I can’t remember if I mentioned it on this blog or not, but I, uh, went to Rome for a week in May. For those of you that have the good fortune to know me personally, you know that I am obsessed with Italy (Puglia in particular, but Rome is so close I don’t think it can even be called second place), and for those of you that have the good fortune to have discovered this blog, you know that I have been painstakingly recreating meals from my last voyage to Italy. So, now that I’m back, I figured why wait until my next Italian adventure (not yet scheduled, but hopefully soon?) to regale you with these culinary delights. May I present, Headline Foods’ newest feature: Recap from Italy: A Meal by Meal Recreation of Everything I Ate Over the Course of One Week in May 2010: The Maddie D Story (airing on Lifetime next fall).
Thursday, May 6 dawned bright and beautiful. My flight wasn’t until 5pm, but I had the full day off of work to launder, pack, and get to JFK at a leisurely pace. I was through security and at the gate well ahead of my 4:15 boarding time, so I bought some Euro and reacquainted myself with The Sun Also Rises. Boarding time came along, and as I heard the microphone crackle to life, I gathered my bags together, preparing to embark on my great Italian adventure. Instead, my friendly American Airlines representative announced that the maintenance crew was still on the plane and a 6:30 departure was not looking likely but she would have an update in fifteen minutes. For the ensuing four hours, she returned to the microphone every fifteen minutes to announce that although they currently did not have an update on our departure time, they would know more in…fifteen minutes. Fortunately, the airline had the foresight to offer us meal vouchers; unfortunately, the salad bar at Europan didn’t have avocado. Anyway, 8:30 rolls around and they come on and tell us that we either have to board as quickly as possible or the flight will cancel (something to do with the crew going rogue if they’re on duty too long), and they throw convention out the window and have us board by row, back of the plane first. Why they don’t do this with all flights I will never know, but there I was, waving my 47J boarding pass, and sprinting on to the back of the plane, tossing my carry-on (that’s right, a week in Italy with JUST a carry-on) overhead, and settling into my window seat. Of course sitting in the window meant I had a view of the open cargo door and the 14 people standing around it doing absolutely nothing to expedite this whole getting-the-plane-ready-to take-off-as-fast-as-possible process. So I’m sitting there, eyes darting between my watch and the window, each second ticking away, when the pilot finally comes on and says the doors are closed and we’re ready to go. I opted not to inform him that the door I could see from my window was, in fact, still open. Anyway, they finally close it as the engines roar to life, and we finally take off, and with the exception of the violent turbulence for the first hour and a half, it was quite the pleasant overnight flight. I did, however, finish The Sun Also Rises before dinner service began…
So, Friday morning, here I am, in Rome. It was a little rainy, but since I’m in Rome I’m going to go ahead and call it a beautiful day. I publicly transport myself to Piazza Risorgimento, drop off the bags, freshen up, and head out to conquer the city on my own since all my friends are like working or something. I succeeded in my first goal of navigating myself from The Vatican to Piazza Navona without the use of a map, and enjoyed a panino, fanta, and, naturally, a gelato from Frigidarium. After a few more hours of reacquainting myself with the city, the jetlag caught up and I headed back for a nap. Only to be awoken by a phone call from Erin, and, of course, hunger pangs (somehow I’m never full in Italy. Except after pizza on the last night. Then I was real full). So, we headed down the street to Ristorante Matriciano for some carciofi and pasta.
We sit down, order the vino, naturalmente, and peruse the menu. Apparently the bucatini all’amatriciana is the specialty, SHOCKING for a place called Ristorante Matriciano. This Roman specialty is a delightful tangle of flavorful cured meat, red onions, tomatoes, and, of course, a dash of crushed red pepper to give it some heat. So, I ordered it, devoured it, and then came back to the states and decided to make it for myself.
I knew the basic ingredients – bucatini, guanciale, tomatoes, red pepper, etc., but was hoping for a classic recipe to provide some overall guidance. After a few missteps (I don’t believe vinegar belongs in this dish), I settled on one from Mario Batali’s Babbo. The ingredient list and proportions matched what I remembered from Rome, and it seemed appropriate enough as I’d seen Mr. Batali lunching in the West Village earlier in the week. Ingredient list in hand, I headed off to the Union Square Whole Foods looking forward to their large pasta collection and greater potential to have guanciale (a cured pork product made from the cheeks, as opposed to the pancetta of the belly), only to be sorely disappointed. Bucatini was nowhere in site (in retrospect I can’t remember the last time I did see bucatini – a long, strand pasta that is thicker than spaghetti and hollow -at an American store), and all I could find in the enormous butcher section was one type of pancetta. It wasn’t what I was going for, but I figured it would do the trick. I nabbed some San Marzano’s, parsley, and pecorino, then headed off to whip it all together.
To be honest, it was a little more time consuming than I predicted, but oh, was it worth it. One bite and I was back in Rome, wondering why the waiter had whisked away my plate (it still had like three drops of sauce left!) and replaced it with some fried dough tentacles that we didn’t even order. Well, I’m never one to complain when fried things are placed in front of me, but the bucatini was by far the highlight of the meal.
Bucatini all’amatriciana – Mario Batali, Babbo, New York
¾ pound guanciale, or pancetta, thinly sliced
3 garlic cloves
1 red onion, halved and sliced ½-inch thick
1 ½ teaspoons hot red pepper flakes
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1 ½ cups basic tomato sauce
1 pound bucatini
1 bunch of flat-leaf parsley, leaves only
Pecorino Romano, for grating
1. Being 6 quarts of water to a boil and add 2 tablespoons of salt.
2. Place the guanciale slices in a 12- to 14-inch sauté pan in a single layer and cook over medium-low heat until most of the fat has been rendered from the meat, turning occasionally. Remove the meat to a plate lined with paper towels and discard half the fat, leaving enough to coat the garlic, onion and red pepper flakes. Return the guanciale to the pan with the vegetables, and cook over medium-high heat for 5 minutes, or until the onions, garlic and guanciale are light golden brown. Season with salt and pepper, add the tomato sauce, reduce the heat, and simmer for 10 minutes.
3. Cook the bucatini in the boiling water according to the package directions, until al dente. Drain the pasta and add it to the simmering sauce. Add the parsley leaves, increase the heat to high and toss to coat. Divide the pasta among four warmed pasta bowls. Top with freshly grated Pecorino cheese and serve immediately.