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.

Olive Scaciati

Amusingly only to me, this favorite food of mine is composed almost entirely of garnish. I do it mostly like Mom did, but have the advantage of some better ingredients and tools. I smash the olives with a mortar and pestle instead of a heavy glass. 20140611_135831

I have divine wild Sicilian oregano from Jungle Jim's, even though I grow perfectly nice Greek oregano in the backyard.  20140611_140748Here is Sicilian oregano. Can you smell it?

I have good olive oil; she just used her vegetable oil. And I smash a few peppercorns to add in.

But Mom knew the olives weren't fantastic unless you let them marinate for at least a couple weeks. When I was a child, this was the only way I'd accept celery. Now I know it's just a spectacular seasoning for all kinds of things.

I have no recipe. It's a quart-sized deli container of large Sicilian olives, smashed open but not beaten up, a cup or so of chopped celery with leaves, half a dozen sliced garlic cloves, a few beaten black peppercorns, a couple tablespoons dried oregano, and olive oil drizzled over it until it's all just coated. 20140611_140546
I keep it in the refrigerator until I can't bear waiting any longer. With olive oil, that means it will look semi-solid. But it can just be left out until warm. Mom sealed it in a jar and put it in the back of a cabinet. I was unlucky with that, though, so I did it only once.

People add things. Carrots, red pepper flakes, vinegar. I can't get with any of that. I guess you can put it in if you like, but to me, it's just in the way of the olives and celery.

Theoretical spaghetti sauce...

Sometimes I wish pasta salad hadn't become a thing in 1978 or whatever. Everything has been pasta pasta pasta ever since. But my 2nd gen mom and aunts called it all noodles, macaroni, spaghetti, maybe sometimes there'd be manicotti, which didn't sound remotely like how you say it. For them, it essentially rhymed with ricotta, which they also did not say like you say it. And there was lasagna, of course, contents of which were argued over every time it was made for Christmas Eve, which was now and then. When I grew up, I realized I was now putting my vote in for Aunt Helen's way, with just sausage, but actually, I still prefer all these dishes with the meat on the side, not inside. I've never been a ground meat sort of person, if that's a sort to be. So usually when I do eat it, it's for separate, not for mixing into things and screwing up their texture.

Anyway.  This Google search I just did is absurd, of course. First, because I know how to make spaghetti sauce 18 different ways and counting. Every time I make it, that's probably a new way. But I was looking for this particular one, cooked like a ragù, but without all the ragu in it. Second, because if I typed pasta, maybe I'd have found more of what I wanted, but I wasn't thinking of pasta, even though I'm actually going to put the sauce on ravioli later. And there will be sausage on the side, and salad from my garden.

And so whatever. This is what I plan to do. Chop vegetables, garlic, and a little salami, sauté it, add some tomato paste and red wine and let it reduce, then beef broth and smushed-up canned tomatoes, and some herbs from the garden. That's a fairly basic process. And let that simmer way low the rest of the afternoon. Then I'll see how it tastes later, finish it up, add a splash of cream, and serve it over the ravioli, which I got from Jungle Jim's pasta bar yesterday. Along with the sausage and mixed salad greens.

What's a cooking blog page post without photos, though? Hmm. Here is a linguini dinner I made for the boys recently, with a light chunky tomato sauce, sausage, and zucchini, and two photos of a very good gibson martini I enjoyed a few weeks ago. When the slow sauce is reality rather than theoretical, I will post instructions and pictures. 20140506_191152