Thursday, March 22, 2012

A Culinary Obsession...

Amatriciana - Heaven on a Fork

There is something so delicious about this dish that it sparks my passion for great food. It is an amazingly pleasing bowl of happiness. Amatriciana is a classic Italian pasta sauce. The English translation is spicy tomato sauce, but its way more than that... it’s “Heaven on a Fork”. According to Wikipedia, Alla matriciana originates in the town of Amatrice in the Lazio region of Italy. It’s a recipe filled with just a few ingredients and big aromatic layers. I’ve tried with several different types of pastas, most recipes recommend Bucatini - a long hollow spaghetti. But I’ve also had it with Fusilli and last night we used Torcetti, a twisted shaped pasta. Recently I served it with regular spaghetti, but it really didn’t have the same textural experience as the other recommended pastas. I’ve found that you need pasta that will grab hold of the sauce.

So, why do I make this Amatriciana? I have to admit this has become an authentic obsession for me, one bite and I was hooked, hopefully forever. I have to be careful and not over make this recipe, cause frankly, if I could, I would eat it every day.

The first time I had this dish; was at a quaint little Italian restaurant in Sarasota, called Andreas. Normally, when we go out for dinner, we order different dishes and share. It makes for a romantic dinner and as foodies, we love to try new things. I ordered the Chicken Rollatini wrapped in bacon and it was phenomenal. I especially loved the mashed potatoes; I’ll have to ask Andreas if I can share his secret with you. If I can, that will be a different blog, and definitely worth the wait.

My husband ordered Amatriciana and he was hooked. John gave me a bite of his dish. With the first forkful, I too was hooked! It grabbed my salivary glands and never let go. I have dreamed about this dish. It literally seizes that spot in your mouth near the jaw line, almost hypnotic.  As you may learned by now, I tend to crave things, and once I get a dish in my head, it won’t leave until I eat it again. I try to recreate many of my favorite dishes out, since our nights out are limited by budgets. I have searched and searched the internet for “the” Amatriciana recipe. Let me tell you, many were close, but on making them, they just didn’t make the cut.

Then one night, my husband and I were in the mood for fresh pasta and I went straight to one of my favorite cookbooks that John gave me on our first Christmas together. It’s from Giuliano Hazan, fantastic famed chef on his own and son of the beloved Marcella Hazan - deemed the “Doyenne of Italian Cooking”.  He lives here in Sarasota and I had the luck to have him sign it for me, and it is one of my most prized cookbooks.  As we were browsing the different recipes I came across Giuliano’s Bucatini all’ Amatriciana recipe. We’ve made many of his recipes, but for some reason, I’ve overlooked this delicious treasure.  We were so excited; we jumped up and began cooking together. I will tell you, now that we are making pasta from scratch; John and I are doing a lot more cooking together, as opposed to me slaving away in the kitchen, while he is drawn into his Droid. My suggestion is that you have a special someone, make pasta with them... it’s a delectable way to do something together.

What makes this an A-mazing dining experience? The aromas coming off this dish while it’s cooking are mind-blowing! It’s a complete sensory experience, and the combination of ingredients will definitely tempt your senses. Cooking the onions in butter is seriously mesmerizing. I never knew I loved the smell of cooking onions so much; maybe my senses are growing with each dish. They say that your palate changes with age, not that I’m growing old gracefully. However, I’ll admit that I now love sautéing onions. Chopping raw onions are another matter, but if you need a good cry, onions are the way to go.
With every step, the fragrance builds and fills the house with luxurious scents. Next, adding the bacon (I substituted bacon for pancetta as the recipe calls for) already, my mouth is drooling with anticipation. This is dangerously awesome. After the bacon is cooked, adding the tomatoes and its juice confirms that I am just one stop closer a completed dish.

As a novice, cooking can be a victorious achievement, or a massive failure. Luckily, I haven’t experienced the latter. Just a few tweaks, but nothing burnt, or declared disaster.

Why am I so in love with this dish? Some dishes look good, some dishes smell good and some dishes taste good, but when you get visual, taste and smell combined together, you have a triumphant trifecta of culinary success.  And trust me when I tell you, this recipe has it all!

I invited my neighbor Tricia over for our Tuesday night get together so she too could get hooked on this dish. She brought one of my favorite sides: Tomato, Cucumber and Onion salad with vinegar, oil, salt, pepper and a pinch of sugar. It is a southern summer classic, and the vinaigrette complemented the pasta perfectly. Also, since it’s Florida’s vegetable season, the tomatoes and cucumbers were excitingly fresh!  She also brought over a bottle of Lemoncello Crème for dessert. She suggested that since we were doing Italian night, this would be a welcomed addition, and she was right.  (Side note: last week, Tricia made us White pizza and YUM! It was awesome!) Thanks Tricia for introducing me to a fabulous delight!

The night was a success! The pasta was mouth-watering, the salad, a lovely foil and dessert, who doesn’t love a grand finale with alcohol. We had a bold red wine, a lighter red wouldn’t hold up to the powerful flavors of Amatriciana.

Giuliano Hazan’s Recipe for All ’Amatriciana
From his” The Classic Pasta Cookbook” 
(I recommend that you order this today – It’s a GREAT cookbook)

Recipe for 1lb. of Pasta
4 T.         Butter - (I only used half the butter to cook onions – didn’t add the other to the finished dish)
½ C.        Finely Chopped Onion
2 oz.       Pancetta – (I used 3 strips of Applewood Bacon) cut into thin strips
2 C.         Canned Whole Peeled Tomatoes with their juice, coarsely chopped
¼ t.         Red Pepper Flakes (more if you prefer spicy)
1/3 C.    Freshly Grated Parmigiano-Reggiano Cheese
2 T.         Freshly Grated Pecorino Romano Cheese

Melt half the butter in a sauce pan over medium-low heat. Add onion and cook until it turns a rich golden color. Add the pancetta (bacon) and sauté until it is lightly browned but not crisp. Stir in the tomatoes and red pepper flakes and season with salt. Cook until the tomatoes have reduced and separated from the butter: 20 to 30 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside.

Giuliano suggests that you may prepare the sauce ahead of time and refrigerate until you are ready to use. Personally, I made the sauce earlier in the day so that all the ingredients build their flavors.

Bring 4 quarts of water to a boil in a large saucepan or pot, add 1 tablespoon of salt and drop pasta all at once, stirring until pasta is submerged.

While pasta cooks, return the sauce to a low heat. When pasta is “molto al dente” (about 30 seconds away from al dente) drain and transfer to a serving bowl. Add sauce, butter (I skipped the additional butter) and the grated cheeses, and toss vigorously. Cover the bowl and wait 2 minutes before serving.

This is a FABULOUS recipe!

Until the next time, happy cooking!
SRQ Foodie

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