Central Rome restaurants shut in mafia swoop

The Er Faciolaro restaurant, located between the Trevi Fountain and ancient Rome's Pantheon, is seen closed in Rome March 12, 2015. REUTERS/Alessandro Bianchi
ROME: Italian police Thursday closed down two of Rome’s best-known tourist restaurants and seized assets worth 210 million euros ($224 million) in twin moves against the ’Ndrangheta crime syndicate’s money laundering operations.
The national anti-mafia unit said the two restaurants, La Rotonda and Er Faciolaro, were controlled by alleged mobster Salvatore Lania and used to recycle millions of euros generated by what is now Italy’s most powerful criminal organization.
Separately, financial police in Calabria, ’Ndrangheta’s southern homeland, said they had issued 11 arrest warrants and sequestered property, companies and other assets in an operation targeting the Piromalli, an alleged “family” or clan of the ’Ndrangheta based in the port of Gioia Tauro.
Lania was arrested on charges of fraudulently registering the Rome restaurants and a nearby souvenir shop as belonging to other people when he was, in fact, the beneficial owner. All three businesses are located close to the Pantheon and other landmark sites in the Italian capital’s historic center.
A recent study by Coldiretti, the body which represents Italian farmers, estimated that at least 5,000 restaurants, bars and other eating places across Italy are in the hands of organized crime.
Anyone eating at the two Rome restaurants would have had no idea that they were run by the mob. A review of La Rotonda on Tripadvisor notes: “Service was excellent and staff very friendly and funny.”
The anti-mafia unit said Lania’s ownership of the restaurants and his involvement with ’Ndrangheta had emerged as a result of their investigation into the so-called Alvaro clan’s activities in Rome.
They suspect he was involved in the gang’s smuggling of counterfeit goods made in China into Europe through Gioia Tauro with the support of the Piromalli family.
’Ndrangheta has emerged as the most powerful of Italy’s mafia groups thanks to the huge profits it has made through its role as the principal importer and wholesaler of cocaine produced in Latin America and smuggled into Europe via North Africa and southern Italy.
Recent arrests have confirmed the secretive, ritual-obsessed group’s expansion beyond Calabria to both Rome, where it has been involved in a deadly turf war over cocaine prices, and the wealthy industrial cities of northern Italy.
It also has well-documented links with Colombian producer cartels, Mexican crime gangs and mafia families in New York and other parts of North America.
The group has however suffered some setbacks of late.
In January Italian authorities ordered the arrest of 160 alleged members and claimed to have dismantled several of its “mafia entrepreneur” networks in northern cities.
That followed the arrest of dozens of alleged mobsters linked to the group in Milan in November 2014 – an operation which uncovered secretly filmed footage of ’Ndrangheta’s initiation rites.
The quasi-religious ceremony involves would-be members swearing allegiance to their “wise brothers” before taking an “oath of poison” which requires them to kill themselves should they ever betray fellow clan members.
The ’Ndrangheta is not the only problem Rome faces with organized crime.
More than 100 people, including former mayor Gianni Alemanno and prominent business figures, are currently under investigation in a probe into a criminal network suspected of skimming millions from public funds for years.

Romanesco broccoli and pecorino sformata

A knob of butter
120g grated pecorino or parmesan (or a mix of both), plus extra for sprinkling
1 small romanesco (about 600g; or normal broccoli or cauliflower), core removed and broken into florets
4 eggs, separated
300ml double cream
¼ nutmeg, finely grated
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Heat the oven to 200C/390F/gas mark 6 and rub the butter around a one-litre baking dish. Scatter over a tablespoon of the grated cheese and shake around the dish to coat.
Bring a pan of salted water to a boil and blanch the romanesco for four to five minutes, until just tender, then drain and leave to steam dry for five minutes. Once dry, finely chop and transfer to a bowl.
Beat the egg yolks and cream in another bowl until slightly thickened, then stir in the remaining cheese, nutmeg and chopped romanesco, and season well. In a third bowl, whisk the egg whites to stiff peaks. Stir two tablespoons of the egg whites into the romanesco mix and, once incorporated, carefully fold in the rest, taking care not to over-mix and knock out most of the air.
Tip into the baking dish so the mix comes right up to the rim, dust with a little extra cheese, and bake for 30-35 minutes (but check after 25 or so minutes, just in case; you don’t want it to take on too much colour) – when cooked, the sformata should have a slight wobble in the centre and a golden top.

I like to eat this with a crisp green salad dressed in a sharp vinaigrette.


1 pound cubed beef, like for stew
1 pound Italian sausage  (out of casing)
2-3 cups whole canned tomatoes (Italian imports are best)
1-2 cups good red wine
1 large onion
1 large bell pepper
1/4 cup diced carrot
4-6 cloves garlic
Salt and pepper
Fresh oregano

Sauté the meat until well-browned, remove and set aside. Add the vegetables (not the garlic) to the same pan, add a little olive oil and cook for 10 minutes, now add the garlic and cook 2 minutes more. Add the tomatoes and red wine, now simmer for 5 minutes. Add the meat, season with salt and pepper and simmer 2-3 hours. The meats should melt into the sauce. Add the fresh herbs and cook just 10 minutes more. Add more liquid if necessary. This ragu is best the second day. 

Gnocchi di ricotta and spinach with butter and sage

1 pound fresh spinach
7 ounces butter, divided
1 pound ricotta (Sicilian style)
2 cups flour, divided
1 egg
salt and pepper to taste
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
12 large fresh sage leaves
4 ounces freshly grated parmigiano

Heat one ounce of butter in a pan. Add the spinach and cook until wilted. Cool and then squeeze moisture from the spinach with your hands. Chop spinach and place in a bowl. Add the ricotta, egg, 1 cup flour and nutmeg. Mix just until combined being careful not to overmix. Use remaining flour to help in shaping mixture into the small nugget shapes of gnocchi. Set aside. Add remaining six ounces of butter and the sage to a frying pan. Cook until the butter turns brown. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Place gnocchi in boiling water and cook until they rise to the surface. Remove with a slotted spoon and place in the frying pan with the brown butter sage sauce. Stir to coat and place into serving dish. Dust with grated Parmigiano and serve.

Nepitella: Must-try herb for Italian cooking

Nepitella looks like a large-leaf oregano but tastes minty with undertones of basil or oregano.

A structure of a traditional Italian meal in its full form, usually performed during festivities

Aperitivo The aperitivo opens a meal, and it is similar to an appetizer. Most people gather around standing up and have alcoholic/non-alcoholic drinks such as wine, prosecco, champagne or spumante. Occasionally small amounts of food are consumed, such as olives, crisps, nuts, cheese, sauce dips, little quiches or similar snacks.

Antipasto The antipasto is a slightly heavier starter. It is usually cold and lighter than the first course. Examples of foods eaten are salumi (such as salame, mortadella, prosciutto, bresaola and other charcuterie products), cheeses, sandwich-like foods (panino, bruschetta, tramezzino, crostino), vegetables, cold salmon or prawn cocktails; more elaborate dishes are occasionally prepared.

Primo A primo is the first course. It consists of hot food and is usually heavier than the antipasto, but lighter than the second course. Non-meat dishes are the staple of any primo: examples are risotto, pasta, soup and broth, gnocchi, crespelle, casseroles, or lasagne.

Secondo This course may include different meats and types of fish, including turkey, sausage, pork, steak, stew, beef, zampone, salt cod, stockfish, salmon, lobster, lamb, chicken, or a roast. In Northern Italy some kinds of secondo (as grilled meat, charcuterie or fish) are served with polenta. The primo or the secondo may be considered more important depending on the locality and the situation.

Contorno A contorno is a side dish and it's commonly served alongside a secondo. These usually consist of vegetables, raw or cooked, hot or cold.Insalata If the contorni contained many leafy vegetables, the salad might be omitted. Otherwise, a fresh garden salad would be served at this point.

Formaggi e frutta An entire course is dedicated to local cheeses and fresh seasonal fruit. The cheeses will be whatever is typical of the region

Dolce Next follows the dolce, or dessert. Frequent dishes include tiramisu, zuppa inglese, panna cotta, cake or pie, panettone or pandoro (the last two are mainly served at Christmas time) and the Colomba Pasquale (an Easter cake). A gelato or a sorbetto can be eaten too. Though there are nationwide desserts, popular across Italy, many regions and cities have local specialities. In Naples, for instance, zeppole and rum baba are popular; in Sicily, cassata and cannoli are commonly consumed; mostarda, on the other hand, is more of a Northern dish.

Caffè Coffee is often drunk at the end of a meal, even after the digestivo. Italians, unlike many countries, do not have milky coffees or drinks after meals (such as cappucino or caffè macchiato), but strong coffee such as espresso, which is often drunk very quickly in small cups at very high temperatures.

Digestivo The digestivo, also called ammazzacaffè if served after the coffee, is the drink to conclude the meal. Drinks such as grappa, amaro, limoncello or other fruit/herbal drinks are drunk. Digestivo indicates that the drinks served at this time are meant to ease digestion of a long meal.