TFD POST UPDATE: In August of 2016, the town of Amatrice was leveled in the Central Italian earthquake – click to watch a video. We mourn its tragic loss of history, life and cuisine. 🙁
Citizens, after our brief interruption to the week of World pasta through a detour to Ireland for St. Patrick’s Day, we are now back on track! 🙂
With this dish, we enter hotly-contested territory, as few dishes inspire holy wars to the degree that Bucatini all’Amatriciana does! For a recipe with only 6 classically mandated ingredients, the debates can bring people to the edge of violence!
Witness this article from The Guardian newspaper:
Carlo Cracco has cooked alongside Alain Ducasse and earned two Michelin stars for his restaurant in Milan, where the city’s elite feast on dishes such as lemon risotto with anchovies and cocoa, and marinated salmon with foie gras.
But the chef’s professional pedigree did not stop the local council in Amatrice, a town two hours from Rome, from publicly denouncing and ridiculing him. Cracco’s sin? The chef confessed on national television that he used unpeeled, sautéed garlic as the “secret ingredient” in his amatriciana, one of Rome’s staple pasta dishes.
The official Facebook account of the town of Amatrice, where the dish originates, accused Cracco of a lapse in judgment. “We are confident that this was a slip of the tongue by the celebrity chef, given his professional history,” the council said in a statement.
According to officials in Amatrice, there are six ingredients that make up a real amatriciana: guanciale (pork jowl), pecorino cheese, white wine, tomatoes from San Marzano, pepper and chilli.
The town’s deputy mayor, Piergiuseppe Monteforte, denied that officials were being too strict. “Use one ingredient for another, it changes not only the flavour of a dish but also the history of it,” Monteforte told the Guardian. “If you use ingredients like garlic or onion in an amatriciana, it means you are ignoring a pastoral tradition that is almost 1,000 years old, passed down from generation to generation.”
Amatriciana originated in the green pastures on the hills overlooking Amatrice, when shepherds used to bring cheese and pieces of pork jowl with them during long stays away from home and cook them in an iron pan. They made fresh pasta using flour and water that was then wrapped around a piece of wire, forming a tubular shape that is still used today.
This original dish is now known as white amatriciana. It was only at the end of the 1700s that tomato and chilli, two ingredients native to America and brought to Italy, were added to the dish to create the modern version.
Grazia Lo Bianco, the owner of Matricianella, a small restaurant in central Rome that specialises in the dish, stood with the council’s uncompromising stance. “The flavour of the pork cheek should be dominant,” she explained.
Some people added onion to their sauce, but that verged on the offensive, she said with a bemused look on her face. “If there are rules, they need to be respected, it’s like any job.”
For Lo Bianco, the rules do not apply only to the sauce, but also to the correct pasta that one ought to use. Always, she said, it should be bucatini, the long tubular pasta that, when cooked properly and slightly al dente, can be unwieldy for a beginner accustomed to spaghetti or short pasta.
She admitted that customers’ demands sometimes had to take precedence over how she believes the dish ought to be served. Namely, the preference some have for rigatoni over bucatini, because it is less messy.
“We have a compromise that when men come with their white shirts and say they have a meeting. We can’t say no. But we don’t love rigatoni with amatriciana,” she said.
On this point, even Lo Bianco and Monteforte, the deputy mayor of Amatrice, disagree.
The Amatrice official says that while bucatini used to be seen as the ideal pasta because it was used by the shepherds, these days, others can be used.
Even the traditional amatriciana festival in town uses spaghetti.
“We say that ultimately, to make a real amatriciana, you have to be able to make the sauce according to tradition. Then add bucatini or spaghetti of your choice.”
Citizens, my version hews strongly to the canonical recipe from the town of Amatrice with one exception – I add a goodly amount of freshly-ground black pepper to amp up the spiciness, in the traditional Roman fashion used in the original Shepherd’s recipe.
Battle on – The Generalissimo
1 tablespoon (15ml) extra-virgin olive oil
6 ounces (170g) guanciale, cut into slices about ⅛ inch thick and then into ¾ – by ¼ inch strips – according to the canonical recipe from the Office of Mayor of Amatrice, only the soft part of the guanciale should be used
Large pinch of red pepper flakes
Larger pinch of freshly-ground black pepper (TFG addition, omit for resolutely traditional recipe)
1 tbsp dry white wine
1 (15-ounce; 425g) can whole peeled tomatoes, preferably San Marzano, crushed by hand
1 pound (450g) dried bucatini pasta (spaghetti may be substituted)
1 ounce (30g) grated authentic sheep milk Pecorino Romano cheese, plus more for serving
Place the oil, chili flakes and guanciale, which you have to cut into small pieces, into an iron pan. It is a sacred tradition to use the soft part of the pork jowl, or else it is not an amatriciana. Only that way will it have a delicacy and sweetness that is unmatched.
Sauté these ingredients in the pan over medium heat. Add the wine, stir to deglaze.
Add the tomatoes and season with salt and the pepper – allow the sauce to cook over the heat for a few minutes.
In the meantime, boil salted water and cook the pasta until it is al dente, or still slightly firm. Drain and place in a bowl. Add the grated pecorino.
Wait for a few seconds and then add the sauce to the bowl. If you wish, you can add more pecorino after it is served. Eat the bucatini carefully, as it has a tendency to spray sauce when you twirl or bite into it.