On a recent blustery Saturday, after a long appetite-inducing walk (past our local 2,000-year-old Pyramid, up the Aventine Hill to look through the famous keyhole, down to the Circo Massimo for a required stop at the Mercato di Campagna Amica farmers’ market, past the church of Santa Maria in Cosmedin and the Boca della Verita, onward to the ancient Teatro di Marcello, and into the Jewish Quarter), my husband, a friend, and I made a spur-of-the moment decision to see if Sora Margherita was open for lunch. It was, and miraculously, one last table was available. Though we went there to eat, I ended up being fed. And what a joy that was.
Sora Margherita is a tiny, no-nonsense place that is perennially packed. We settled in, careful not to knock elbows with our neighbors, and were eventually given water, a basket of bread, and then a single hand-written menu.
We were deep into the difficult task of deciding which of the renowned house specialties to order when our busy waitress, Tiziana, finally came to a halt beside our table. “Well?” she asked. It can be perilous to send Italian waitstaff away, because they may not come back for a while. Tiziana was a woman on the move and we were starving, so I employed my favorite tactic–I asked her to advise us. Whereupon she took away the menu and said, “I will decide.” And so she did.
In short order, the dishes began to appear. First out, two traditional favorites: Carciofo alla Romana, a tender whole artichoke braised in white wine and olive oil (Roman style)—and Carciofo alla Giudia, a crispy, deep-fried version (Jewish style). Tiziana wrongly feared we might not know the proper technique for eating the crispy version, so she leaned over the table, pulled off an artichoke leaf, and held it to my mouth. I opened up and ate; I dared not refuse Tiziana anything.
The artichokes were followed by broccoletti ripassati—Romanesco broccoli that is blanched, then sautéed with olive oil, garlic, and chilies until it is meltingly soft. I could have eaten the entire plate. Then came puntarelle in salsa d’acciuche—a salad made with the shredded inner stalks of a member of the chicory family, seasoned with olive oil, garlic, lemon, and anchovies. It was a crisp, piquant counterpoint to the soft broccoletti.
Having temped our palates with these appetizers and side dishes, Tiziana then began to roll out the main courses: the famous, house-made fettucine al sugo di carne (with a braised meat sauce), salsicce e spuntature al sugo (fresh sausages cooked in the same meat sauce, accompanied by a spare rib), and baccala fritto (fried cod).
We shared all the delicious dishes family style, but even so we struggled to finish everything. On one of her perambulations past our table, Tiziana glanced at the sausage platter and saw the lone meaty rib, bereft of its former companions. That stopped her in her tracks. She reached over, lifted the rib from its resting place, and said “This is good—eat!” Again, the rib was aimed in my direction. When faced with a saucy offering, what can one do? I took the rib and returned the clean bone to the platter a moment later. Only then was Tiziana satisfied. We had done our proper duty by Sora Margherita’s dishes.
Almost. There was dessert to be had, and we had torta di ricotta e cioccolato—a moist ricotta cake with chocolate. Because there is always room for dessert.
The warm glow from that lunch (and the resulting food coma) lasted a long time, thanks to Tiziana and the masters in the kitchen. We’ll be back. Because the pasta cacio, peppe, e ricotta (pasta with a Pecorino Romano-black pepper sauce and dollops of ricotta) is already calling my name.