So many visits to Rome, yet for some reason we never made it to the iconic Da Enzo in Trastevere. Hailed by many respected food writers and bloggers, it has certainly been on our list. The bit of reluctance was due to the popularity Da Enzo had achieved from well… let me say it, the “tourist trade”.
I had reserved a table at the early seating for our last night in Italy, 7:30 as this was the time offered. This immediately concerned me as Italian standard dinner time would deem sitting down at this hour comparable to the Early Bird Special in Florida.
We arrived a few minutes early to join what seemed like the morning queue at the Vatican during high season, another red flag. The tiny Da Enzo has some protected outdoor seating but as it was a rainy evening, I preferred to be indoors. Italians for the most part are very approachable, so I asked one of the Di Felice brothers, owners of Da Enzo, if it were possible to sit indoors. Moments later, the crowd was greeted and groups of waiting patrons were called in – our name being the first called; we were warmly welcomed and taken to our table for two.
Da Enzo features Cucina Romana, so naturally I would be ordering my favorite dish; Tonnarelli with Cacio e Pepe. Of course we needed to sample some of the other specialties, Artichokes Jewish Style, Stuffed Zucchini Blossoms, Scotta Dita and a Contorini or side dish of vegetables. Punterella was at the end of its season and I desperately wanted to have one last salad of my favorite green.
The crowd a mixture of tourists and locals, seemed to thrive in the relaxed, homey atmosphere that Da Enzo is known for. Wines of the region are offered by the glass, served from a barrel at the back of the dining room, a limited selection of bottled wines are also available.
The food is generously portioned, classic Roman fair featuring few essential ingredients. The family is dedicated to using the highest quality products; carefully sourcing poultry, meats, dairy and produce from central Italy. Da Enzo features a superior extra virgin olive oil produced near Vetralla Viterbo. Patrons asking for a bit of oil to dip their bread into are charged a nominal fee which is certainly worth it.
Cacio e Pepe is one of Rome’s signature pasta dishes, generally using tonnarelli, a squared shape long pasta; spaghetti or linguini is an excellent substitute. Although the dish is quite simple, achieving just the right consistency of the rather basic sauce can be tricky. Renditions in many restaurants imitate the true Cacio e Pepe with the addition of butter, heaven forbid cream or other enhancements. True Cacio e Pepe relies on la materia prima and skillful technique.
Da Enzo’s recipe has been translated from the original Italian to English below, allowing for measurement conversions. The procedure at Da Enzo is a time honored one and often an exact recipe or method does not translate well, the adapted version is straightforward but please don’t overthink the recipe. I do hope you give Cacio e Pepe a try and if at first the results are not exactly what you expect, adjust the cheese to water ratio and try again.
Our evening at Da Enzo exceeded our expectations. The quintessential food and hospitality of the Roman people left us with wonderful memories of our last evening in Italy. Alla prossimo volta Roby and Francesco…
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- 12 ounces of tonnarelli, spaghetti or linguini
- About 2 ounces of grated pecorino
- ½ cup cold water and a few ice cubes
- Freshly ground black pepper
- Additional pecorino and black pepper for finishing the pasta
- Bring a large pot of cool water to a rolling boil, add a handful of salt and the pasta. Give the pasta a good stir and prepare to just before the al dente stage, which is generally few minutes less than the package instructions.
- In the meantime, place the cold water, ice cubes, some freshly grated black pepper and the 2 ounces of grated pecorino in a bowl; stir vigorously to make a soft thick cream.
- Drain the pasta and immediately add it to the bowl with the creamy cheese & pepper mixture, stirring continuously to coat the pasta with the sauce. The ice will melt, but if the pasta seems a bit dry a just add bit of the pasta cooking water to loosen.
- Divide the pasta into individual warm serving bowl, top with additional grated pecorino and a few grindings of black pepper. Serve immediately.