When in Rome, one of the greatest pleasures of life (besides the conspicuously religious ones of course) is, well, eating good food and drinking wine. And after that, go for a walk, take in some local beauty, i.e., the entire city, stop off for an espresso, then talk about dinner. I lived in Rome for several years and became acquainted with the best cuisine the city offers. My experience with other regional Italian dishes is a bit limited. You see, much like the dialects of the language itself, the regional plates within Italy can vary significantly depending on where you are. A very general example: the southern half of the peninsula features lots of seafood, and tends to be on the lighter side, while the north loves potatoes and various cuts of seasoned meat, much heartier for the colder winters.
My all-time favorite dish to order in Rome was Bucatini all’Amatriciana. Bucatini pasta is a tubular pasta; it kind of reminds me of a long, narrow straw. Here in Milwaukee, you won’t find bucatini at your run of the mill grocery store, but you can find it at Glorioso’s on Brady Street. Amatriciana sauce is a combination of crushed tomatoes, (optional) garlic, chopped onion, red pepper flakes, freshly grated Pecorino Romano cheese, and the magic ingredient, guanciale, which is a cut of meat taken from the jowl of the pig. It is fatty and extremely flavorful, and very difficult to find in Milwaukee. But here again, Glorioso’s comes swinging to the rescue. You can purchase guanciale from the deli at about $18.00 a pound. It’s well-worth it, I promise.
I never tire of this dish. In fact, while in Rome, I would walk to a local hangout, sometimes with some friends and sometimes by myself with a book. Nine out of ten times, I’d order this plate. The waitresses, beautiful Roman ragazze, were genuinely surprised when I’d veer off the bucatini and go for something else.
So, here’s what you need in order to create Rome on your plate.
– a tablespoon of red pepper flakes (this dish is supposed to have a bite, so be liberal with the application)
– one medium, chopped white onion
– a half-pound of guanciale or a bit more, cut into cubes
– one or two chopped cloves of garlic (Some say it’s not necessary for the dish. I’m love garlic, so I throw it in.)
– one large can of crushed tomatoes
– a tablespoon of olive oil
– Pecorino Romano cheese
So here’s how to get started. First, pour yourself a generous glass of wine. Drink as you cook. Next, bring the water to a boil in a large pot, season it with a small fistful of salt. In a separate pan, bring the olive oil to a simmer over a medium heat. (You don’t want to use too much because the guanciale is fatty and will release a lot of oils as it cooks.) Toss in the guanciale and cook it until it becomes translucent, and even starts to brown a bit. Once this happens, throw in the onions, pepper flakes, and garlic. Stir the mix together. Let the flavors blend and get to know one another. The aroma emanating from the pan should knock your socks off at this point. Allow the onions to reduce a bit. At this point, you’ll want to add the crushed tomatoes. Add a pinch of salt to season. Give it a good mix and you’ve got the sauce!
Once the water is boiling, add the bucatini pasta and cook al dente, which is about seven minutes or so. I usually sample a few to make sure the pasta is just right. Once it is ready to go, transfer it to the pan with the amatriciana sauce. Give it a few good, slow stirs. I also like to add a small ladle of the pasta water. It gives an extra flavor boost. Cook everything over a low heat for a few minutes.
Serve the pasta immediately. Grate some fresh Pecorino Romano over each plate just prior to serving.
Oh, and refill that glass.