Italy can be prone to devastating earthquakes – my first encounter was in 1976: I was 14 and sitting at dinner with my family when everything shook, the chandelier above the table swinging as if I had climbed on top of the table and taken a baseball bat to it. That earthquake, in Friuli, was hundreds of miles away from where I lived but it was so devastating it was felt strongly even that far south from the epicenter.
As I was having dinner last night, CNN’s news ticker alerted me that a 6.2 earthquake had struck Italy. I switched to RAI, the Italian channel, and, within minutes, a journalist began broadcasting, in the middle of the European night. The mayor on Amatrice, a village close to the epicenter, interviewed live on his cellphone, with tears in his voice said: “Amatrice doesn’t exist anymore.” It was still pitch dark and yet he knew his town was now a pile of rubble.
Amatrice, besides having been a lovely historical village dating back to the 1200s, and severely damaged by a quake in the 1600s, is also the birthplace of one of Italy’s most beloved pasta dishes: spaghetti all’amatriciana.
I first posted the recipe, as was given to me by my sister’s boyfriend, a true Roman with wonderful cooking skills, about 18 months ago . Giovanni, that is his name, came to visit one Summer, laden with pecorino and guanciale, i.e. cured pig’s jowls,which is what is needed for a true amatriciana. In a pinch, pancetta will do. Bacon will not – smokiness has no place in an amatriciana.
Amatrice might not exist anymore but its signature dish remains – hopefully not all that remains on a day of such loss and destruction.
RECIPE – Serves 4
400 g pasta (such as spaghetti or rigatoni – rigatoni are easier to handle if you are serving many people)
250 g guanciale or pancetta
500 g tomatoes (either fresh or canned)
150 g pecorino cheese
1 T EV Olive Oil (in the old days they would use lard)
a pinch of red pepper flakes
salt and pepper
1/4 of an onion, diced
- Slice the guanciale or pancetta in small strips
- If using fresh tomatoes, drop them in boiling water for a couple of minutes, drain and peel. Place them in a bowl and mash them with a fork. Grate the cheese and set aside.
- Place the oil in a large pan on medium heat, add the onion and the guanciale and cook for a few minutes, then add the pepper flakes. Cook for a few minutes more until the onion turns golden.
- Add the tomatoes and cook, on medium-low, for 10 to 15 minutes, until the sauce comes together and most of the liquid has evaporated.
- In the meantime, cook the pasta. Drain and add it to the pan with the tomato sauce. Mix it on low and, gradually, add the pecorino, all the while mixing and coating the pasta.
- Serve immediately with an additional sprinkling of cheese on top.