The Testaccio Market and recipes from Roma

Italians, it would seem, are such a warm and welcoming people that they simply want to share what they know and what they have. After joining in the Eating Italy Food Tour of the Testaccio Market, there was simply no other option but to make a return visit - to learn more about the incredibly warm and generous stall holders at the Testaccio market and from them, to learn more about Roman food traditions. 

The abundant display of vegetables at the Testaccio Market 

Walking through the Testaccio Market, it is easy to see why it has stood the test of time, opening its doors nearly 100 years ago. The stalls simply overflow with meats, cheeses, fruit, vegetables, seafood, breads and essential kitchen paraphernalia (giant rolling pins and passata makers anyone?). Each stall, particularly the fruit and vegetable stalls, looked as though they had been arranged with the eye of an artist, ready to be captured for ever as a still life on canvas. 

A still life, ready to be captured on canvas 

To find out more about local food traditions, there was simply no better way than to quietly stand back and watch local Roman's gathering the fresh produce they needed to take home to their Roman kitchens to make authentic, time honoured Roman family recipes. My eyes were particularly attuned to following the little delicate (and some rather robust) Nonna's - filling their wheeled shopping trolleys with the best seasonal produce. Freshly cleaned, ready to use artichokes were particularly popular - along with huge blooming bouquets of zucchini blossoms, which were tenderly wrapped in brown paper by the stall holders. 

The stallholders and customers tender greetings
A Testaccio Nonna
A smallholder from the market, who had a bounty of zucchini flowers on offer
One such Nonna and stall holder were very happy to share with us, their recipe for Fiori Di Zucchine Ripeni E Fritti (Fried Stuffed Zucchini Flowers), which was very similar to the delicious flowers we had tried at Sora Margherita - only the batter was much, much lighter.

Nonna and the stall holder stressed - that for this recipe to work, you really must have the freshest flowers possible. The flowers should have been picked by the grower just as soon as they start to open. So this dish is best served in Spring and Summer when zuchinni blossoms are at their best. As we just couldn't resist this excellent advice, Mr K and I purchased some beautiful, fresh blossoms and made a batch of these delicious morsels accompanied with spinach sautéed in some incredibly pungent garlic to have in a bruschetta style, as well as a classic Caprese salad (the buffalo mozzarella was just so good, I had to make sure it was included in another dish). 

Our feast of stuffed zucchini flowers, caprese salad and sautéed spinach and garlic bruschetta 
Being in Testaccio, it would not have been right to leave the markets without learning a recipe for a tasty Roman meat dish. Traditionally, this suburb of Rome was filled with butchers and workers from the slaughterhouse who's pay packet at the end of the week often included the "fifth quarter" (offal such as pig's trotters, brain, oxtail, cheeks etc). Only recently coming to eat the odd bit of offal, such as the Greek Easter mayiritsa soup, I have to say I was a little to squeamish to purchase any offal items - nor did we really have the time or the temperature to go in for any slow cooked delicacies such as oxtail or beef cheeks, which I am always happy to wolf down.  Again the Nonna's provided much (happily offal free) inspiration, loading up their carts with beautiful milky coloured veal escalopes - all ready to make a classic Roman Saltimbocca - tender veal cooked quickly with butter, white wine, proscuitto and sage. 

The meat stalls of Testaccio, the suburb which was home to butchers and workers from Rome's slaughterhouse

In my experience, Australia does not really seem to have a culture of eating and cooking with veal, compared with countries such as Italy. Maybe our uncomfortableness with veal stems from concerns that many people have about animal welfare. Certainly, I have shared these concerns and the veal I have eaten in Europe has almost been infinitely superior to any I have eaten in Australia. However, all is not lost!! Some particular farmers are now starting to produce high quality veal with techniques which do not bring into question animal welfare rights. One of the best places I have found to source this veal is from Vic's Meats in Mascot. 

Classic Roman Saltimbocca, meaning "jump in the mouth"
So after a trip to Mascot, and to recapture our trip to the Testaccio market, I recently made another batch of the classic Roman Salitmbocca. While an approved recipe was written down in the early 1960s, there still seem to be many differing instructions for how to create this classic Roman dish. Luckily, both of my current neighbours are Italian - so I had easy. close by reference point for checking the (correct) recipe. 

The Roman Saltimbooca was a lovely warming dish for a chilly winter afternoon in Sydney - perfect because it was relatively light and didn't leave us feeling to full and heavy as some winter dishes can do. To accompany our saltimbooca, or really it was more of a starter, I also made another classic Italian dish - a fennel and blood orange salad. The inspiration for this particular dish also came from the Testaccio markets.  

Blood oranges and fennel, classic winter partners
Blood orange and fennel salad
Before leaving, I had asked our new friends of zucchini flower fame, what they preferred to make in winter time, knowing that I would be heading back to a bounty of beautiful winter produce in Australia. I mentally tried to visualise the summery stalls of the Testaccio market filled with winter stocks in their place. My mind kept racing to artfully stacked piles of glossy white fennel with its feathery fronds. "Finocchio?", I said (in my rather dismal smattering of Italian - there was much waving of the hands etc), "do you make anything with finocchio?". The answer to that question was a resounding yes - everything from risotto, to fennel braised with white wine and parmesan or baked with mozzarella and cream to fennel pie - and this spectacular salad. Although, traditionally I was told, the blood orange did not necessarily need to be used, normal oranges were fine - and walnuts are often added. 

If you would like to meet the stallholders in their current market at Testaccio, you had better be quick! In a few months (there does not seem to be a precise date) the shutters will close on the Testaccio market forever and the stallholders who choose to go (and as I understand - those who can afford to go), will move to the Nuovo Mercato Testaccio off Via Galvani. The new market follows in the steps of the old slaughterhouse grounds, which were in recent years transformed into MACRO - a contemporary arts museum. At present the museum hosts an organic farmers market every Saturday and Sunday. 

The new Testaccio market is supposed to house more shoppers and offer more conveniences such as underground parking. In the bright Roman sunshine, the new building looked rather stark and clinical. After meeting the wonderful characters at the present Testaccio market, I really hope that their new environment does not leave them feeling cold, unenthused and out of pocket. Let's hope the new market will be filled with the stall holders, the locals, the colour of the produce and their noisy chatter. 

The new home for the Testaccio market 

Testaccio Covered Market 
Piazza Testaccio 
Open from Monday to Saturday 7.30am - 1.30pm 

MACRO Testaccio
Via Nizza, 138 
00198 Roma. 
Open from  4pm – 12am

Farmer's Market at MACRO Testaccio
Open every Saturday and Sunday from 9am - 7pm


  1. An amazing post that sings my kind of song, Mrs M! You have captured the soul of the stall holders so beautifully. Seems a shame that they are moving the market to the new building.

    My parents always had veal on the menu and it was lovely and pink, my mother simply wouldn't cook with anything but tender young veal.

    Mondo Meats in WA sell award winning White Rocks Veal,864

    1. Hi Lizzy, thanks so much for the great tip on the veal! Yes, seems very sad the market is moving, I feel very lucky to made it there just in time!!

  2. Hi Mrs. M!

    Thank you for sharing such wonderful pictures of the Testaccio market. One of my favorite things to do while on vacation is to scour the local markets, eating my way through all of the stalls. What a wonderful way to get a sneak peak.

    And what great zucchini blossom photos! I'm growing 8 plants in the backyard as we speak, just for the flowers. I love them. Mine seem so tiny compared to the Roman ones! Can't wait to fry them up :)

    It's a shame that the market is moving to a new home. Hopefully time old traditions will not get lost in the shuffle. I'm going to bookmark this market for my next trip to Italy (whenever that will be...sigh...)


    1. Hi Emilie, how lucky you are to have zucchini flowers in your garden! I hope they are absolutley delicious!!

  3. A wonderful and epic post Mrs M! Your stories, the recipes and the photos are all divine. I had such a lovely time sitting here reading this :)

  4. Hi Anna, thanks for stopping by - and thanks for your lovely words!!


Thank you for your comments, I really appreciate every single one!

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Maira Gall