I had asked my companion, who lived in Rome, to take me somewhere that only the locals go, because one thing you can be sure of: local residents eat the best food in the city. They do not hang out in the crowded, over-priced, and not very authentic restaurants where many tourists unwittingly end up.
One night in Rome, we ate dinner at a trattoria (restaurant) that was full of locals dining…and nary a tourist in sight. And that’s another tip for finding good food when traveling: if possible, get off the tourist path.
I said I wanted to try something traditional, a typical Roman dish. “Do you like pasta?” the owner asked.
“Of course,” I replied, with a look that said what kind of question is that?
“With cream sauce or a red sauce?”
“Definitely red.” Any pasta with red sauce is fine with me.
“Pefetto you should try the bucatini all’amatriciana, one of the most typical Roman dishes.” The owner spoke in Italian and my dinner companion, Silvio, translated. Bucatini all’amatriciana is considered a classic Roman dish, even though it actually originated elsewhere in the region of Lazio.
Now, you probably want to know if I liked it – was it good? Heck if I remember, that was seven years ago. I’m pretty sure I liked it because if I didn’t I’d remember that! Besides, what’s not to like about pasta, tomatoes, pork, and cheese?
What I do remember is how happy I was; I finally felt that after two weeks in Italy I was experiencing just a little bit of the la dolce vita that I’d heard so much about. I think it’s pretty evident from the photo below that I had a great time.
What is bucatini all’amatiriciana? Bucatini comes from the word buco, which means hole, and bucato, which means pierced. Bucatini is a pasta that looks similar to spaghetti but is a long noodle with a hole in the center, like a noodle straw. It’s very common in the Lazio region, especially in Rome. The sauce (amatriciana) is very basic. It’s a tomato base flavored with pork jowl, onion, and grated pecorino romano cheese. Simple and delicious.
I’ve written a lot about Rome, but not much about the food of Rome. This month I’m doing something new: participating in an Italian food, wine, and travel group chat. Everyone in the group will share their articles, and we will host a twitter chat on the 4th of July. You can follow along on twitter at #ItalianFWT. Each month, this group explores a new region of Italy. The region we are exploring in July is Lazio, best known for the city of Rome. It’s the perfect time for me to join in, as I’ve been to Rome many times.
To make this even more fun, I decided to actually cook (yes, I cooked) bucatini all’amatriciana, and invited my young friend Max (who also happens to be an amazing bass player), to try it out. I know I can count on Max to be brutally honest.
Now one cannot eat an Italian meal without a bit of wine to accompany the food.
I tried to find a nice red wine from the Lazio region to go with the sauce. As it turns out, Lazio doesn’t export a lot of wine. What is readily available is Frascati, a light and very drinkable white wine from the region of Frascati, about twenty miles from Rome. Since it’s summer where I live, Frascati is a nice wine option: it’s light and slightly fruity, with a mild acidity. A great wine for sipping on a hot day or to drink with a meal, as Max and I did.
I’m currently reading Eating Rome… it’s pretty obvious what the book is about. I used the recipe that author Elizabeth Mincelli shares in the book. I did make some adaptations, however. I went to three grocery stores and could not find any bucatini pasta, so I bought rigatoni. I also could not find any pork jowl, so I just used good old bacon. Bacon makes everything taste good, as we all know. I added a bit of garlic, because I like it. I also goofed up and got parmesan cheese, instead of pecorino romano. Even with all these adaptations, it tasted pretty darn good, according to Max.
Here is Ms. Mincelli’s authentic recipe:
3 thick slices of guanciale (pork jowl) chopped into small cubes (you can substitute pancetta or unsmoked bacon)
2 T. of extra virgin olive oil as needed
1 small onion chopped
Hot red pepper flakes (optional)
1 – 28oz. can whole peeled San Marzano tomatoes and their liquid
1 lb. of bucatini
1/2 c. grated Percorino Romano cheese or more as needed
Place the guanciale in a medium saute pan over medium heat and let it cook and sizzle until just starting to brown. It should give up quite a bit of fat. Turn off the heat and using a slotted spoon scoop the guanciale bits up and set aside. If there isn’t a lot of rendered fat left in the pan add a bit of olive oil. Turn the heat back on, add the onion, and cook until quite soft but not browned. At this point you add a bit of red pepper flake if you like to give it some kick. Add the tomatoes and their liquid to the pan along with reserved guanciale and let the sauce bubble away for at least half an hour. It should reduce quite a bit and thicken. If you think it’s getting to thick add a bit of water.
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil, add the bucatini and cook until al dente. Drain the pasta reserving a cup of the water and transfer it to the pan with the sauce. Stir to combine and cook briefly over gentle heat just to meld the flavors. Remove from the heat and stir in the cheese. If the sauce seems to thick add a bit of the reserved pasta water. Serve with extra cheese on the side at the table.
Now that you know how to eat like a Roman… Mangia!
Want to learn more about Rome?
Learn even more about the region of Lazio – read these great article by my fellow bloggers and Italophile friends.
Orna O’Reilly – A Foodie Easter in Rome<span
Food Wine Click – They’ll Drink Anything in Rome
Rockin Red Blog – Live Like Caesar
Enofylz Wine Blog – A Taste of Lazio
Christy’s Palate – Living La Vita Lazio
The Palladian Traveler – Civita di Bagnoregio: The Dying Town
Girls Gotta Drink – Eat Like a Roman (With a Roman): Unusual Things to do in Rome