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Pasta Amatriciana
By Charlie Burke

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We returned earlier this week from three weeks in Rome and central Italy.
Interestingly, despite Rome’s place on the world’s stage, its food reflects the
agricultural heritage of the farms in the surrounding Lazio countryside. We
were ten miles outside the city, but a shepherd tended a flock of over one
hundred in the fields around our house, reminding us of the importance of
sheep in the local diet. Pecorino cheese, made form sheep milk, is on all the
menus and often replaces parmesan in pasta, while lamb and mutton are seen
much more than beef.

The pasta dishes and meat courses are prepared quite simply and probably do
not differ much from meals prepared in farm houses in the past. Roman cooks
insist on the highest quality fresh ingredients, so this peasant based cuisine is
visually appealing and full of great flavors.

This recipe originated in Amatrice, a farming community near Rome, and has
nothing to do with America, as was pointed out by our waiter when “Bucatini
Americana” was ordered. It requires few ingredients, including pancetta or
prosciutto, tomatoes and cheese, although the amount of cheese is less than in
most other pastas. It is similar to pasta alla carbonara, with tomatoes replacing
the eggs. This is one of those long perfected simple recipes which are rarely
improved upon by improvising, so I add no herbs or other ingredients. Usually,
it is prepared with bucatini, rather thick pasta with a hole down the center. It is
not readily available here, so substitute a good quality dried imported pasta
such as rough textured thick spaghetti.

Heating the sauce in a sauté pan and then tossing the cooked pasta with the
sauce over heat is a classic technique in Italy, resulting in the sauce’s clinging to
the rough pasta, while some is actually absorbed. The proper proportion of
sauce to pasta results in the strands’ being evenly coated with barely any sauce
on the plate.  In Italy, the pasta and the sauce share equal billing, so you never
find pools of extra sauce.

Four servings:

8 ounces pancetta or prosciutto, cut into small (1/3 inch) cubes
One medium onion, preferably red, chopped coarsely
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 ½ pound best quality fresh tomatoes or best quality canned tomatoes, such as
Muir Glen, passed through a food mill.
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 generous pinch of red pepper flakes
1 pound bucatini or thick spaghetti
½ cup freshly grated pecorino Romana or Parmigiana cheese

Bring a large pot of water to a boil and add 2 tablespoons of kosher or sea salt.
While the water is coming to a boil, put the olive oil into a small pan over low
heat and add the chopped pancetta. Cook, stirring occasionally, for
approximately 20 minutes or until the pork is brown and crisp. Remove the
meat with a slotted spoon and set aside. Add the onion to the oil over low heat
and cook until onions soften.

Add the tomatoes and the pepper flakes to the onions and oil, cooking for 15 –
20 minutes until the sauce is slightly thickened.*

Bring the water to a rolling boil and add the pasta, cooking for 6 – 8 minutes or
until it is al dente.

Transfer the sauce into a sauté pan large enough to hold the pasta and heat the
sauce over medium heat. Add the pancetta to the sauce, drain the pasta and
place it into the sauce, mixing thoroughly until all the pasta is coated.
Remove the pan from the heat and mix in the grated cheese, adding salt and
freshly ground black pepper. Serve immediately in warmed bowls.

This makes satisfying and authentic Roman main dish pasta, needing only a
fresh salad and crusty bread to complete the meal. A medium red wine would
certainly be poured in Rome.

*The sauce can be made ahead until this step. Simply reheat the sauce in the
sauté pan and continue after cooking the pasta.

About the author: An organic farmer and avid cook, writer Charlie Burke is the vice
president of the
New Hampshire Farmer's Market Association, president of the NH Farm
to Restaurant Connection and helps run the Sanbornton (NH) Farmers' Market.  Along
with his wife, Joanne, Charlie grows certified organic herbs, greens and berries at Weather
Hill Farm in Sanbornton, NH.  
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