After months searching the city, we recently got our hands on some guanciale, and, much to house guest’s dismay, have been using it nonstop ever since. Guanciale, cured pig cheek, is the essential ingredient when making a true carbonara, gricia or amatriciana, my favorite of the three.
L’amatriciana is one of those Italian recipes that could start a war if Italians were at all disposed to using more than gesticulations to get their point across. The great debate involves the addition of onions, a Roman tradition, which is blasphemed in Amatrice, a small town in Lazio credited (at least nominally, and to more gesticulations in Rome*) with the invention of the dish. The New York Times even devoted an article to the contention surrounding the recipe.
For clarification, I scoured my best authority: Ada Boni’s 1053-page mammoth Il talismano della felicità, first published in 1929. (Pellegrino Artusi’s ascendant 1891 La Scienza in Cucina E L’arte Di Mangiar Bene doesn’t deal much with cuisines beyond Emilia-Romagna and Tuscany.)
Hm…she calls for an onion, citing the Roman version. She doesn’t even use chili flakes! I’m going to dismiss this because, after all, Boni wasn’t really interested in preserving tradition as much as instructing housewives. The original opening to her book read, “Many of you ladies may know how to play the piano well or to sing with exquisite grace. Many of you may have prestigious degrees, speak many languages or be fine writers or painters. Others of you may be expert tennis or golf players, or know how to drive a luxurious automobile with a steady hand. But, alas, certainly not all of you can honestly say that you know how to make a perfectly coddled egg!” See? Obivously not interested in the subtleties of regional cooking! Oh wait, it says here that she was from Lazio…
Moving on! Next I try Il grande mosaico della cucina italiana, published just last year by the Touring Club Italiano with the premise of preserving regional culinary traditions. Ah ha! Here it is: the version I’ve been looking for:
You see, when we lived in Rome, our biases were skewed in favor of the onion-free Amatrician amatriciana. Firstly because our lovely downstairs neighbor came from there and did not miss an opportunity to remind us not to use onions and not to eat at those trattorie that did. Second, because the best trattoria in Rome (and, in my opinion, possibly the entire universe) doesn’t use onions in their version, and it’s a version that has almost caused me on numerous occasions to make a huge mistake with my credit card on expedia.com.
That is, of course, until now. Onions or none, we have our guanciale. And, as the indomitable Florence Fabricant concluded in her piece in the Times, “After half a dozen plates of it during a recent trip to Italy, one detail became clear: for any pasta all’amatriciana to be authentic, it must be made with guanciale.”
Guanciale in hand, I will show you how to make the most authentic, most delicious, most fool-proof bucatini all’amatriciana. It’s like a field trip, minus the credit card.
* In the Touring Club’s synopsis of l’amatriciana’s history, they say that the dish was most likely invented in Rome by a native of Amatrice, who added tomatoes to the already popular pasta alla gricia, essentially a white (tomato-less) version of l’amatriciana.
1 lb. (500 g) bucatini (or rigatoni to avoid splatter when you slurp)
guanciale, about a ½ fist-sized hunk, diced
a splash of wine
24 ounces tomato puree
2 -3 fresh tomatoes, chopped
a large pinch of chili flakes
lots of freshly grated pecorino romano (not toscano)
In a large pot over medium heat, slowly fry the diced guanciale in a bit of olive oil until browning and the guanciale is rendering its fat. Add a dash of chili flakes.
Add a splash of wine (red or white are both fine) and let it evaporate almost completely.
Turn up heat and add the tomato puree and chopped tomatoes. Cook down, stirring, for about 20 minutes or until chopped tomatoes are no longer firm. Add 2 handfuls grated pecorino romano and stir. (This can be made ahead and reheated.)
Mix with al dente pasta (bucatini, or short pasta like mezze maniche or rigatoni); serve pasta in individual bowls with more pecorino on top.