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The View from My Kitchen

Benvenuti! I hope you enjoy il panorama dalla mia cucina Italiana -- "the view from my Italian kitchen,"-- where I indulge my passion for Italian food and cooking. From here, I share some thoughts and ideas on food, as well as recipes and restaurant reviews, notes on travel, and a few garnishes from a lifetime in the entertainment industry.

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Grazie mille!

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

About Pasta All'Amatriciana

A Simple But Delicious Dish

I'm sure by now you are aware of the tragedy in Amatrice. Amatrice is an ancient town located in the northern part of the central Italian region of Lazio. People have lived in the area since prehistoric times, and the remains of Roman buildings and tombs have also been found in and around Amatrice. And now it is all but gone, victim of a devastating earthquake that leveled almost three-quarters of the town and killed nearly three hundred people. Prior to the August 24, 2016 quake, Amatrice was a picturesque mountain village rich in artistic and historic heritage. Part of that heritage related to food, as the town was at the center of the region's food and agricultural area. Most notably famous is a simple but delicious pasta sauce called sugo all'amatriciana, a traditional sauce based on guanciale, pecorino cheese, and tomato. Justifiably, the Italian government has named it a traditional agro-alimentary product of the region. All'amatriciana is a sauce traditionally served with long pasta such as bucatini, spaghetti, or vermicelli.

After the earthquake, there was a movement among Italian and Italian-style restaurants to put pasta all'amatriciana on the menu and donate a portion of the proceeds from sales to the relief effort in Amatrice. I passed this idea on to an Italian friend of mine who operates several ristoranti. He thought it to be a noble gesture, but doubted the Italian government's ability to properly handle the money. He suggested instead that I share a recipe for pasta all'amatriciana that readers could prepare and enjoy on their own.

The last time I made pasta all'amatriciana was for a small dinner party. I was to be working in a tiny rural town where a Piggly Wiggly would be the only grocery outlet available to me. Having anticipated that, I set out to assemble the necessary ingredients beforehand. Bucatini proved difficult to find. It's not something that even higher-end grocers regularly stock. Bucatini is like a thick, hollow spaghetti. I finally located some in a specialty shop. Had I not been able to find bucatini, regular spaghetti would have sufficed, but I was going for tradition. Guanciale, however, eluded me. Guanciale is a cured pork jowl or cheek bacon, and it's really hard to find. I wound up substituting pancetta. Failing that, I would have opted for a good quality thick-cut American bacon, but the smokiness of the meat would have altered the flavor profile of the dish. Beyond those two speedbumps, the road to a delicious all'amatriciana is fairly straightforward and smooth.

Here's what you'll need:

2 or 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
12 ounces of thinly sliced (1/4-inch thick) guanciale, cut into 1/4-inch x 1-inch strips
1 medium onion, finely chopped
2 or 3 cloves garlic, sliced
½ to 1 teaspoon (to taste) red pepper flakes
2 cups tomato sauce, jarred or homemade
salt
1 pound bucatini pasta
½ cup freshly grated Pecorino Romano cheese

As mentioned, you can substitute pancetta, or good quality thick-cut bacon for the guanciale. And almost any long pasta will work in place of the bucatini. Spaghetti is good. Some people prefer using crushed Italian tomatoes instead of a pureed sauce. The choice is yours.

Here's what you do:

Heat the oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the guanciale (or whatever substitute) and cook for about 8 minutes, or until lightly browned and crisp. Transfer to a paper towel-lined plate and set aside. Drain all but about 2 tablespoons of the fat from the pan and add the onions. Sauté the onions over medium heat until soft and translucent, stirring occasionally, about 5 minutes. Stir in the garlic and cook for about a minute. Add the red pepper flakes and allow them to infuse for about 30 seconds before stirring in the tomato sauce. Add back the cooked guanciale. Bring the sauce to a boil then reduce the heat and simmer uncovered for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Taste and correct for salt and red pepper.

Meanwhile, cook the pasta in a large pot of generously salted water. Drain the pasta when it is barely al dente, add it to the pan with the sauce and stir to incorporate. Simmer an additional minute or two, then remove the pan from the heat and add the cheese. Toss thoroughly before serving.

Serves 4

Make and enjoy the dish for yourself, then contact the Italian Red Cross (Croce Rossa Italiana) to offer assistance. The organization is collecting funds, which you can contribute online via PayPal, via wire transfer, or by going to their website at http://www.cri.it.  

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