Sunday, March 22, 2009

La Matriciana

This is one of my most stand-by recipes of all time! Spaghetti all'Amatriciana hails from the town of Amatrice (oddly enough), which is located in the mountains of Lazio, skirting the Abruzzo border. Romans often try to claim it as their own, though they use bucatini instead of spaghetti, and frequently make it using onion and garlic, the addition of which the good Amatriciani say is akin to blasphemy. They should know; they've been making this plate for generations. The town isn't labeled "la citta` degli spaghetti" (spaghetti city) or nothing!

The original "matriciana" was made in bianco, without tomatoes. Shepherds used cured guanciale (a type of bacon made from the cheek) and the abundant pecorino cheese to flavor their pasta. Eventually, tomatoes got thrown into the pot, and a famous dish was born.

While you can use smoked pancetta if you can't find the guanciale, do not substitute parmigiano for the pecorino!

Spaghetti all'Amatriciana
serves 4

about 1/4 pound guanciale (or pancetta), chopped
1/2 cup white wine
2 1/2 cups tomato puree
salt, pepper, red chile flakes
1/2 cup coarsely grated aged pecorino cheese
1 pound spaghetti

In a large skillet fry the guanciale (or pancetta if you can't find guanciale) in a little olive oil until cooked and crispy. Remove half the meat to a paper towel to drain, set aside. Add the wine into the skillet and let it mostly evaporate, then add the tomatoes along with some salt and pepper and a dash of red chile flakes.
Cover and let simmer about 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, bring a pot of water to a boil and cook the spaghetti until they are al dente. Drain and add to the sauce in the skillet, tossing well. Toss in half of the pecorino cheese and combine.  Sprinkle on the remaining crispy pieces of guanciale.

Serve with a healthy dusting of the pecorino on top.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Spaghetti alla Elia

We met Elia through my dear friend, Maria. She and her husband came for a visit and reconnected with her cousin, whom she had not seen in 40 years. It was touching and heart-warming to see them talking, laughing and gesticulating as if it had just been a few years instead of forty.

Elia (Italian form of Elijiah) is a fashion designer who is opening a boutique hotel in the hills of central Le Marche, with a focus on organic, eco-friendly construction. Each room is decorated differently and his eye for detail and beauty will surely make the place gorgeous.

Following our initial introduction and cameraderie with his cousin, he invited us up for lunch. We chatted as he whipped up this easy vegetarian plate of spaghetti. We watched as he set a metal bowl over the pasta cooking water to make the sauce while the pasta was cooking. Ingenious!

You will need:
  • a package of spaghetti
  • a bunch of chard or rapini
  • about 1/4 cup of basil pesto (homemade or store-bought)
  • 1/2 cup grated pecorino (If possible, resist the temptation to substitute Parmigiano. Trust me, it's better with the slight sharpness and distinctiveness this cheese gives the dish)
  • a dash of ground red chile (cayenne) or chile flakes
  • freshly grated black pepper, to taste
  • a drizzle of olive oil
-While the water comes to a boil for the pasta, slice a large bunch of chard or rapini (broccoli rape) and throw them in a sinkful of water to wash them.
-When the spaghetti has started to cook, toss the greens right in with the spaghetti to boil together.
-Cradle a large metal bowl or saucepan over top of the pasta pot.
-Add the pesto, half the pecorino, the cayenne, and a drizzle of olive oil. Stir while the heat from the water below melts the pesto and heats the sauce.
-Use a cup to extract some cooking water (about 1/3 cup) and add it to the sauce.
-When it is all hot and combined, remove the bowl.
-Drain the spaghetti and greens, put into the bowl, and toss it all together, topping with the remaining pecorino.

Serve and enjoy!