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For me, the gastronomic journey in the Rieti area has become an annual appointment that has been repeated for three years now and that each time makes me discover new recipes of a cuisine made of few ingredients, authentic and with an unmistakable flavour: this is what Gnocchetti in frasca gluten-free dumplings make you experience.

But what are Gnocchetti in frasca? They are a dish handed down by the inhabitants of Micciani in Cittaducale, prepared with grains that were harvested and milled in the mills along the Peschiera river in the Velino Valley. These small dumplings were in fact prepared by mixing two flours, corn and wheat flour (which I have replaced with a gluten-free flour), on which the survival of families was based. The accompanying sauce is based on stewed beans that were flavoured with a few slices of guanciale, i.e. pork cheek, to give an unmistakable touch of flavour and the calories needed to cope with the hard work in the fields and the harsh temperatures of winter.

Today, considering instead that the need is to reduce calories more and more, we can possibly do without the splendid guanciale (which I used while remaining faithful to tradition, choosing the Guanciale amatriciano Sano) to prepare Gnocchetti in frasca with beans and tomato, thus transforming the recipe into a vegan and nutritionally balanced dish.

Tradition dictates that Gnocchetti are served as a soup by adding the cooking water from previously prepared Borlotti beans: in short, the perfect dish for cold winter days.

Read about the history of Spaghetti all’Amatriciana to get to know a land yet to be discovered.

gnocchetti-in-frasca

Gnocchetti in frasca gluten-free dumplings

20g carbohydrates per 100g

considering adding 500g of cooking water to the soup

Ingredients for 6 servings

  • 400g tomato sauce
  • 200g gluten-free pasta flour mix, brand Molino Dallagiovanna**
  • 200g coarse corn flour*
  • approx. 160g lukewarm water
  • 150g dry Borlotti beans
  • 2 slices of pork cheek*
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 piece of Kombu seaweed (optional)
  • extra virgin olive oil
  • salt and pepper

**Ingredients specific for celiacs

*Ingredients whose labels must read “gluten-free” (or, in Italy, present on  Prontuario AIC)

Preparation

  1. Soak the Borlotti beans for at least 12 hours, adding a piece of Kombu seaweed of your choice, which will help the digestion of the legumes once cooked. Cook the beans in plenty of water with the addition of a bay leaf, then keep them aside.
  2. Cut the pork cheek into cubes and put in a large pan to brown with a drizzle of oil, then add the tomato sauce and let it flavour for at least 15 minutes. Add the cooked Borlotti beans with a few ladles of their cooking water to make the soup rather liquid.
  3. Place the two flours on a chopping board forming a well, add a pinch of salt and start adding the lukewarm water in the centre of the well, mixing with a fork to start forming a dough. Add the water gradually as the amount may vary depending on the flour and humidity. When the flours are mixed enough to be worked by hand, start kneading them with your hands to obtain a homogeneous, smooth, firm and non-sticky mixture.
  4. Take pieces of dough, form long cylinders with your hands and cut them into 1 cm square dumplings.
  5. Put a large pot of water on the stove, salt it when it comes to the boil and throw in the dumplings to cook them. Drain them with a slotted spoon and pour them into the pan with the Borlotti bean sauce to allow them to take on flavour, adding more Borlotti cooking water. Season with salt and pepper and serve the Gnocchetti when they have the desired texture and flavour.

Version with gluten of Gnocchetti in frasca dumplings

Replace the Molino Dallagiovanna fresh pasta flour mix with an equal amount of wheat flour, adjusting the amount of water needed for kneading.

Do we really know where this dish comes from and how to prepare a Perfect Amatriciana?

Pronta a cucinare online dalla mia cucina

Ready to cook online from my kitchen

Discovering Amatriciana

Although the fame of Amatriciana sauce is linked to the city of Rome, its true cradle lies in the heart of our country. If you were to take a compass and place it in the centre of Italy, its point would probably end in Rieti, the easternmost city in Lazio between Umbria and Abruzzo, which gathers gastronomic traditions and extraordinary products from all these regions, and in whose province the city of Amatrice is located.

And it is from Rieti that the virtual journey in which I participated together with other bloggers, journalists and cooking enthusiasts began. Since we could not physically go there due to Covid restrictions, the Rieti Chamber of Commerce thought of making the products travel and sent us the kits containing the ingredients to prepare some traditional local recipes, more or less well-known outside their province of origin.

For our journey, from every region of Italy we went online armed with equipment, ingredients and a lot of curiosity. As good and diligent students, we listened to find out where the products we had received came from and how we should use them in our recipes, guided step by step by a local chef.

The perfect Amatriciana

First gastronomic encounter of the trip: Gricia and Amatriciana. Having to choose which of the two recipes to cook live, at my place they overwhelmingly opted for Amatriciana… and we didn’t regret it! This is how I find out that Amatriciana is a Traditional Speciality Guaranteed regulated by Specifications where, I must admit, some ingredients are a surprise. In fact, in addition to the ever-present guanciale (mind you, not pancetta!), extra virgin olive oil and  tomato sauce or peeled tomatoes, there are also white wine and chilli pepper. Naturally, the recommended ingredient is Pecorino cheese of the Amatriciano or Pecorino Romano DOP type.

Io, pronta per la diretta per cucinare gli spaghetti all'Amatriciana

Waiting to cook spaghetti all’Amatriciana live

Ingredients

Each of these ingredients tells a story. The matured pork cheek, Guanciale, tells us of the shepherds who were forced away from home for 4-5 months, usually from May to September, for the transhumance. For their sustenance, they carried some easy to store and nutritious products, such as Guanciale and flour. In an iron frying pan with a long handle, shepherds could thus cook their frugal, hearty main course: Pastasciutta (i.e. pasta), where pecorino cheese was the ingredient always available in the cool mountain pastures.

And the tomato? Just think that in Italy, this much-loved fruit only met pasta in the 1800s and, in the Amatrice area, the encounter became eternal love, giving rise to one of the best-known dishes of Italian cuisine. From here, shepards arrived in Rome with the many inhabitants of the town of Amatrice who emigrated there in search of work and found it mainly in restaurants and food shops offering products from their area of origin, which soon became the symbol of cheap, popular cuisine.

Which pasta shape should be cooked with Amatriciana sauce? Our precious kit contained artisan spaghetti made with Senatore Capelli wheat which we had to give up due to the presence of gluten, so we replaced them with a gluten free version accessible to the whole family. The alternative to spaghetti is definitely Bucatini, a shape that I have, however, never found on the market in a gluten free version.

I must admit that this Amatriciana was indeed one of the best I have ever tasted and, given the simplicity of its preparation, it is once again confirmed that it is the ingredients that make the difference. Guanciale by Salumificio Sanolocated between the Monti della Laga and Monti Sibillini National Parks, caressed our palate with the soft and fragrant crunchiness of the strips dipped in sweet tomato, but the product that really bewitched me was the mature Pecorino cheese from Azienda Agricola D’Ascenzoa small business located in the heart of the Riserva Naturale dei Laghi Lungo e Ripasottile, a green oasis in the Rieti plain where the flock can graze freely, feeding on fresh herbs that give the cheese scents and flavours that leave their mark.

So are you ready? Would you like to know how we prepared our Amatriciana?

Here is the recipe!

Spaghetti all’amatriciana

26g of carbohydrates per 100g

Ingredients for 4 servings

  • 400g spaghetti**
  • 400g peeled tomatoes or tomato sauce
  • 200g Guanciale Amatriciano Sano* (pork cheek)
  • 80g matured Pecorino, La Riserva D’Ascenzo, grated
  • 50g white wine
  • extra virgin olive oil
  • chili
  • a grinding of black pepper

**Ingredients specific for celiacs

*Ingredients whose labels must read “gluten-free” (or, in Italy, present on  Prontuario AIC)

Preparation

  1. We cut Guanciale into strips of about 5x10mm and put them in the iron pan (which was sent to us together with the ingredients because this also makes a difference!) with a drizzle of oil, taking care to have only one layer of Guanciale in the pan so that all the pieces could be in contact with the hot iron bottom. We let the fat melt slowly, allowing the Guanciale to cook, becoming crispy on the surface.
  2. We doused Guanciale with the wine, then added the peeled tomatoes broken up with our hands (I added passata) and the chilli pepper. The chef told us that at home the sauce was put on the stove in the morning and left there for hours, whereas today the custom is to let the sauce cook for no more than half an hour.
  3. To complete, we added grated Pecorino cheese directly into the tomato.
  4. We put a pan of water on the stove, brought it to the boil, salted it and threw in Spaghetti.
  5. We drained Spaghetti and poured them into the pan with the sauce to finish cooking, added a grinding of pepper and served.
  6. Finally, we added a sprinkling of grated Pecorino cheese and a spoonful of sauce left in the pan. Simply divine!
Il piatto pronto da mostrare allo chef

The dish ready to show the chef

The second recipe we will prepare on the journey? Pulse pasta with Rascino lentils. Stay tuned!

Gli spaghetti all'amatriciana pronti per essere gustati

Spaghetti all’amatriciana ready to be enjoyed