When it comes down to it, if I ever had to chose, I’d give up chocolate way before I ever gave up pork. And I like chocolate just fine (hard not to when you are born into a Belgian family that brings bars of Cote D’Or each time they come to the States to visit). But a life without prosciutto or pancetta or bacon? Nah, man, just wouldn’t be the same.
One of my favorite dishes–something I make a couple of times a month—is pasta all’amatriciana. The dish is from Amatrice, which is just outside of Rome. The dish is very simple and very delicious–olive oil, onion, pork (in this country, pancetta or bacon), red pepper and tomatoes. You don’t cook it long, the sauce can be prepared in the time it takes to boil the water and cook your pasta.
In Rome, the dish is most often served with bucatini, the spaghetti with the hole in the middle, and with pecorino cheese. And though Italians are usually very strict about their recipes, this one has variations, of course. Some people use vegetable oil and butter instead of olive oil (like Marcella Hazen), some add garlic, others add white wine.
In Amatrice, they don’t use onions or oil. Just cured pork, tomatoes, and cheese. The one thing that all Italians agree on is the kind of pork that should be used: guanciale — cured, unsmoked pig jowl. I bought a pound of guanciale last summer. When my wife, Emily, saw me slicing this lusciously fatty piece of pork she almost had a heart attack. She made me promise I wouldn’t eat all of it. I promised, but silently cursed myself for letting her see what I was doing. No matter. I rendered the fat from the stuff I wasn’t going to use and saved it for later use (without telling her, of course). Anyhow, the guanciale did give the sauce a different, more intense, flavor.
I’ve tried the the amatriciana sauce every which way, and you know what? It’s all good. The Times ran an excellent piece on the dish earlier this week. Worth checking out. And for those of you that enjoy cooking, it’s worth trying guanciale just once. Little pork fat never hurt nobody, now did she?