When I First Moved to Rome, I Found the Sunday Dinners I Never Had

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We’re partnering with Lagostina to celebrate the Italian Sunday dinner with stories, recipes, and videos about this special family tradition. Up first: Katie Parla, a Rome-based journalist, culinary educator, and author of Tasting Rome.

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Although I grew up Italian-American in New Jersey, I didn’t have those big blowout Sunday dinners so well documented on film and television. By the time I was a kid, most of my extended family had left the Tri-State Area for the South, or headed out west.

My first sustained encounter with the Italian Sunday dinner came when I moved to Rome in 2003. Here, it’s called il pranzo della domenica and, to be sure, it’s a time for Roman families to gather. But perhaps even more significantly, it’s an opportunity for non-natives to get together and share the foods of home.

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Back then, I lived with three university students from Abruzzo: Marianna, Pina, and Sara. Though their home villages were only a 90-minute car ride away through the mountains, Rome was a world away. But each weekend, a package brimming with carefully portioned and packaged foods arrived from a mother, aunt, or grandmother. Sometimes it was delivered by friends driving into Rome, and more than a few times it arrived, unaccompanied, by train. The idea of trays of simmered vegetables, meatballs, and lasagna traveling solo from Avezzano to Roma Prenestina station is still thrilling to me.

Regardless of how it got to Rome, the package’s arrival set in motion a flurry of events: water would be put on to boil pasta; meatballs and pork ribs and the sauce they were cooked in would be reheated in a warped aluminum pan; the table would be set with our mismatched dishes; wine would be poured. The pasta would be served first, dressed in the warmed-up sauce, and only once it was finished would the meatballs and ribs be divided among us. Not having an Abruzzese family to send me food—and having a microscopic kitchen not particularly adapted to cooking—I would always provide the wine and salad.

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I may not have cooked Sunday dinner back then, but now that I have my own place I often do. I find myself drawing from the lessons of my roommates’ care packages. I love serving primi (in Rome, the pasta course) and secondi (protein courses) that connect with the season. In the winter they tend to be hearty affairs, like pasta served in a sauce simmered with oxtails, followed by the fall-off-the-bone oxtail segments.

In the late summer and fall, I lean heavily on produce and serve dishes like gricia (a classic Roman pasta condiment featuring guanciale, Pecorino Romano, and black pepper), enriched with the insides of zucchini leftover from making zucchine ripiene (I’ll get to that in a second). After all, there’s no sense in wasting the cored inside of the zucchini, which is suited to cooking in rendered guanciale fat until creamy. Then, in the Roman style, I cook the hollowed-out zucchini filled with a sort of modified meatball mix until they nearly fall apart.

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My pranzi della domenica may not have the cache of trans-Apennine travel, but it’s comforting all the same.

In partnership with Lagostina, the premium Italian cookware brand that values high-quality materials and time-honored craftsmanship, we’re highlighting the #LagostinaSundayDinner with a new series all about the Italian tradition of Sunday dinners. Every Sunday, we’ll share go-to recipes from some of our favorite chefs and cookbook authors—they’re perfect for celebrating these casual, all-day affairs with friends, family, and delicious food.

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