is not the most iconic dish from New Jersey circa 1990, but eating fried food was a special occasion for us and when we got to go out and eat a mountain of fried shrimp doused in hot sauce, that was the best thing ever.

3. What’s your greatest talent in the kitchen?

I actually think what happens before I even get into the kitchen is more important than what I do in there. Spending time in markets and choosing gorgeous local produce cultivated thoughtfully or meat raised responsibly is so central to a delicious final product. My greatest kitchen talent is probably the restraint it takes to let the ingredients speak for themselves. I just provide the seasoning and heat!

4. What’s the best thing you cooked at home in the last month?

Gricia (pasta with guanciale, black pepper, and Pecorino) with artichokes. And roasted chicken (a properly roasted chicken is a glorious thing) with potatoes.

5. What do you listen to when you’re cooking?

I listen to Beyoncé or to podcasts like The Read, Another Round, and Criminal. It’s actually really distracting to listen to podcasts but I’m obsessed!

6. What ingredient or food product are you currently obsessed with?

I recently visited Acetaia San Giacomo near Parma and came home with a potentially lethal amount of vinegar. The traditional aged balsamic is wonderful, of course, but I have been practically drinking their Balsamela, a sweet, tart, and thick vinegar made from apples. I put it on cheese, salads, meat, dessert, and sometimes just eat it with a spoon.

7. Describe a kitchen object you can’t live without.

Pretty much every Roman kitchen comes furnished with basic utensils, a testament to the fact that there’s no need for an elaborate set-up to cook the Roman way. A warped aluminium pan, a pot for boiling water, a roasting pan, basic knives, a pasta strainer and a cutting board will do just fine. The classic moka, another standard-issue instrument in Roman kitchens, makes the worst coffee so what I couldn’t live without is my own coffee set-up: grinder, French Press and Chemex.

8. What’s your most food-splattered cookbook?

Ada Boni’s Talismano della Felicità. There are a zillion recipes and it’s a huge tome that’s so cumbersome it has caused more than a few spills!

9. Share a useful cooking tip.

Salt meat overnight. My boyfriend is currently writing a book on meat and knows everything that happens on a cellular level, but I can tell you it makes a huge difference in the final product.

10. If you had to limit yourself to the cuisine of just one country, which would it be and why?

It would have to be Turkey because the biodiversity of the country is mindboggling and the varied geography, microclimates, and differing cultures means there is a huge variety of ingredients to work with. The cuisine of the Aegean coast, rich in olive oil and fish and vegetables is wonderful, but so is the bulgur and lamb and spice-rich cuisine of the Hatay and everything in between.

11. What food do you most dislike?

I cannot stand canned hearts of palm or raw rhubarb (the wild version is a seasonal snack in Turkey). I eat everything else.

12. What’s your favourite food scene in the movies?

When Pulp Fiction’s Jules Winfield (Samuel L Jackson) encounters Big Kahuna burgers: “the cornerstone of any nutritious breakfast”.

13. Name a favourite restaurant in your neighbourhood.

I love Tavernaccia da Bruno near Ponte Testaccio and Stazione Trastevere. The family run place opened in 1968 and serves the most satisfying carnivorous dishes like brisket or suckling pig baked in the wood fired oven. Their wine list is wonderful and the desserts are great and actually I love the pastas, too. What makes a good thing even better is that the staff is so nice. There’s none of that special treatment and polite service reserved for regulars-only nonsense that is too pervasive in this town.

14. Describe the thing that most annoys you as a customer in a restaurant.

Bad and arrogant wine service annoys me perhaps more than any other form of incompetence in a restaurant. As a lifelong member of the hospitality industry, I find it mind boggling that even fine restaurants in Rome cannot pull off proper wine service and seem incapable of acknowledging a woman’s professional expertise at the table.

15. What’s your biggest food extravagance?

After a long day of touring in Rome, I often head to the bar at Salumeria Roscioli for burrata and Champagne. In Rome, these things are only relatively indulgent. At counter in London or NYC the investment would be two to three times what Roscioli asks, but here such a snack is seen as quite extravagant. In the late fall, I visit the same counter for pasta with butter and white truffles and a bottle of Barolo.

##TastingRome @roscioliristorante A photo posted by Katie Parla (@katieparla) on

16. Describe your average breakfast.

I eat the old-school Roman breakfast of pizza bianca, a simple flatbread seasoned with salt and olive oil. Before the industrial cornetti trend descended on Italy in the 1970s, Rome’s local breakfast was a sweet bun or a slice of pizza, and as an eternal pizza lover I reach for the latter. I follow this up with a double espresso.

Follow Katie Parla: website | blog | Twitter | Instagram

Posted 29th March 2016

In The Gannet Q&A


Interview: Killian Fox

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