Monday, August 29, 2016


The village of Amatrice is famous for its pasta all'Amatriciana, a simple preparation made with guanciale (cured pork jowl), a bit of onion or garlic but usually not both, pinches of red pepper depending on your heat meter and tomatoes.  Some finish it off with a bit of Italian parsley, while others toss it with the pasta, and sprinkle with cheese (usually Pecorino, since this is sheeps' milk cheese country) I used Buccatini, which is traditional, but I've also made it with penne, or rigatoni which catches bits of the guanciale in its holes.
This is a simple dish, yet its simplicity belies the sum of its parts; one can eat an entire bowl of this pasta, savouring each bite just as the first.
Sadly the Amatriciana festival was this weekend, and the small historic village is a heap of rubble.  In honor of this beautiful place in this proud country, I made Amatriciana for our family at the enoteca. I've cooked for lots of people in my day but cooking for Italiani is another story!  These people know their pasta, and flavors and I wanted to get this one just right: no overcooked pasta, no bland sauce, but not too much pepperoncino.  There were smiles and words like complimenti when they dug in.  Phew!  This is a great weeknight dinner, and if you can't purchase guanciale in your supermarket, pancetta, which is readily available is an adequate substitute.

Pasta All'Amatriciana
Serves 6

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil 
4 ounces guanciale, cut into fine dice
1/4 cup finely chopped onion (I used a red onion for sweetness)
1 tablespoon finely chopped parsley stems (see note)
pinch red pepper flakes (I like just a bit of heat)
2 cups tomato puree (I use Mutti brand passato)
2 tablespoons finely chopped Italian parsely
1 pound buccatini, cooked 3 minutes short of al dente
1/2 cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano or Pecorino Romano

In a large skillet, heat the oil, and cook the guanciale until it is crispy, about 5 to 7 minutes on medium high heat. 

Add the onion, red pepper and parsley stems, and saute until the onion is softened, about 3 minutes.  

Add the tomatoes, and simmer for 5 to 6 minutes, until the sauce is thickened.

Season the sauce with salt, pepper, and a bit of sugar, if needed.  Since tomatoes are acidic, a bit of sugar can temper the acid, and smooth out the sauce.  Add the parsley, and simmer another minute.  
Add the cooked pasta to the skillet and toss until the pasta has absorbed the sauce.  
Serve the pasta immediately garnished with Parmigiano or Pecorino.  
Cook's Note:  Parsley stems will sometimes end up in your compost bin, but they are terrific to use when you are starting a sauce or soup.  Not only do they add flavor, they are what I call a neutralizer that can help to balance harsh flavors like garlic and onion.  I chop the stems and freeze them for use right out of the bag.  

Buon appetito!

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