From restaurants in Rome to a winery in Marsala, Marta’s head chef shares the places that inspire her cooking in the Italian tradition.
Lena Ciardullo is a master of the open flame, which is how she cooks most of the menu as head chef of Marta, a New York-based, Roman-style restaurant from the Union Square Hospitality Group.
“Very little in Italian food is about reinventing the wheel,” says Ciardullo. “I love to discover how different groups of people cherish and honor their food traditions.”
The renowned chef recently had the chance to go back to Rome and Sicily for renewed insight. Below, Ciardullo shares the restaurants and meals from her latest trip that inspired her to keep pushing the culinary envelope of Italian tradition in her own work at Marta.
This market is one of my favorites in Rome because it really offers a taste of the eternal city. Buried in one of the oldest neighborhoods in Rome, it’s home to foods that are extremely traditional in a modern setting, making them more approachable to new audiences.
Via Beniamino Franklin, 00153 Roma RM, Italy
This is the definition of hustle and bustle and felt like a true taste of Sicily. Access to great street foods as well as fantastic produce, fish, and meat made this visit feel really engaging.
Via Ballaro, 1, 90134 Palermo PA, Italy
Visiting a winery is always fun for me because I really get a sense of everything that goes into the production process and makes it special. My visit to Marco de Bartoli executed this in spades—their attention to tradition and fierce loyalty to what goes into Marsala wine production is truly inspiring to see (and taste!).
Contrada Fornara Samperi, 292, 91025 Marsala TP, Italy
Bakeries, often called “Antico Forno,” are all over Rome. This one, right in Centro Storico offers outstanding pizza al taglio as well as one of my favorite late breakfast treats, which can be hard to find in other parts of Italy, pizza rustica. This is not really a pizza at all, but the most decadent quiche-like snack. They make all different types, each brimming with ingredients like speck and provolone or wild mushrooms and asparagus, bound together with perfectly seasoned eggs and sitting in a crispy pastry crust.
Via dei Chiavari, 34, 00186 Roma RM, Italy
Felice is one of the classic Roman restaurants in a classic food neighborhood of Rome, Testaccio. My favorite dish here is the most classic of Roman pastas, cacio e pepe. The tonnarelli noodles are brought to the table and then tossed with pecorino tableside. It should be a gimmick. It should only be good to a passing tourist with an Instagram account. Somehow, though, this continues to be one of my favorite bites each time I return to Rome. In this case, it’s true that you can’t beat a classic.
Via Mastro Giorgio, 29, 00153 Roma RM, Italy