The day following the Amatrice/Accumuli earthquake on August 24th (my birthday), Pino and I were enroute home to Assisi after yet another memorable vacation on the island of Ventotene. Although Ventotene, too, is in the region of Latium – as is Amatrice, near the earthquake epicenter – none of us had felt the early morning earthquake tremors.
The shake-up awoke most assisani, though, many taking to the streets: no one here will ever forget the earthquake of September 26, 1997.
As we drove through Latium and back into Umbria, I was reading newspaper earthquake updates to Pino.
A flash came to me: “Pino, invece di un cena da compleanno domenica prossima, facciamo l’amatriciana per i terremotati di Amatrice e gli altri paesi vicini?” Pino liked the idea: instead of a family birthday gathering, we’d cook up a spaghetti all’amatriciana dinner at our farmhouse for friends as a benefit dinner. 25 € each (or more if one wishes to give more). Funds collected will go to those in the devastated areas.
We only have room for sixteen. The table will be full.
This project has taken over. I’ve spent alot of time researching the recipe, seeking the vera (“true”, “real”) recipe for spaghetti all’amatriciana. And then I decided to find out if others in our area wanted to get involved. “Si!’ immediately from anyone I spoke to about possible participation. Mauro, now running Ristorante Da Giovannino (after his papa’ Giovannino’s death 2 years ago), was glad to offer a key ingredient la barbozza (Umbrian dialect for guanciale, i.e., pork cheek). Spaghetti, too: De Cecco, of course.
After Giovannino’s, I headed to the home of farm friends, Chiarina and Marino for they still conserve the lard when slaughtering their pig every winter. (The vera ricetta requires lard, not olive oil). Chiarina offered me jars of her tomatoes, too, for the sauce.
Peppe wanted to give me more wine than we ‘d ever need for the dinner. Peppa’s vinegar will join our olive oil on the salad that night.
We’ll cook up other courses, too – to be decided. Eggplants, peppers, cucumbers, tomatoes abundant in the garden now. And lamb from Abruzzo and meat from our goats in the freezer. But l’amatriciana will take center stage. I’m all set: when home with all the ingredients, I made la vera spaghetti all’amatriciana for lunch. It passed the test of a severe judge. Pino.
The recipe (with a tidbit of “amatriciana” lore) follows below – just in case you, too, might want to do a benefit dinner yourself for your friends and family? Why not?
(I think I just launched into crowdfunding..!)
Where to send the funds? Click here for suggestions.
The amatriciana sauce was a staple of the abruzzese and laziale shepherds’ diet, during their transumanza (seasonal migration with their flocks, seeking pastures), later diffused throughout the regions of Lazio and Abruzzo, and in particular, in Rome. In their knapsacks, the shepherds carried pepper, pecorino (sheep’s milk cheese), guanciale (pork cheek), and lard to season the pasta they also carried. The combination created a hardy, substantial meal. Another ingredient was added in the late 18th c.: tomatoes.
First writtten about in 1790, spaghetti all’amatriciana now has numerous variations, though all agree on the key ingredient: guanciale.
Garlic and onion appear in some versions and olive oil is often used instead of lard; some chefs add a splash of white wine when simmering il guanciale.
My research led me to the oldest version, the most authentic – with tomatoes, the only addition. Traditionally, the sauce was served on spaghetti but now – especially in Rome – i bucatini (literally, “little holed ones”), a variation on spaghetti with a wider diameter and a hole through the centre, are very popular. But spaghetti only are used in the traditional recipe, born in Amatrice, mountain town in the province of Rieti (only 50 kilometers from L’Aquila in Abruzzo), as verified on the sign as you enter Amatrice, ” Amatrice, città degli spaghetti all’ amatriciana.”
Amatrice – pre-earthquake
This week-end was to be the 50th annual Sagra degli Spaghetti all’Amatriciana, food festival exalting this Amatrice culinary excellence. Luca Palombini would have been one of the top participating chefs cooking up the goodness. He was pulled out alive from the collapsed Hotel Roma, Amatrice, famed since 1897 for l’amatriciana, grazie a Dio.
Over the next few days, Amatrice’s devastated Hotel Roma must be pulled down. May it be rebuilt one day. You’ll want to head there for their spaghetti all’amatriciana.
In the meantime……
This dish was once called “la matriciana,” for the people of Amatrice, once called themselves “matriciani.” A linguistic glitch resulted in “amatriciana.”
Ingredients ( for 4 – 5 persons):
- spaghetti of top quality (if possible, De Cecco, n. 12) – 1 lb of pasta for every 5 persons
- 1 -1/2 lbs of very ripe tomatoes, casalino rosso variety – or San Marzano (probably more obtainable) – or 1 lb.,16 oz-can of tomatoes
- about 1 c of pecorino di Amatrice (and doubt you’ll get hold of Amatrice sheep’s milk cheese – but pecorino romano not suggested as too salty and will alter the flavor. (I used an Umbrian pecorino – tied in well!)
- about 1/2- 3/4 lbs of guanciale – if unobtainable, use Italian bacon, pancetta
- 1 hot chili pepper
- lard – about 2 T (but you may wish to use the alternative, i.e., olive oil – extra virgin ONLY)
- salt, q.b. (“quanto basta”, ie, “as much as you need”)
Cut guanciale into thin strips about 1 1/2 “ long (do not cut into cubes – as when sautéeing, bits will become hard). If using fresh tomatoes, drop into boiling water so that skins slide off. When cool, remove center with seeds. Chop. Set aside chopped tomato pieces and their juice.
Heat medium-sized stainless steel pan (though the “true” amatriciana was cooked in cast iron) and drop in enough lard to cover pan – about 2 T. When fat is hot (but not smoking!), slide in guanciale strips and chili pepper, stirring gently with wooden spoon, cooking over low heat a few minutes until golden.
**Critical to the perfect amatriciana: do not heat too long, do not burn guanciale nor cook past “golden” point as the meat will be come tough.
Simmer the guanciale in lard until golden
When golden, slide in tomatoes. Cook gently for about 15 minutes until the sauce reaches the “right” consistency (takes practice!), i.e. not too liquidy but not too dry.
Add the tomatoes to the guanciale and simmer.
While sauce is simmering and almost ready, cook spaghetti in a generous amount of salted boiling water until al dente (“to the tooth”). Do not overcook. As soon as you drain the pasta, stir into the sauce, then sprinkle with just-grated aged pecorino cheese. Mix. Serve.
This pasta needs freshly-grated aged pecorino
Read about – and see! – the Sagra degli Spaghetti all’Amatriciana (and Amatrice, pre-earthquake)
Read about – and see – August 24, 2016 earthquake destruction in Umbria
Read about the Abruzzo mountain shepherds (who also enjoy that amatriciana!)
Read about the 2009 earthquake in L’Aquila, only 50 km from Amatrice
Read about Pino’s restoration there – and also his “cultural restoration”
Read about the Assisi earthquake – and that in Emilia Romagna
Read about where we were on Aug 24th, day of the earthquake
Read more about Ristorante Da Giovannino
Read more about benefit dinners for Amatrice
Read about our spaghetti all’amatriciana dinner as a benefit for Amatrice, following the August, 2016 earthquake
Read about spaghetti all’amatriciana at a sagra (food festival) near Assisi