I have a love hate relationship with pasta. I love to eat pasta (more than pizza) and is my favorite food to cook albeit a total monster to my dress size. In addition to my superficial struggles in having a healthy relationship with my love to eat pasta any chance I could, I also struggled a lot with the title of this post. For reasons varying from respect for the original recipe to the fact I’m no expert on the food from Lazio.
I shouldn’t be too worried since I’m not a chef and not writing authoritative books on Italian cuisine. Nevertheless, I think it’s important to consider a recipe’s origins if you plan to blog about it or share it with others. This post is about how I imagined a tasty af amatriciana to be, and hope you enjoy reading (and eating).
Amatriciana is a pasta in a tomato sauce with chili, guanciale and showered in pecorino romano. This wildly popular pasta is said to hail from Amatrice (a small village in Northern Lazio about 2hrs NE of Roma). Amatriciana is super common in Rome and a pillar of the Roman pasta repertoire. Again, I’m no Lazio expert so don’t know how common it is outside Rome. Hell, I’ve never even been to Amatrice so really what do I know besides what I’ve read or heard?
What I would like to know is what has happened to Amatrice since the earthquake in 2016 that ravaged their village. Was any constructive dent made thanks to the food world’s spaghetti fundraising dinners toward disaster relief efforts? After reading this article, it seems Amatrice has been added to the world monument’s watch in 2018.
While there is so much debate over iconic, defining dishes in Italy, so much so it ruins friendships (it boggles me that people are that extra)- I get it. Because a litany of variation exists, it’s no surprise the confusion as what any “real” recipe is. For Amatriciana, I never know if the original (if that exists) calls for bucatini vs spaghetti or jarred tomato vs fresh.
I’ve seen amatriciana sauced on either pastas, and even rigatoni when in Rome, and recipes calling between jarred or tinned tomatoes. But what never seems to sway, is the use of guanciale, pecorino romano and a sprinkling of dried red chili.
I digress, and at this hour I’m a little tired so I’ll get straight to the point. I’m sure I could mention how ultimately these are all humble dishes that were born in someone’s home and explains why recipes (and the title for the best) vary depending on who you speak to.
The recipe I’ll eventually share was inspired by some of the ingredients from my gourmet club’s holiday hamper. If you didn’t know, one of my side hustles since 2017 has been a little club of curated food boxes filled with specialty, hard-to-find Italian foods mailed from Florence!
Every holiday season I have a sort of splurge-worthy gourmet hamper, and last season’s I found some interesting gold extruded smoked pasta, and some jarred tomato puree’ from Molise that had won awards from Gambero Rosso. I had a bag and a jar left and naturally I ate them!
In SF, thankfully it’s not hard to find quality guanciale and it’s one of my staples on hand. I like Fatted Calf and Marina Meats the most but the Clement St. Farmer’s Market sometimes has some meat stands selling it.
I try to be a decent home cook, but of course nothing compares to having trained at school then working for years in restaurants. And that I have mad respect for, my empathy continues to grow on how grueling the restaurant industry is to its workers, how much we rely on them yet how little we appreciate what they do/sacrifice. I’m trying my best to learn how to be a better guest.
If you want to understand more of what I mean and what the industry would appreciate, absorb every damn point in this post my pal Marcia of Tablehopper wrote on how to be a better diner/patron of hospitality in 2022.
I digress, AGAIN! It’s a miracle if you’re still here!
The long winded point is I thought to make a pasta inspired by amatriciana with this smoked spaghetti leftover from my holiday boxes since guanciale (cured pork jowl) has an element of smokiness to it. A match made in carb/red sauce heaven!
We also had some buffalo milk mozzarella by Ramini (they do tours, too!) we picked up from the Ferry Building farmer’s market and this is what makes the dish sorta cheesy- but not in the fondue melted cheese layer most people imagine.
I suppose cheesy since we used 2 types of cheese. Since the smoke of the pasta and guanciale were strong (and also because I didn’t have any on-hand) we swapped pecorino romano for parmigiano-reggiano. Sorry, Roma.
Cheesy Spaghetti all’Amatriciana
Ingredients, serves 2 abundantly (no I’m not going to translate grams to cups, not sorry)
- 250gr of dried spaghetti (smoked if you can find it, or request it as an add-on from my gourmet store)
- Jar of tomato passata (340 gr)
- chili flakes (use your best judgement)
- 50-75gr small cubed guanciale/cured pork jowl. (Quantity is flexible- I just go “all’occhio” based on how guanciale-rich I want)
- cubed (see pics) mozzarella di bufala (if you can find Ramini, yum)
- Aged parmigiano-reggiano or pecorino romano for grating
- Optional: 1-2 garlic cloves “in camicia” or “vestito” to infuse some garlic in the sauce.
Directions: Add a little drizzle of EVOO to a large pan if you’d like, otherwise you can add cubed guanciale directly to med-highish heat. Brown/render the guanciale, add desired dash of dried chili flake. Throw in some garlic “in camicia” if you feel like infusing a bit of garlic (can also add in once the passata is in to have a more mild infusion) In the meantime, add noodles to boiling, salted water. Should taste like the sea in saltiness.
Add the passata to pan of guanciale once it’s crispy (but not burnt). Turn down flame a bit so it’s not boiling/bubbling- to a steady simmer. Let it reduce down a bit. Add a bit of pasta water if you feel it’s drying out too quick. When the pasta is done (taste for “al dente), add noodles to the sauce/pan. Add ladles of pasta water when needed to loosen up the pasta if it’s too tight. Fish out garlic. Plate, add cubed mozzarella as a sort of topping, grate parmigiano atop and voila!
Notes on plating: A while back, I was gifted a pair of kitchen tweezers and now I’m into them for plating pasta. You grab a bunch, wrap around and slide on the middle of the plate. Best to arrange food in the middle for presentation purposes.
I also made this TikTok on the cooking/plating process if you’d like to see the recipe in action!
Wine pairing: I wanted a white with a bit of structure and a lot of acid. I paired a skin contact Tuscan white blend of Malvasia (aromatic), Vermentino (minerality) and Trebbiano (for fresh acid!) from one of my favorite producers in Tuscany (very slow, artisanal and biodynamic). A selection from my wine club. Get on our mailing list for announcements on our next release for unique Italian juice mailed to you!
Hope you enjoyed, let me know if you end up cooking by tagging @curiousappetite #curiousappetite on the social medias
In your cooking trust,