Thursday, May 11, 2017

Amatriciana Estiva (Summer Amatriciana)


Time flies much too fast. In less than two weeks Laura, my favorite niece, will be graduating from college. And we will all be making the trek out east to witness and celebrate her milestone moment. There are still days when I look at her and clearly see her three year old, five year, and eighteen year old faces, to name just a few. I feel fortunate to have been able to watch her grow into a beautiful, kind, smart, funny, accomplished young woman. And to this day, I remain more than grateful to God she didn't break her three year old neck landing hard as she flew off a swing while under my watch. Laura has so many admirable, enviable qualities I don't know where to begin listing them all. The one making the earliest appearance in her life was her fiercely determined spirit. As a preschooler she had very strong feelings about how to comb (or not comb) her hair or what she wanted to wear (or rather not wear). Thankfully she possesses a strong forgiving spirit. Or we may not have as close as a relationship we share today. To say that I am proud of the person Laura has become would be an understatement. If the world gave her back only some of what she has given it already, she will have a blessed, happy, successful life. But, of course, as her aunt, I want the world to give her more. 


Her graduation weekend will include meals filled great food and amazing wine. It is fitting we are having a celebratory dinner at the Italian restaurant in Boston my sister has raved about as Laura spent a study abroad semester in Florence. As much as I am looking forward to what will undoubtedly be an amazing dinner, I am also looking forward to making her this Amatriciana Estiva when she comes back home for a couple of weeks. 


Amatriciana, one of the better known sauces in Rome, means "in the style of Amatrice" (a town in the province of Rieti located in central Italy). This traditional, classic tomato sauce is prepared with guanciale (cured pork cheek), tomatoes, and grated pecorino romano cheese. Garlic, onions, and olive oil have worked their way into variations of Amatriciana, however, onion is the least favored ingredient. This version, shared in the cookbook 'Tasting Rome: Fresh Flavors & Forgotten Recipes from an Ancient City" adheres very closely to the early 19th and 20th century recipes as there is an almost negligible amount of extra-virgin olive oil and only clove of garlic.


Simple, fresh ingredients are the hallmarks of the Amatriciana. Fresh cherry tomatoes, garlic, basil, pecorino romano cheese, and guanicale. Considered by some to be a delicacy, guanciale is an unsmoked Italian bacon made from the pig's cheek. Nothing else adds the same kind of luxurious flavor to a sauce. In other words, there are no substitutions for it in an Amatriciana sauce.


The original recipe called for the use of bomboletti pasta. Translated it means short ribbed pasta. If by some chance you don't find a pound bag of pasta labeled as bomboletti, look for a mezzi rigatoni. Mezzi rigatoni comes in varying sizes. For this recipe you want to find one, preferably imported, about an inch long and about a half inch wide. I used this one, a Mezzi Rigatoni 18 made by Divella. 


Cut into matchstick pieces, the guanciale is cooked in one teaspoon, yes only one teaspoon, of extra-virgin olive oil until it is a beautiful golden brown and crispy. Using a heavy bottomed cast iron pan the guanciale took almost ten (10) minutes to be cooked to perfection. After removing and placing the pieces of guanciale on a plate lined with a paper towel, the rendered fat is poured into a heat proof glass measuring cup. Making it easier to return only half of it back into the pan before adding the garlic. As a self-professed garlic lover, I wanted to use more than one clove of garlic. But instead had a feeling this was a sauce calling for garlic restraint. For all of you garlic lover kindred spirits out there, one clove was all this sauce needed. Any more and it would have been an unfortunate distraction.

There are one and a half pounds of cherry tomatoes in this sauce. While cherry tomatoes are not yet in abundance at the farmer's markets, the cherry tomatoes on the vine found in many grocery stores worked well. I happened to find some San Marzano tomatoes at one of my local ethnic grocery stores. They are about the same size as a cherry tomato although they have an oblong shape. I decided to use a combination of the two tomatoes. While I can't compare sauces made with only one tomato variety or two, I can tell you I absolutely loved the depth of tomato flavor from the use of both the cherry and San Marzano tomatoes. So if you can find them near where you live, try this variation. 


In less than ten minutes over medium heat, the tomatoes fall apart, creating a thick, velvety sauce. Some fresh basil, sea salt, grated pecorino romano cheese, and the cooked guanciale all add to the complexity of this rather seemingly simple sauce. 

If you are planning on serving this dish immediately, start bringing a large pot of water to a rolling boil while you begin making the sauce. By time the sauce is almost finished, you should be ready to put the pasta in the water. Cook only until very al dente. Not al dente, very al dente. Note: The pasta will continue to cook in the sauce. After adding the very al dente pasta to the tomato sauce, add about one cup of the pasta water or enough to barely cover the top of the pasta. Some of the water will evaporate as well as be absorbed by the pasta. If one cup of pasta water is not enough, you can always add more. If you add too much at the start, you risk having a runny sauce or very overcooked pasta.


The one half cup of freshly, finely grated Pecorino Romano cheese used in this dish is divided equally. Half is mixed into the sauce itself, the other half is used to finish off the plated pasta. I don't know about you, but measuring grated cheese in a measuring cup had been a challenge. A half cup of grated Pecorino Romano cheese weighs two (2) ounces. To overcome this challenge as well as to avoid turning beautiful finely grated cheese into an ugly clump, I use a scale. It's one of those kitchen tools I can't live without. After using a scale for awhile you begin to get a sense of what a half-cup of grated Pecorino Romano looks like (and it doesn't look like it would fit into into a half measuring cup). If you don't have one, consider getting one. They are worth their weight in gold.

Before plating the pasta on a platter, I had added all of the cooked guanciale. The original recipe called for adding only half to the sauce and using the other half to sprinkle over the top of the dish. I suppose one reason was to make sure everyone gets a few pieces on their plate. Glossing over that little detail, I added all of the cooked guanciale to the sauce. Having tasted the Amatriciana Estiva, I would do the same thing again.


Have a bowl of some additional freshly grated cheese available on the table for those who love their pasta heavily draped. Whatever you do, don't buy the pre-grated, pre-packaged pecorino romano cheese. It doesn't taste the same as freshly grated. Really, seriously, it doesn't. 

I could, but probably shouldn't, eat this Amatriciana Estiva weekly for the rest of my life. I don't even know where to begin in describing this Amatriciana Estiva. If I used even half of the adjectives that came to mind when I took my first bite, I wouldn't come close to doing justice to this deceivingly simple, intensely flavorful and deeply satisfying dish. I could not think of a more fitting pasta dish to serve at a celebratory dinner.

With summer cherry tomato season just around the corner, I am predicting Amatriciana Estiva will be making regular appearances on the dinner table here. 

Recipe
Amatriciana Estiva (Summer Amatriciana) - an ever so slight adaptation to Katie Perla's and Kristina Gill's Amatriciana Estiva recipe shared in their 'Tasting Rome: Fresh Flavors & Forgotten Recipes from an Ancient City" cookbook

Ingredients
1 teaspoon good quality extra-virgin olive oil
3 to 3 1/2 ounces Guanciale, cut into matchsticks
1 large garlic clove, smashed
1 pound cherry tomatoes and 1/2 pound of San Marzano tomatoes (or 1 1/2 pounds cherry tomatoes), cut in half
6-8 fresh basil leaves, torn into pieces
1/2 cup (2 ounces) Pecorino Romano, finely grated, divided
Sea Salt
1 pound bomboletti style pasta (short, ridged, tubular shaped)
Additional grated Pecorino Romano for serving

Directions
1. Begin to bring a large pot of water to a rolling boil while you make the sauce.
2. Heat olive oil in a heavy bottomed pan over low heat. When oil begins to shimmer, add the guanciale. Cook, stirring, until golden brown and crisp (approximately 10 minutes).
3. Using a slotted spoon, transfer guanciale to a plate lined with a paper towel. Set aside.
4. Pour rendered fat into a measuring. Return half of the rendered fat back to the pan. 
5. Over medium-low heat, add garlic. Cook until it turns golden (approximately 4-6 minutes).
6. Add tomatoes. Increase heat to medium and cook until the tomatoes lose their shape (approximately 10 minutes). Stir in basil.
7. When water reaches a rolling boil, add at least 1 tablespoon of sea salt. When salt had dissolved, add the pasta. Cook until very al dente
8. Remove pasta from the pot using a skimmer (reserve pasta water) and add to sauce. Stir to coat.
9. Add enough pasta water (approximately 1 cup) to barely cover the pasta. Add more water as needed.
10. When pasta is al dente, remove pan from the heat.
11. Add 1/4 cup of the grated Pecorino Romano. Stir until cheese has melted. Add all of the cooked guanciale (or alternately add only half of the guanciale, reserving it for sprinkling over the top of the plated pasta).
12. Season to taste with sea salt.
13. Transfer to a serving platter. Top with remaining 1/4 cup grated Pecorino Romano cheese and, if not already mixed in, the remaining guanciale. Serve immediately. 
14. Optional: Serve with some additional grated cheese.

Notes: (1) This dish is best served warm, but even at room temperature it remained delicious. (2) The first time you make this, use only one clove of garlic. I would bet you won't be tempted to increase the amount the garlic the next time you make it. (3) Use the ripest cherry tomatoes you can find.


Cantigny Park, Wheaton, Illinois (May 2017)


No comments:

Post a Comment