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What's Italian for sandwich?

When in Rome, do as the Romans do when it's time for lunch or a quick midmorning pick-me-up -- grab a delectable pizza rossa or tramezzini and dig in.

July 12, 2009|Susan Spano

ROME — Never mind gelato. Italian sandwiches are cheap fast food for the gods, constructed with equal concern for flavor and aesthetics.

Take the selection at Pizza e Mortadella at 279 Via Cavour in Rome. These babies are stuffed with all the delicacies of the Italian kitchen: prosciutto, mozzarella, salami, tomatoes, grilled eggplant, artichoke hearts, mushrooms, tuna, salmon, even chicken salad -- although the thought of mayo makes some Italians gag, Bill Guion says.

Guion, an American-born chef who has lived and worked in Rome for 30 years, helped me explore the wide world of Italian sandwiches.

We started at Forno Campo de' Fiori, a bakery at No. 22 on the piazza of the same name. The family's sandwich shop next door, one of the most popular in Rome, came later. In fact, sandwiches are a fairly recent arrival in Rome. But increasingly, they are supplanting the big, traditional Italian midday meal.

Because Forno Campo de' Fiori is primarily a bakery, the bread for the sandwiches is made on the premises in a breathtaking array of varieties.

There's ciabattino, which means "slipper" and describes the shape of the roll; focaccia, a flat bread that often accompanies meals, though in Italy it is not served with olive oil for dipping, which would be considered extraneous, Guion says. There's chewy pizza bianca, very close to Roman pizza crust, made in 2- to 3-foot slabs of dough that are punched down, not rolled; and there's piadina, an unleavened flat bread that originated in the Romagna region, where it once was cooked on terra-cotta tiles or hot stones.

The sandwich man at Antico Forno Roscioli, Forno Campo de' Fiori's chief rival at 34 Via dei Chiavari, lets you choose your own filling, which can include succulent roast pork, or porchetta. (Guion often cooks for embassy parties and events such as Thanksgiving at John Cabot University, an American college in Rome. He buys a dozen turkeys in the Campo de' Fiori market and has them roasted with stuffing in the gigantic oven at Antico Forno Roscioli.)

You can also get fresh pizza rossa at Roscioli, which is basically pizza by the slice topped with such embellishments as zucchini flowers. (The line between pizza bianca and pizza rossa is fine. Both are often sold by weight.)

Lo Zozzone (which means something like "the dirty old man") at 32 Via del Teatro Pace, near Piazza Navona, is a pizza bianca specialist. For about $5, you get a square of homemade bread with your choice of three fillings.

Hungry by now, Guion and I stopped at Caffe Camerino, 30 Largo Arenula, right by the Trastevere tram stop. Like most Roman cafes, Camerino serves tramezzini. These are artistically filled sandwiches made on crustless triangles of soft white bread.

Caffe Camerino is a busy spot, so you can usually count on freshness because so much food is sold, Guion tells me. That's critical with tramezzini. The white bread dries out fast in Rome, so tramezzini are kept in a refrigerated case under cloth.

Tramezzini means "in between" in Italian, referring to when the sandwiches are eaten. Guion says. Italians start the day with coffee and maybe a little piece of dry toast at home. Once they get settled at work, they head to their favorite cafe for more coffee and a snack -- tramezzini -- to see them through to lunch.

The Theatre Cafe, at 157 Via IV Novembre near the Quirinale, is popular among government workers for a midmorning pick-me-up.


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