There's nothing that captures the essence of the estate romana (Roman summer) like eating a seafood meal at the beach. Rome is only 22 kilometers (about 15 miles) from the Mediterranean Sea, which makes it an easy day trip in a car or even on a scooter. If you're free, it's great to go midweek for lunch, when it's less crowded, or on the weekend mid-afternoon to stay for aperitivi, sunset, and a seafood dinner. Dining alfresco while looking at the water really heightens the enjoyment of a great meal of antipasto, pasta, frutti di mare, and pesce. Along the coast near Rome, the beaches of Ostia, Torvaianica, and Fregene are filled with locals coming to enjoy the sun, the sea, the sand, and the foods of summer. Popular dishes include antipasti like alici marinati (marinated fresh anchovies), and polpo con patate (octopus and potato salad), dressed in extra virgin olive oil with a spritz of lemon. These dishes are perfect with a crisp white wine or even a glass of prosecco, as is customary as an aperitivo in Italy.
After the antipasto, moving on to a primo piatto featuring local ingredients is a must. The classics? Either spaghetti con le vongole veraci (spaghetti with tiny clams in a garlic, olive oil, and white wine sauce), or pasta allo scoglio (a mix of shellfish, shrimp, calamari -- whatever is local and fresh -- with tomatoes, olive oil, parsley, garlic, and a splash of white wine).
In Lazio and south, oversized paccheri are often featured with shellfish -- we enjoyed this one particular version with shrimp, cherry tomatoes, and arugula. No matter which pasta you choose, these dishes are made to then "fare una scarpetta," using some crusty bread to sop up all the delicious sauce. The go-to main dish along the coastline, the dish by which you can judge a restaurant's seafood chops, is the fritto misto, or mixed fish fry.
Here, pieces of calamari, baby fish fried whole, and shrimp so tender and delicate you eat the shell and the legs along with everything else -- are dusted lightly with flour, tossed in the fryer (olive oil gives the seafood great flavor and crispness), and gently sprinkled with sea salt. A squeeze of lemon at your discretion. When it's not done properly, it's very average, but when it's prepared well, it's the essence of the mare mediterraneo: the perfect Italian summer meal.
Allora, tutti al mare!