Katie Parla, a native of New Jersey, is a writer and educator who’s been living in Rome for more than a decade. She leads culinarily-inclined history aficionados around the Eternal City on small, personal tours that meander into Roman neighborhoods well away from the overtrod tourist track. A walk with Parla, learning how food and ancient archeology are inextricably linked, is the sort of activity that makes us crave traveling in the first place; a chance to take a deep, delicious dive into culture. An experience like that lingers in the best way, long after the last bits of pecorino have been scraped off a plate of cacio e pepe.
Parla is an old friend of Joe DePasquale, the chef de cuisine at Sessanta (60 Thompson Street; 212-219-8119) in the Sixty Soho Hotel. The two of them, along with Sessanta executive chef Jordan Frosolone, were looking to collaborate on something to celebrate the forthcoming publication of Parla’s first cookbook, Tasting Rome: Fresh Flavors and Forgotten Recipes from an Ancient City (due out in March), when they hit on the idea of a dinner that would showcase the essence of Rome in five dishes.
“Rather than sticking to the super-strictly traditional things you might find on a trattoria menu, we wanted to give a sort of jumping-off point for talking about the influences in Roman cuisine that comes from outside the city,” Parla says.
On January 11, Parla is hosting a special dinner at Sessanta, “Tasting Rome in 5 Dishes,” cooked by DePasquale and Frosolone.
To create the menu, Frosolone says he was happy to put a spin on some dishes from Parla’s book, “We both have an extraordinary, passionate love for the food of Italy,” he says. “Katie tells the rich history of the dishes and where they came from.”
The five course dinner includes wine pairings coordinated with Andrea Barnes, Sessanta’s beverage director, based on red and white indigenous grapes of Lazio, from producers who are practicing “ancient” viticulture.
There are still a few spots left – although Frosolone tells the Voice that “feedback to the dinner has just been extraordinary – we were originally thinking 30 – 35 people, but the demand has been so great we decided to open up a bit more. Katie Instagrammed something about it and the phone started ringing of the hook.”
The dinner is $75 for five courses, including beverage pairings (excluding tax and gratuity). Space is limited and reservations are essential — call Sessanta directly to reserve.
Here’s what’s on the menu (with Parla’s notes):
Pezzetti fritti: A Roman-Jewish classic featuring a mixture of fried things including brains, sweetbreads, romanesco, artichokes, apples, onions, cauliflower
Spaghetti alla gricia: Pasta dish influenced by Apennine “immigrants” (basically Abruzzese peasants that came to Rome in the decades after Unification)
Abbacchio alla Romana: roasted lamb cooked with garlic, anchovies, and vinegar; a nod to Rome’s founding shepherds and the millennial proliferation of salted anchovies
Roasted potatoes: indigenous to the New World, these tubers were adopted by Romans who associated them with festivities — think gnocchi Thursdays — until globalization replaced the local supply with insipid conventional potatoes
Sour cherry or apricot jam crostata: Renaissance chef Bartolomeo Scappi made these for the Popes, but now they can be enjoyed by all