Cooking DNA

I started Italian-American Sunday last week on a whim. You can see my Google Plus collection about that; read the post at the bottom first. I am missing that part of my background so hard as I grow older, and don't know how to get any of it back except by cooking.

[I want to apologize for all this text before the cooking part; I don't like that very much as a rule. But I had a thought process going.]

This past week, as you know, Central Italy was upended by an earthquake. Amatrice was hit very hard. And so I thought I would make spaghetti all’amatriciana on Sunday in honor of the people there. I went to Jungle Jim’s on Thursday for Smoking Goose guanciale and a couple of other ingredients. I learned Jungle Jim's had the guanciale by asking them at Twitter. And here it is:

You’ve probably seen this dish with bucatini; the hollow spaghetti. I read this is because that’s how it evolved in Rome, but in Amatrice, they still use spaghetti. Hopefully, they can rebuild and continue to do so in the future.

I pretty much always use linguine. If a dish wants angel hair or something, generally it doesn’t appeal to me anyway.

So I Googled some recipes, found several that claim to be the most authenticest at all (try amatriciana ricetta tradizionale in the search window,) and decided to use two as influence for my dish today. I added the Serious Eats suggestion of white wine for deglazing the pan to this recipe I found which is charming in its English translation. I did not remove the guanciale before warming the tomatoes, as some other sites suggested.

Apparently, one important aspect in the original version is using a different pecorino than Romano. Romano is strong and salty, and according to the self-appointed authority, the sauce wants a milder one.

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However, I couldn’t find the right pecorino at Jungle Jim’s, not because they don't have a jillion cheeses, but because it's made in small amounts and isn't widely available.

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So I stood there and sniffed all the cheeses made with sheep’s milk to guess what might work, then ended up choosing something I decided would just be right because it’s what I’d have to use.

That’s how it works, you know.

The other aspect is whether to use fresh or boxed tomatoes or tomato sauce. I speak with someone on Google Plus occasionally who tells me that where she lives in Italy, the tomatoes and tomato sauce come in boxes instead of cans. So, I bought boxes at Jungle Jim’s when I shopped for the cheese and the very important guanciale. I do have fresh tomatoes, but all the ones coming in now are yellow, which we don’t want for this sauce.

Finally, I read today that people are encouraging restaurants to serve Bucatini All’Amatriciana and send the proceeds to the Italian Red Cross. You might see if a restaurant in your city is participating, or donate directly if you are able.

Ingredients for last night's Linguini All'Amatriciana:

8+ ounces (225-250 g) guanciale cut into small strips
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 medium heat chili pepper (you could use a few flakes)
1/3 cup (80 ml) dry sherry (when it calls for white wine, what I have for it is dry sherry or dry vermouth)
750 ml box Italian tomatoes (I used strained, but I think chunks would be better, or a large can of San Marzano tomatoes, squished with your hands like Lidia does.)
1 lb dry linguini
1/2 cup grated (microplaned) Pecorino Romano mixed with 1/2 cup Trugole
(I think that's 50 grams each, maybe don't quote me.)

And here's what to do with it:

Heat olive oil in wide pan large enough to hold all of the above. Add the guanciale and the chili pepper, and stir around until the guanciale is starting to become translucent. Serious Eats recommended medium high. I heated to medium high, then turned it down a little when I added the meat. This took about five minutes, but you could turn it down more after the oil is heated, and go more slowly. Guanciale
Turn it back up to medium high and add the sherry or white wine, and scrape the pan with a nice flat wooden spatula. Or what you have. After a minute or two, add the tomatoes and a pinch of salt. When it bubbles, turn it down to simmer. If you put in a whole pepper, take it out now. Pomi
Cook the linguini about two minutes short of done. Be sure to add plenty of salt to the water. Then take the pasta right out of the water and add it to the simmering tomato sauce. It's better to do that than draining it, but if you have one of those cool pasta pot inserts, yay, just be careful adding it all at once. Then add a half cup or so of the pasta water, stir it in, and add the cheese, stirring some more. Let it cook for a few minutes to thicken the sauce and finish the pasta. Cheesepan
You might be used to sauce just put over pasta at the very end, and this will have a different texture. You will love it, but it will thicken more as it cools, and be less nice later on. So eat it right away, and if you aren't going to eat this much at once, cut the whole recipe in half.

Serve with more cheese for the top. You will just love the guanciale, and it will have been worth seeking it out. Other recipes will tell you it's okay to substitute pancetta or something, and I'm sure you can make something nice with it, but it won't be the same food at all.

Six Months Later...The Kitchen is Open

Wow. Got all involved in moving, then overwhelmed by the new school routine, and so much else to keep up on! But we've been here for four months now, it's time to get back to my true love. Tonight I'm making a sort of shrimp creole and I'm going to share it here. First, some grainy pictures of my new kitchen. 

No, wait. First, you should read about the changes. I've made seven categories, and I folded the funny "Glory of Garnish" page into this one. Those posts are marked "Vintage Advertising" and "Vintage Cookbooks." There will be more. 

Okay now, grainy kitchen photos. :-)

KitchenlightoffI know, it's dark. I just liked the picture. My new kitchen is smaller, but I like it much better. The floor is wood instead of vinyl, much cooler and easier to clean, and everything is new and nicely at hand. There is no question of any of it ever having to not work quite right, of worrying about water damage from a badly installed dishwasher and leaky sink, or of racks falling out of the refrigerator, or the microwave starting to loosen from the wall, or a landlord who isn't exactly who or what he says he is. 

I also don't have young ladies floating through, wanting to cook at all hours of the night. I deeply miss those young ladies, but not their chaotic energy. 

KitchensinkYou know about the Fly Lady? She helps people with home organization. She is manic about two things; scrubbing your sink every morning, and wearing shoes in the house. I am also manic about two things (well, at least two;) scrubbing the sink every morning and NOT wearing shoes in the house. I have nothing to do with her because of that. I loathe seeing people wear shoes in the house. But these sinks are nice to scrub. Even though you can tell in the photo that they needed some scrubbing at that moment.

CookingcornerHere is the area to the right of the sink. 

SinkviewHere's the view from there to the left. There's actually a tremendous amount of light in this area of the house, but the kitchen can be dark. My only real complaint about it is the terrible lighting. I gotta get to that. 

MW3This is the view from the long countertop where I do most of the food preparation. They brought the PS3 upstairs yesterday to play Modern Warfare 3, but usually I can watch (listen to) an old movie while I cook.

BakingareaAnd here is my baking/mixing area. The cabinets above my mixer have all my baking ingredients, and the bowls and pans are beneath it. :-)

I'll be back later with shrimp creole-esque deliciousness. If you have never seen my homage to old food photography and advertising, click on the vintage categories for some fun.