as you may have heard, last week a devastating earthquake hit central italy. a number of small mountain villages, just like the one my family lives in in the south, were destroyed with hundreds of lives lost, and thousands displaced from their homes. having just spent time in similar small towns, meeting the wonderful, caring people and experiencing the quiet beauty, my heart is breaking for everyone who has been affected. i can’t grasp the painful, and labour intensive work that lay ahead of trying to rebuild ancient structures and whole communities from the ground up, trying to create a new place that the residents can call home. nature can be angry and unforgiving, and i send my love to everyone doing their best to overcome her wrath.
at the center of the quake is a small town called amatrice. it’s nestled in the bottom of a mountain, with simple and charming stone houses and buildings, narrow, winding streets, and a simple, ancient beauty. i can close my eyes and imagine they had a square with a clock tower like teggiano, where everyone would gather at night, sitting, smoking, talking, greeting everyone who passed, because everyone knows each other. last weekend they were set to hold their annual pasta all’amatriciana festival, celebrating the centuries old pasta dish. amatriciana, once a dinner for workers herding in the mountains, is now considered a classic of roman cuisine. originally made of just guanciale (cured and slightly smoked pork jowl) and locally made pecorino cheese, tomatoes and chillies began to make it’s way into the dish when they were introduced to italian cuisines in the 18th century. italians have strict rules regarding how their meals are prepared (see, for example: rules and regulations on preparing pizza), and the addition of garlic and onion is widely criticized. the deep flavour of the sauce should come directly from the cured pork, with the pecorino lending sharp and salty note.
this is pasta showcases one of the reasons i love italian cuisine so much – simplicity. it’s so easy to create something from only a few, good quality ingredients. i unfortunately subbed guanciale for pancetta, as that is what is available in my area, but the next time i make this i will seek out the real deal. the pancetta still melted into a salty, fatty (don’t be afraid of that word!) sauce that coats your tongue in the most delicious way, and melds perfectly with the san marzano tomatoes and chilies to coat bucatini pasta.
i urge you to make this pasta to celebrate a beautiful city and it’s traditions. to educate yourself and others and to raise awareness of the people who have brought us wonderful food and culture, in a country that is so close to my heart and has shaped the way i cook, eat and live.
click here and here for information on how to help those affected by the earthquake, or visit buca or terroni where $2 from every plate of bucatini all’amatriciana ordered will be donated.
75 grams cured pork jowl or pancetta, cut into small pieces*
1 splash of olive oil (only if you are using pancetta)
1 dried hot red chili or about 1 teaspoon of dried chilli flakes
4 canned san marzano tomatoes, crushed by hand, and some of their juice*
1/4 cup freshly grated pecorino cheese, plus more to serve
about half a package of barilla bucatini pasta
bring a large pot of water to a rolling boil, then salt well.
heat a skillet or pot over medium and add oil (if using pancetta), meat and chilies and cook until the fat has been released and is starting to turn golden brown. add tomatoes, a pinch of salt, and bring to a simmer over low heat. let cook for 10-15 minutes, then add cheese and remove from heat, stirring until a creamy sauce forms.
meanwhile, cook the pasta according to the package directions, removing 1 minute from the amount of time listed. remove from water and place directly in the warm sauce with a splash of pasta water, and toss for a minute to coat.
serve right away and top with freshly grated pecorino cheese.
*i urge you to find pork jowl. it has a better, sweeter flavour and higher fat content than pancetta.
*please only use good quality san marzano tomatoes. do not use “san marzano style”. this is important to the taste! (this is a rule you should follow when making all recipes that call for canned tomatoes)