I don’t know why, but my among my favorite courses of relaxation is messing around with various bits and pieces in the kitchen to combine them with tomatoes over pasta. A basic meat sauce, Bolognese, lamb and red wine, lamb in the Abruzzi style, some bizarre concoction that uses shallots, herbs de Provence, and prosciutto, and puttanesca… my dearly beloved puttanesca.
I come by my obsession honestly. I’m an adjunct member of a big Italian family.
As I write I’m wearing my favorite hat: “Carroccio’s Rocotta” it says over the bill, “Since 1890, Nutritious, Appetizing.” To the best of my knowledge the family creamery is no longer a working concern. My grandfather had ten kids and I’m the oldest of twenty one grand kids on that line. Some of his five brothers’ descendants could be making cheese somewhere. My mom’s cousin makes hats and sends them to me with no one getting all patent violationy so I’m pretty sure it’s defunct, but there are soooooooo many of us out there, and we can all claim ancestral ties to propagating Italian cooking in the USA.
By the age of twelve I was a veteran of my mother’s kitchen. I didn’t realize at the time that different people have different versions of classics. We had a way to make meat and tomato sauce and I assumed it was the only way. That’s what led me, on a visit to DC, to surreptitiously “fix” Granpa’s sauce with a few dashes or a ton or so of dried basil. I had never cooked for more than my family of five and his huge pot was meant for more, but proportion was not yet in my wheelhouse. The result was at best described as “woodsy.” I took it upon myself to season a practiced pot and it was horrible.
I’m not sure how I was discovered as the culprit because when I dosed that pot the kitchen was mine alone, but I do remember my uncle Paul staring daggers through me as the family ate.
I really thought I was in trouble, but the axe never fell. Instead, Granpa called me aside the next afternoon.
We made sauce together. I’m assuming that overly pedantic is a characteristic of dental surgeons. As an example of the species, Granpa loved nothing more than minutia. He really explained, and explained. I spent a month at the Smithsonian with him one hour while he explained jet engines. But turn that same teaching and training instinct from teeth or rocket air intake and turn it to minutia about tomato sauce… that was like heroin to me.
His sauce was weird to my mom trained ways. I could see that there was a connection between her version and her father’s. He didn’t teach me a different way so much as he taught me that there was a different way.
In retrospect I can see how my house sauce is a slight divergence from my mother’s and that hers is a slight divergence from her father’s. My sister has a similar sauce with beef broth thrown in (I know! Crazy).
These things get passed down through families. Every member of every generation adds a twist. It’d be an interesting study to keep going back, like a linguist starting at Modern English and Sanskrit who kept looking at changes and consistencies to work back to Indo-European. What’s the mother sauce?
I’ve been obsessed with tomato sauce since that lesson with Grandpa and open to new ideas and the idea that there isn’t a right way so much as a “I know, but look at what I can do!” way.
I hate to say it, but today’s recipe isn’t some family lore pass on.
This one was introduced to me by a pompous jackass whose company I inexplicably enjoyed.
I was in Rome in 1996. My father had been working in concert with an Italian attorney to settle some dispute between dad’s US based client and whatever entities were displeased by some construction issue in Italy. Post resolution my parents took the whole family to Italy for vacation. The attorney that my father worked with took us out for an outrageous lunch.
I said he was a pompous jackass because he was. He insisted on being referred to as professor, he ordered our food for us, our wine, and dominated the conversation. I hate people who assume to do such, but the food was superb. The wine was glorious, and he had the most amazing stories.
He didn’t come alone. His minor entourage was made up by his assistant’s husband, a very funny man named Massimo, and the professor’s assistant, the type of woman whose presence makes men of a certain age stop thinking in any meaningful way. I’ve no idea what her name was because she turned my mind off. I remember that she was from Mexico City, I remember that she towered above my 5’10 self, and I remember that she cleverly and exactingly stared in brown.
I also remember thinking, “Damn Massimo.”
While the professor was lamenting that for months the backyard of his villa was unusable because the government was excavating and early AD mosaics were being discovered, the pasta course arrived.
All Amatriciana means “from Amatrice” which is a good hike to the northwest of Rome, but it might well be the most popular dish in the capital not doused in black pepper. Amatriciana, like so much of the ancient world, has been subsumed as this dish is non-synonymously synonymous with Rome.
A last funny thing: Birmingham seems to have a priestly pipeline in that direction. The Vatican loves our guys. I can think of several in my lifetime that were called to duty at the Holy See. I know a guy who was at a party that got out of hand and Pope John Paul II threw him into a pool. Baptismal?
I’ve asked the priests about Amatriciana. They come at me with homilies. “It’s different there.” is pretty much an across the board response along, though less poetic and salivating a response, with a worshipful regard for the Italian domestic product. I agree, given the availability of ingredients. But here’s what we got.
- 1lb bucatini
- 8 oz thick cut applewood smoked bacon
- 56 oz canned whole tomatoes, torn by hand
- 1 yellow onion, diced
- 3-5 cloves garlic, smashed
- Red pepper flakes, to tolerance
- 1 cup dry white wine
- 8 oz parmesan cheese, grated
- salt to taste
- olive oil
Applewood smoked bacon is my substitute for guanciale, the smoked jowl of a pig, because… I have no idea why. We in Alabama are a swine saturated culture. Why do we have no local guanciale? I guess the jowl is getting tossed. Call you local congressman.
Anyway, we can’t easily get guanciale so use bacon, pancetta does well too.
Start with some olive oil and the onion
When the bacon starts to sweat add garlic and red pepper flakes.
Add white wine
Add Tomatoes. Toss with sauce and cheese. Let simmer for twenty minutes or so and salt to taste. Toss with pasta cooked in heavily salted water and smile like a happy Roman.
Traditionally there’s no herbs, but I like the color so I threw a bit of basil in.
I’m worse than most when it comes to rivalry commentary, particularly about Tennessee. I get a potty mouth. I talk trash about whatever group, defense, WRS, or DBs a given opponent presents that is an obvious detriment. This week I got nothing, because they got nothing. Sit back and relax.
Enjoy, No Injuries, and Roll Tide.