Those who have been to Rome are not surprised that modern cuisine was born in a place filled with beauty, history, and delicious food. What may come as a surprise however, is upon return to the United States, it’s hard to find the traditional Roman dishes — specifically Bucatini All’amatriciana, or Cacio e Pepe, a creamy Pasta Carbonara, or Alla Gricia — as fresh as the ones that were enjoyed in the Eternal City. Many ingredients available in most places in the US are simply not as high quality as can be found in Italy. The good news is, for those who live in or near Jersey City and Hoboken, there are so many spots to source these *chefs kiss* Italy-based ingredients, and they can make these dishes right at home. These traditional pasta dishes are both incredibly delectable but also fairly simple to make at home. Here are some specialty shops and markets in Hoboken + Jersey City where you can buy gourmet treasures and high-quality ingredients that will transform a pasta night at home into a window into space and time directly in the heart of Rome — and where to buy each ingredient.
Guanciale at Darke Pines Butcher Shop | 332 2nd Street, Jersey City
There’s a key ingredient, guanciale, an Italian cured meat, that is taken from a pig’s jowl or cheek rather than the belly like pancetta or thickly sliced bacon, which is seldom found in most Roman pasta dishes stateside. Guanciale is cured with red pepper and other spices for three weeks, making it a much more flavorful product. So, when rendering the fat from guanciale, there is a delightful silky fat that is loaded with flavor and incredible crunchy lardons of crispy pork cheek.
Darke Pines in Downtown Jersey City is an homage to old-school butcher shops, offering incredible cuts of butcher choice steaks, chops, and poultry, in addition to a variety of house-blended sausages, and cured deli meats with a twist. Everything from start to finish is done on-premises from the breaking down of the sustainably sourced animals to the processing and aging of cured meats. In the deli display, beautiful guanciale in all of its hog-happy glory. The team can slice it into thick strips, or home chefs can take it home and slice it into nice thick lardons.
Pecorino Romano Cheese at Van Hook Cheese + Grocery | 528 Jersey Avenue, Jersey City
No Roman pasta dish would be fully dressed without the salty, earthy, fragrant cascade of the finest Pecorino Romano cheese originally produced by the artisan cheese makers in the hills surrounding Rome. Pecorino Romano is now produced in many regions of Italy, but the process and unique flavor originate from the region of Lazio. Whether making a simple cacio e pepe, or a more challenging carbonara, Van Hook Cheese and Grocery has exactly what is needed to build the perfect pasta dish at home. Van Hook offers some of the finest cheese from across Europe, as well as domestic cheeses that are simply out of this world. For any special occasion, or to be sure to get the recipe just right, Van Hook is the only spot to go in downtown JC.
Fresh Pasta + Pizza Rossa at Bread + Salt | 435 Palisade Avenue, Jersey City
The next stop on our Roman pasta foraging tour takes us up to the Heights to the popular weekend pizza destination of Bread and Salt. As far as tradition goes, the two main types of pasta used in Roman cuisine are bucatini, which looks like thick spaghetti that is hollow on the inside, and rigatoni, which is a short tube-shaped pasta. These are both dried pastas made from semolina flour and extruded through molds or dyes before drying.
Fresh pasta will also work in these dishes, but the results will vary from the traditional dishes of Rome. Dried pasta releases a lot of starch during the cooking process which accounts for the white cloudy water once you’re done cooking, similar to boiled potatoes. In dishes like Pasta alla Gricia, and most importantly in carbonara, incorporating that pasta water into the sauce, along with the pasta itself helps to meld the sauce and make it thick, creamy, and homogenous as well as adhere that delightfully decadent cheese sauce to the pasta itself. Fortunately, Bread and Salt has a wonderful variety of artisanal dried pasta for this culinary adventure.
Free Range Eggs at the Jersey City + Hoboken Farmers Markets
Whether making a classic Carbonara or a delicious Pasta alla Zozzona, the highest quality eggs are needed. Eggs sold by Stony Hill Farms at the many farmer’s markets found around Hoboken and Jersey City are free-range, and have no added hormones. Eggs and guanciale are really the stars of the show for these dishes, so ingredient sourcing is crucial.
Wine Pairing | Assorted Specialty Wine Shops
An added bonus on this list is some of the best spots in JC and Hoboken to find incredible Italian wines. Jersey Wines + Spirits is a great go-to spot on Jersey Avenue in Downtown Jersey City. Jersey Wines carries a variety of small family-owned vineyards. Sparrow Wine + Spirits on Washington Street and Uptown in Hoboken boasts nearly 300 different varieties of Italian vino to compliment the most awe-inspiring dishes imaginable, and its downtown spot has been open for over 100 years. Madame Claude Wine is a wonderful boutique wine shop just off of Hamilton Park in Jersey City and has a great selection of small family vineyards from Italy.