My apartment looks out onto the Valle dei Casali, a protected strip of land that lies in the western part of Rome, between Via Portuense (an ancient Roman road that still connects the city to the sea), via del Casaletto, Via Bravetta and Via Silvestri.
Its name is derived from the many 16th-century casali (farmhouses) that are spread throughout this natural reserve, the most famous of which is the Villa York, a glorious and abandoned Roman villa. The area has a history as a pasture and a farm; even today there are still sheep grazing there and farmers growing crops. Over the years I have been exploring–with or without my dog, Teo, and my children, Bianca and Marco–its most hidden corners and have discovered fantastic restaurants and other food adventures. It is super child-friendly and a respite from the chaos of the city.
On Via del Casaletto, at the end of the line of the number 8 tram, is Trattoria da Cesare–a family run restaurant with a pleasant outdoor terrace–on the edges of the reserve. It has a rich selection of Italian and foreign natural wines (last time I was there I had an outstanding white from Santorini). The typical Roman fried antipasti or appetizers–like breaded anchovies or zucchini blossoms stuffed with mozzarella cheese, just to name a few–-are delicate, crispy and served in a cartoccio or paper cone.
The fettucine and tonnarelli pastas as well as the gnocchi are homemade and the cakes and the pizza, which is only served at night, are also fatto in casa. At night it’s difficult to find a table if one hasn’t booked in advance but I prefer to go there for lunch when Leonardo, the owner, comes around to chat and the customers linger on well into the afternoon because they feel so at home. Leonardo believes that the success of his restaurant depends on the location as it is off the beaten path. He is proud to run a neighborhood restaurant that allows for a slower pace, and the chit chat that comes along with it, since he doesn’t strive only for numbers and the hurried pace of a typical business.
Open 12:30- 3pm for lunch and 7:30-11pm for dinner except Wednesday
Bistrot Bio is a restaurant inside the Valle dei Casali reserve. The food is organic and most of the vegetables are grown on the premises or chosen from neighbouring organic farms. Chef Marco Maroni focuses on seasonality and locality or what is called in Italy, ‘Kilometer Zero’, meaning the products are eco-friendly since they come from nearby. There is a space for children to learn about farming as well as allotted land for adults to grow their own vegetables. It has a large outdoor area that on weekends attracts families with young children who can play between the olive trees. The menu is Roman cuisine with a twist and the vegetarian selection is rich and elaborate.
Open Tues-Sat 8-11:30pm; Sunday 12:00-2:30 for lunch; closed Monday
Just off of Via Affogalasino and set right in the heart of Valle dei Casali are the Casette di Campagna, two restaurants run by the same owners: one serves mainly Roman-style thin crust pizza and has two forni a legna or wood-burning ovens; the other is well known for its grilled meats with a vast selection of Chianina beef. Casette di Campagna are like typical country restaurants except set inside metropolitan Rome. They have valet parking, a playground and a soccer pitch for kids. Some of their vegetables are grown on the premises and next door is L’Agricola, a shop that will sell this produce to visitors.
Pizzeria open 7:30-11:30pm and for lunch on Sat and Sun 12:30-4:00pm
Restaurant open 12:30-4:00pm for lunch; dinner 7:30-11:30pm closed Monday
L’Agricola sells only Italian meat from Abruzzo and Umbria and their fruit and veggies–including local citrus fruits grown on the premises–are from selected farms in Lazio. They are famous for their cakes and fresh pasta, too, made with free-range eggs from Abruzzo. On the grounds there is an aviary and gardens for children to play in.
Open 7:30am-1:30pm Mon, Tues, Wed; 7:30am to 7:30pm Thurs, Fri, Sat
In 2006 the Ente Regionale RomaNatura started a project to plant an orchard typical of the agro romano, which is set inside Valle dei Casali. The entrance is free and there are guided tours. One will discover at least 160 species of mulberry, apricot, fig, walnut, apple, pear and medlar trees, just to name a few. It is a perfect way to experience the more tranquil side of Rome on the weekend with the family without having to leave the city. And, it helps to remind us of the culinary history and richness of this eternal city.
Chiara Pelligrin is a native Roman that has travelled the world from Africa to Central America. She is an artist, mother and an avid food enthusiast who knows the depths of Roman cuisine but also culinary traditions from other parts of the world, which she brings to her table in Rome. A serious home cook, she seeks out the freshest, local ingredients for the meals that she prepares for her family and friends. While she also exhibits her art regularly, both in Rome and abroad, she always finds time to keep up-to-date with the latest culinary trends in Rome and beyond. She is a guest blogger for Casa Mia.