Comment on this storyComment
This column comes from the Eat Voraciously newsletter. Sign up here to get one weeknight dinner recipe, tips for substitutions, techniques and more in your inbox Monday through Thursday.
It regularly surprises me that the country of Italy, a small body of land with a long history of internal division and — with the obvious exception of the Roman empire — relatively few imperialist conquests, nevertheless has had an enormous influence on modern global food culture. We cannot imagine life without pasta, let alone pizza. Worldwide, but especially in the United States, library and bookstore shelves are filled with Italian cookbooks, many of which expound on the dishes found in specific regions, subregions or cities in Italy.
In the early 1990s, photographer Robert Freson traveled through 14 of Italy’s regions to capture the land, people and food. He then worked with writers and chefs to publish a cookbook, “Savoring Italy,” in 1992. The following year, The Post published a recipe for Bucatini all’Amatriciana. Freson and company had adapted that recipe from a long-standing and well-regarded restaurant in the southern hills outside Rome, in the region of Lazio: Ristorante Cacciani.
Though Amatriciana, a pungent sauce of pork, tomatoes and pecorino, is said to have originated in Amatrice, which is also in Lazio but northeast of Rome, Cacciani has been serving its version of the dish since it opened in 1922. Clearly, the Cacciani family is doing something right — but are they making the recipe the same way they did in 1992?
Get the recipe: Bucatini all’Amatriciana
Along with his siblings Leo and Caterina, Paolo Cacciani is the third-generation chef-proprietor of his family’s restaurant. He said it was possible that some liberties had been taken when his father, Armando, or grandfather, Leopoldo, shared the recipe for that cookbook, but its flavor was fairly true to tradition.
“In the hills around Rome, we have two very important ingredients: The cheek — the guanciale — of the pig, and the pecorino cheese,” Cacciani said. He explained that sheep have long been important to the agriculture of the region. Years and years ago, shepherds would carry guanciale and pecorino around so they could make a simple pasta sauce, known as gricia — or, in Amatrice, sometimes called white Amatriciana.
When tomatoes came to Europe after the cultural exchange with the Americas, they found their way into gricia, and a new sauce was born. (Gricia is also the precursor to carbonara.)
“When you prepare Amatriciana, you have to follow a very precise recipe, or you cannot call it Amatriciana,” Cacciani tells me. He notes that some years ago, the Comune di Amatrice codified the recipe for the sauce, defining it as a combination of only guanciale, extra-virgin olive oil, dry white wine, tomatoes, pecorino cheese, a little chile pepper and salt.
Cacciani says there are a few ways a cook can adjust the recipe: Smoked or simply cured guanciale may be used, the pecorino can be from Amatrice or Rome, and the type of pepper (a fresh or dried chile or ground black pepper) is up to the cook. It’s typically served with spaghetti, but bucatini or rigatoni may also be used.
Cacciani describes the process of making a traditional version of the dish thusly: Start by frying bits of guanciale in a pan so that the meat crisps and the fat renders. At Cacciani, the cooks remove the crisped pork and set it aside. A little dry white wine is added to the pan. Once the alcohol burns off, peeled canned tomatoes go in. Then, the sauce is simmered for about half an hour. A little chile pepper or black pepper is added, and a little salt. You don’t want to add too much salt at this point, however, because next you’ll toss in the cooked pasta and grated pecorino cheese, which is salty. The sauced pasta is plated, topped with the crisped guanciale and served with more pecorino at the table.
When I tell Cacciani that the recipe from his restaurant that was published in 1992 contains onions, he acknowledges that he likes the sauce with onions, personally. While not a traditional addition, it is fairly common.
On the other hand, guanciale is considered essential to the dish not only because it’s what the shepherds used more than a century ago, but also because the meat from the pig’s cheek is approximately 50 percent fat. This fat is used to cook the sauce, and helps flavor the entire dish. I ask if it’s very bad if you use another type of pork, perhaps bacon?
“Yes, it is very bad,” Cacciani says. “But listen: If you only have very good-quality bacon and very bad-quality guanciale, then use the bacon. The quality is more important.” I like that attitude. For, what is authenticity if not a false promise? All that matters is enjoyment.
In this updated version of Ristorante Cacciani’s Bucatini all’Amatriciana, there are onions and a touch of garlic. I tested it with guanciale, pancetta and bacon — and enjoyed all three versions. I then tested it with the crisped pork simmered in the sauce, and not. Both were great. I also tested it with and without onions, and, like Cacciani, I prefer it with onions.
Feel free to stick to tradition, or go off script a little, making a version that best suits your tastes. Will the city of Amatrice come after us, crying blasphemy? Perhaps. But that’s a risk I’m willing to take.
Get the recipe: Bucatini all’Amatriciana
Source link: https://www.washingtonpost.com/food/2023/09/28/pasta-amatriciana-lazio/