Do we really know where this dish comes from and how to prepare a Perfect 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.
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!
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
- a grinding of black pepper
**Ingredients specific for celiacs
*Ingredients whose labels must read “gluten-free” (or, in Italy, present on Prontuario AIC)
- 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.
- 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.
- To complete, we added grated Pecorino cheese directly into the tomato.
- We put a pan of water on the stove, brought it to the boil, salted it and threw in Spaghetti.
- We drained Spaghetti and poured them into the pan with the sauce to finish cooking, added a grinding of pepper and served.
- Finally, we added a sprinkling of grated Pecorino cheese and a spoonful of sauce left in the pan. Simply divine!
The second recipe we will prepare on the journey? Pulse pasta with Rascino lentils. Stay tuned!
Spaghetti all’amatriciana ready to be enjoyed