Rome is one of my favorite cities on the planet. Each time I go I’m captivated by the beauty, the thousands of years of history around every turn, and of course by the food. If I had to pick a place outside the US to live, Rome would be in the top three.
One of my favorite dishes to eat in Rome is a pasta called Bucatini all’ Amatriciana. Ironically, this is not technically a “Roman” dish. As the name implies, it’s bucatini pasta in the style of the town of Amatrice, which is about 100 miles from Rome. Still, the Romans have made this dish their own and it can be found on almost every trattoria menu, which isn’t to say it’s common or boring. It may be a simple pasta with few ingredients, but it’s one of the most satisfying and tasty and I find myself ordering again and again.
What makes this dish is the guanciale; the jowl of the pig which has been cured for 40 days, similar to bacon. When we realized we had two pieces of jowl with our pig, the first thing my mom and I did was look at each other and say “guanciale.” She took over the curing process, salting and seasoning the meat in a recipe right out of Michael Ruhlman’s Charcuterie: The Craft of Salting, Smoking, and Curing book. It cured in the refrigerator for 15 days, and then hung in her basement, wrapped in cheesecloth for 40 days. Her basement has high humidity and cool temps this kind of air curing needs. Once it was ready, the moment I cut into it, I knew she’d gotten it right. There’s something specific in the smell, and I could tell this was it and it was going to be good.
The next step was to make the pasta dish and that was my responsibility. Shortly after the guanciale had finished curing I went over to my mom’s house to make us lunch. I think I got it right (see the recipe below) because it tasted just like the ones we’d had on our trips to Rome. As good as this Roman dish turned out, I’d still rather figure out how to move there, than just make the pasta at home.
On another note, does anyone remember when I posted about buying a pig in October, 2010, and wrote;
“What are you going to do with all that pork, you ask?
Porkapalooza? The Year in Pork? Something like that, though this will not become the “all pork all the time” blog, I promise” was my answer.
Although working from “snout to tail” is not a new idea, two bloggers, Mrs Wheelbarrow and The Yummy Mummy, have improved on it, invited a everyone to join in, and created “Charcutepalooza.” How could I not participate? This post is for the February challange, the salt cure.
Charcutepalooza is a year long online blogging event which focuses on the joys of charcuterie, using Ruhlman’s book Charcuterie as inspiration. This thing has taken on a life of its own, with big time partners and sponsors, an amazing grand prize and some well known judges. There are now over 200 bloggers involved and if you’re interested in what other people are doing or the contest portion of the event, make sure you check it out the links. Let me know if this is something you are already participating in, or if you’re going to follow along and reap the benefits of everyone’s experience.
3/4lbBuccatini pastathin tube shaped pasta, can sub spaghetti
Dice the guanciale into 1/4 inch pieces. Dice the onion. Chop up the tomatoes if necessary.
Bring a large pot of water to a boil for the pasta.
Heat a large saute pan and add the guanciale. Let this cook for a while until it becomes soft and translucent and some of the fat has rendered off. Add the diced onion and cook it along with the guanciale until the onion is soft and the meat has started to get crisp.
Add the pasta to the boiling water and cook until al dente.
Add the tomatoes and their juice to the guanciale and onions, stir, and let it cook on medium-low for about 10 minutes. When thickened, add the red pepper flakes and half the cheese and stir.
Toss the sauce with the pasta (or spoon it on top) and then garnish with the remaining cheese as desired.
"Mangia!" as my Sicilian grandma would say.
*Recipe notes; when I looked at recipes for this dish, they were all over the map. Some had garlic, some called for red onion, and a couple even listed vinegar in the ingredients. From what I can tell from the history, in Amatrice no garlic or onion is used, the onion being added later by the Romans. I decided to include the onion, because I'm used to the Roman version. This recipe is how I chose to make my version in the end, and we enjoyed it very much.