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Pasta all’Amatriciana

  • August 28, 2016
By now, the whole world knows about the devastating earthquake in central Italy last week, centered, but not limited to the town of Amatrice, famous for its eponymous dish of pasta all’Amatriciana.
Relief efforts have been ongoing in Italy around the clock since the tragedy struck. So far, the death toll has climbed to 291, but is expected to rise further as more bodies are retrieved from the rubble. Thousands of people are left homeless as entire towns have been nearly completely flattened.
What can those of us, who live far away and feel helpless, do for those in need?
There are plenty of organizations accepting donations for the victims, including NIAF and the Italian Red Cross. Cookbook author and friend Domenica Marchetti has written a post here listing more organizations involved in the relief effort, as well as a lovely memory of a visit there and a recipe for the dish.
Additionally, many restaurants across the country, including Philadelphia’s Le Virtù and Brigantessa, are holding fund raising dinners featuring the dish, donating part of the proceeds to the cause.
But you don’t even have to leave your home to help. People around the world are making pasta all’amatriciana as a tribute to the victims, and donating funds to help those affected, then posting photos on social media of their “virtual sagra.” (A sagra, for those who don’t know, is a town-wide feast celebrating a particular food – from chestnuts to cherries – and they are held all over Italy.)
Frank Fariello, who writes the excellent blog, Memorie di Angelina, has written a thorough post on pasta all’Amatriciana and I recommend you read that here to learn even more about the dish.
Yesterday, I made a bowl of it using Domenica’s recipe, and also made a financial contribution to the cause. Although the most common pasta used for the dish is bucatini, a fat spaghetti with a hole down the center (a buco), I used these curly fusilli pictured below. You can use rigatoni or any kind of sturdy pasta. Something as light as angel hair pasta wouldn’t be appropriate though, since the robust sauce needs something equally assertive.
                                                                   
The dish requires very few ingredients and can be put together in practically the same time you boil the pasta. With so few ingredients, it’s important that they be of the highest quality, so don’t scrimp and buy bargain brand tomatoes, pasta, pecorino cheese or guanciale, made from the pork jowl. If you can’t find guanciale, use pancetta, made from the belly of the pig.
With so many tomatoes ripening right now in my garden, I put some of them to good use in this recipe.
Cut the guanciale into small bits and fry it until it starts to release some of its fat. Don’t let it get too crispy though, and don’t drain that fat off. It adds a lot of flavor to the sauce.
Add some white wine, red pepper flakes and the tomatoes and let it simmer while the pasta cooks.
About 10-15 minutes is all that’s needed.
Drain the pasta, mix with the sauce and add a good handful of pecorino cheese.
It amazes me how easy it is to put together, and with so few ingredients how delicious this dish can be. There’s no basil, no salt, no black pepper, but it’s one of the best dishes ever to come from the region.
If I closed my eyes, it was almost like being in Italy.

 

Pasta all’Amatriciana
(recipe from Domenicacooks.com)
Ingredients
  • 5 ounces guanciale (cured pork jowl), cut into 1/2-inch dice
  • 1 dried peperoncino, crushed, or a generous pinch of crushed red chile pepper
  • 1/4 cup dry white wine
  • 2 cups diced tomatoes (fresh or best-quality canned)
  • 1 pound spaghetti or bucatini
  • Freshly grated Pecorino Romano
Instructions
Bring a large pot of water to a rolling boil and salt it generously.
Put the guanciale in a large, dry cast-iron pan or heavy-bottomed skillet over medium heat. Saute until the meat has begun to render its fat and turn brown, about 10 minutes. Add the peperoncino and cook, stirring, for a couple of minutes. Raise the heat to medium-high and pour in the wine. Cook at a lively simmer until most of the wine has evaporated, 1 to 2 minutes.
Pour in the tomatoes. Bring to a simmer, reduce the heat to medium-low, and cook at a gentle simmer until the sauce is thickened, about 20 minutes.
Meanwhile, cook the pasta according to the package instructions until al dente. Drain, reserving about 1 cup of the cooking water. Return the pasta to the pot and spoon in about 3/4 of the sauce. Toss in a handful of pecorino and stir to combine. Add a splash or two of the reserved cooking water to loosen the sauce if necessary. Transfer the dressed pasta to individual bowls and spoon a little more sauce on top. Sprinkle with cheese and serve.

Bucatini All’Amatriciana

  • July 20, 2011
After that last post on how pecorino cheese is made, it didn’t seem fair to leave you without a recipe, and I couldn’t think of any recipe more associated with pecorino cheese than this pasta dish.  The recipe is frought with controversy – Romans claim it as their own (it’s on the menu of nearly all Roman eateries), but it originated in Amatrice, a town that was once in Abruzzo, but that was annexed in 1927 to the region of Lazio, where Rome is located.
Romans prefer to add onions to the sauce, something that’s heresy in Amatrice. Some recipes call for pancetta, but purists will use only guanciale (pork jowls).  Because the ingredients are so few, each one makes a crucial contribution to the flavor. Pancetta has less fat than guanciale and comes from the midsection of the pig (pancia means belly), while guanciale comes from the cheeks (guancia means cheek). The flavor from the fat that’s rendered becomes an integral part of the dish, and while pancetta fat is good, guanciale fat is better. That said, if you live in an area where guanciale is impossible to find, I’ll give you a perdonanza for using pancetta.

 

 

By the way, you’ll also see pasta “alla gricia” on nearly every Roman menu too. It’s the same recipe as pasta “all’amatriciana” but without the tomatoes.
The traditional pasta used is bucatini – a thick pasta so named because of the hole (buco) down the center of each strand. But it’s also not unusual to see the dish served with rigatoni, paccheri or penne either.

 

One thing you should not substitute however, is the cheese you grate on top. It HAS to be pecorino cheese, not parmigiano, not grana padano. Years ago, I ordered this dish in one of the hill towns outside of Rome, but asked the waiter to bring me parmigiano instead of the pecorino I later learned was the classic topping. Big mistake. “Parmigiano?” the waiter said incredulously to my request, as if I’d just asked him to dance naked in the Roman Forum.  “Sei sicura che vuoi parmigiano?” he asked. “Yes, I’m sure I want parmigiano,” I replied. And the service went downhill from there. Something about “When in Rome….” came to mind at that point and from then on, I have always ordered bucatini all’amatriciana with pecorino.

So please, take liberties and use onions if you like, switch up the fat and buy pancetta if you must, go non-traditional and cook up conchiglie pasta if need be, but don’t sprinkle anything but real pecorino on top!

Bucatini All’Amatriciana

printable recipe here 

Serves four to six, depending on appetites.

1/4 pound of guanciale, cut into lardons
1 28-ounce can tomatoes, preferably San Marzano
1/4 tsp. (or more if you like) red pepper flakes
abundant pecorino cheese, grated

1 pound bucatini pasta

Place the lardons of guanciale in a saucepan on medium heat and slowly let the fat render. The lardons should not crisp up, but should remain a little chewy. Remove the lardons with a slotted spoon, and add the tomatoes, breaking up with your hands or with a spoon. Put the lardons back in, add the red pepper flakes and cook together with the tomatoes, on a low simmer, for about 1/2 hour.

Meantime, when the sauce has cooked about 15 minutes, get the water boiling and throw in the pasta. Bucatini takes a while to cook, depending on the brand. Cook until a little firmer than al dente, then drain the pasta with a slotted spoon or fork and place into the pan with the sauce. Don’t worry if a little pasta water makes its way into the sauce. Finish cooking the pasta in the sauce for the last couple of minutes. Serve immediately while it’s hot, with ample pecorino cheese grated on top.

Bucatini