When in Rome, eat as the Romans do.
So I was in Rome, and wanted to eat as the Romans do. We had settled into a friendly and popular trattoria around the corner from our apartment, and scanning the menu, I landed on one of the most traditional Roman dishes of them all — trippa alla Romana.
I’ve always wanted to like tripe. Many a regrettable weekend morning I tried to gag down a bowl of menudo, the supposed cure-all for the hangover. And each time was reminded why I swore the last time I was never going to order it again.
But something compelled me at that Roman table to give tripe another try. I was glad I did. Something about the convergence of the slight funkiness of the tripe, the salty tomato sauce, and the freshness of mint created a dish that was unique and delicious. This was what tripe was meant for!
I told my adventurous foodie friends, the Schneiders, that I wanted to do a Roman night and make some tripe. They were onboard, as inadvertently was my pal Jon who just happened to wind up at dinner that night.
If you live in Los Angeles or probably any other large metropolis in America, you have to go to a Mexican market to find tripe. It was a curious experience purchasing the tripe, a rubbery white sheet of stuff with some feathery honeycomb-shaped surface texture.
My first effort at trippa alla Romana, served that evening to my friends, was indeed rubbery — unlike the meltingly tender dish I’d had in Rome. I had cooked the offal too long in water. Everyone (squeamish wife not included) dug in; the flavor was good and the texture could be overlooked.
But I was not satisfied.
A couple weeks later, happening to pass by the Vallarta supermercado, I stopped in and picked up another pound of tripe — enough for a nice lunch for myself.
It happened to be a hungover Sunday morning when I put the thing to the pan. I was careful to simmer it for just under an hour, rather than the 90 minutes I boiled it for the last time. The texture was perfect.
Cautiously optimistic, I stirred in the garlic, onion and pureed tomato, cooked it down, added some fresh mint and scooped it into a bowl.
And there it was! Sprinkled with crushed red pepper and dusted with pecorino romano, every bit the dish I had in Rome, right there at my table in Topanga. And my hangover wasn’t feeling half so bad anymore, either.
Should you one day be feeling adventurous (or, like me, nostalgic for Rome):
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Trippa alla Romana
2 lbs honeycomb tripe
1/2 cup white vinegar
2 tbsp. olive oil
3 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
1 small onion, sliced into slivers
1 lb. ripe heirloom tomatoes
1/2 cup chopped mint
salt to taste
crushed red pepper
grated pecorino romano
Place tripe in a pot with water to cover and vinegar, and place over high heat. When the water begins to boil, reduce heat to medium-low and simmer for 1 hour.
Remove tripe from water and set aside to cool. Once cool to touch, cut into strips about 1 inch long by 1/2 inch wide.
Place tomatoes in a blender and roughly puree.
In a large pan, heat olive oil over medium-high heat. Add garlic and onion and saute, stirring, for 2 minutes. Add tripe and saute for another 2 minutes. Add tomato puree and bring to a simmer. Lower heat to medium low, cover and simmer for 30 minutes.
Remove from heat. Stir in the chopped mint.
Serve in bowls with crushed red pepper and pecorino romano, if desired.