This past Friday was Viva Italia week here in Neenah, Wisconsin. Not sure what that is? Namely, the annual major fundraiser for the small Family Church where our family attends. It is headed by our friend and native daughter of Italia, Paola. If she had not heeded to her spiritual calling, I feel with near utter certainty she would have devoted her professional self to the food world, full time. Fortunately for those close to her, when she is not feeding the spirits of others she is often playing hostess in her own kitchen where acts of culinary miracles turn simple ingredients into mouthwatering delicacies every day. This Bucatini all’ amatriciana is just one of the dishes Paola served up this past Friday evening to around 80 or so lucky diners. Although everyone had a personal favorite, this simple and basic Italian classic was unbeatable in my gastronomic opinion.
Growing up, spaghetti was always my favorite dish that my mom made. Was it authentic Italian? Absolutely not. Instead, it was authentic mom, every kid's favorite. Still, I'm pretty sure that my mom's interpretation served as a starting point for me to love almost anything made of pasta and tomato sauce. This dish prepared by our friend effectively shot me straight to the moon. It seemed to do the same thing for our 11-year-old son, Isaiah, who was sitting next to me. Although all the other kids were in another room, running around and, I'm sure, grabbing a bite of something now and then, this son of ours all but refuses to not dine with the adults at dinners and events such as this one. Oh, the stories I could tell you about this one.
This classic sauce takes its spiciness from black pepper and dried chiles and its depth of flavor from guanciale, Italian salt-cured pork jowl. When combined with the thick spaghetti-like bucatini pasta with a hole running through the center, it provides a meal that lends a tangible sensation of taste and satisfaction.
If you missed this year's Viva Italia the good news is that it happens every October and you can be sure we will be covering some of the great dishes that will be showcased. In the meantime, treat yourself to any of the Vivia Italia features we've covered here from this year as well as those from last year's event. And remember, Viva Italia!
Bucatini all’ amatriciana
- ¾ pound guanciale thinly sliced, or bacon
- 3 cloves garlic thinly sliced
- 1 red onion halved and sliced
- 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
- Salt and pepper
- 3 cups basic tomato sauce recipe follows
- 1 pound bucatini pasta
- Pecorino Romano for grating
Basic Tomato Sauce:
- ¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
- 4 garlic cloves peeled and thinly sliced
- 3 tablespoons chopped fresh basil or 1 tablespoon dried
- 2 28-ounce cans peeled whole tomatoes, crushed by hand and juices reserved
- Bring 6 quarts of water to a boil and add 2 tablespoons salt.
- In a 12 to 14-inch saute pan, place the guanciale slices in a single layer and cook over medium-low heat until most of the fat has been rendered from the meat.
- Remove the meat to a plate lined with paper towels.
- Discard half the fat from the pan, leaving enough to coat, and cook the garlic, onion, and pepper flakes.
- Place these three ingredients in the pan, add the guanciale, and cook over medium-high heat for 5 minutes, until the onion, garlic, and guanciale are light golden brown.
- Season with salt and pepper. You may add extra-virgin olive oil if necessary to keep the aromatics from burning. Add the tomato sauce, reduce the heat, and allow to simmer for 10 to 15 minutes.
- Cook the bucatini in the boiling water according to the package directions, until tender but still al dente, about 12 minutes.
- Drain the pasta and add it to simmering sauce. Increase the heat to high and toss to coat.
- Divide the pasta among 4 warmed pasta bowls.
- Top with freshly grated pecorino cheese and serve immediately.
Basic Tomato Sauce:
- In a 3-quart saucepan, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the garlic, and cook until soft and light golden brown, about 8 to 10 minutes.
- Add the tomatoes and juice, the basil and bring to a boil, stirring often.
- Lower the heat and simmer for 30 minutes until as thick as hot cereal.
- Season with salt and serve.