In honor of Amatrice

Perhaps you have (as I have) been thinking of central Italy more often the last couple of weeks, following news of the devastating earthquake which destroyed several towns in the mountains between Perugia and L’Aquila on August 24.

Una_via_di_Amatrice

A street in Amatrice, 2012. Photo by Silvio Sorcini, Wikimedia Commons.

Amatrice, a town of about 2,600 residents, was about 75% destroyed. The death toll is nearing 300 in the region, including several other villages with major destruction. In addition to the tragic loss of lives, homes, and livelihoods, nearly every historic church in Amatrice was destroyed. The city’s bell tower survived the quake, and now stands over piles of rubble.

For about sixty years, from Italian unification up to 1927, Amatrice was part of L’Aquila, before being annexed to Lazio. L’Aquila, about 75 km to the south in Abruzzo, suffered its own devastating earthquake seven years ago. Last month L’Aquila’s annual religious festival, the Perdonanza Celestiniana, cancelled all social and cultural activities, all but the religious rites, in solidarity with  Amatrice and surroundings for this year’s disaster .

Bucatini_amatriciana

Bucatini all’Amatriciana–and don’t forget the wine! May I recommend Montepulciano d’Abruzzo?  Photo by Rkolarsky/Wikimedia Commons

Italian foodies might honor and remember the town with a dinner of Pasta all’Amatriciana, and I’ve been scouring recipe books and the internet reading about this traditional dish of Amatrice.

The traditional pasta, bucatini, is a long hollow tubular shape, which, frankly, I find a challenge to eat because it isn’t as flexible as typical long spaghetti or linguine. It tends to sproing off the fork and fling bits of sauce, however Marcella Hazen, in her Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking, says, “It’s impossible to say ‘all’amatriciana’ without thinking of ‘bucatini.’ The two are as indivisible as Romeo and Juliet.” If you’ve never used bucatini, give it a try, but another long pasta would be an acceptable substitute.

Now, the traditional meat is called guanciale, a bacon made from the jowls of pigs that feast on acorns, according to Carol Field’s Celebrating Italy cookbook. Good luck finding guanciale if you aren’t in Italy. Pancetta is a good substitute and more widely available in the USA, and bacon is an acceptable substitute.

The traditional cheese is pecorino Romano, a very sharp sheep milk cheese which Hazen considers indispensible to amatriciana sauce, though it is too sharp for her taste as a table cheese. It’s readily available, so no need to fall back on the parmesan.

With all that in mind, here’s my proposed recipe, adapted from several sources:

2 tablespoons olive oil, or half oil, half butter

1/2 lb. pancetta, cut in thin strips

1 dried red chili pepper or flakes (amount to taste)

1 medium onion, sliced thin or diced fine

1 lb. tomatoes, chopped (peel them for a smoother sauce)

Salt

1 lb.  bucatini or other long pasta

plenty of grated pecorino Romano cheese

Heat olive oil (and butter, if using) over medium heat, and saute the pancetta for about five minutes. Add chili or flakes to taste, and continue cooking until pancetta browns a little. Add onion and cook until golden. Stir in the tomatoes and cook about fifteen to twenty minutes, until the sauce thickens.

While the sauce cooks, heat a large pot of salted water to boiling, and cook the pasta until it is al dente. Drain the pasta. Remove the chili pepper from the sauce if you have used a whole one. Then add the pasta to the sauce  in its pan, and toss well.

Serve with plenty of pecorino Romano

 

 

Abruzzo’s gift that keeps on giving

Glenn and I with Piero at the Cantina di Biffi in Sulmona. Note bottle of Montepulciano d'Abruzzo on the table.

Glenn and I with Piero at the Cantina di Biffi in Sulmona. Note bottle of Montepulciano d’Abruzzo on the table.

We drank a lot of wine in Italy. Italian wine. Big mouthfilling reds and crisp Calabrian whites. But one of the most lasting wine pleasures we discovered was Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, a wine I had never heard of before spending a few weeks in Abruzzo.

So last week my brother, Glenn, forwarded me an email from a wine store, touting “a true gem of a wine” in Fantini’s 2012 Montepulciano d’Abruzzo. The email claims a wine score of 90 for it, though my online research turns up 85 or 87. Am I concerned? Naaa. I’m gonna go look for some of this, which is available from several places at about $10 a bottle, and I’m gonna bring it home, and I’m gonna cook up some pasta with sauce that includes zucchini (because I am overloaded with it right now). Then I’ll pour a couple of big red glasses of that stuff.

I’ll be wishing my brother was here to enjoy it, like we did in Sulmona in 2004 at the Cantina di Biffi. Montepulciano d’Abruzzo has become my go-to red since then.

Readers, please share your best Italian wine experience in the comments. What made it special?

Destination weddings, Italian style

Wedding in Catania, "Carrozza in Piazza Duomo" by Giovanni dall'Orto (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Wedding in Catania, “Carrozza in Piazza Duomo” by Giovanni dall’Orto (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Does the Villa Caesar Augustus on Capri sound like your ideal wedding venue? Maybe you are more inclined to exchange vows on the Lovers’ Walk  along the Amalfi Coast. Or take a few of your friends on an antique sailboat and tie the knot on the water. Destination weddings in Italy come in all shapes and sizes.

Commercial wedding organizers are prepared to help you plan a wedding just about anywhere in the Italian South. (No doubt the north, too, but that is somebody else’s blog!) Here are some examples:

A 1950s Italian wedding.

A 1950s Italian wedding.

Sicily: A seventeenth century baroque castle near Taormina offers garden weddings for up to 250 guests, with on-site catering and hotel rooms for about 50 people. Enjoy music and dancing ’til dawn.

Calabria: A medieval chapel attached to a nineteenth century luxury residence near Cosenza, with religious ceremonies available in the chapel or civil ceremonies in other parts of the venue.

Basilicata: A masseria, or large farmhouse, in the hills, has been converted to a beautiful wedding venue with lots of privacy, and a more informal environment.

Apulia: Need space for 800 of your closest friends? Get married on the beach at Monopoli. The club has a private beach and restaurant–with parking for 500 cars.

Campania: Romantic to the core, Sorrento offers numerous wedding venues, and the possibility of a religious wedding inside the medieval cloisters in the historic center of town. Stunning views of the Gulf of Naples and Vesuvius.

A wedding in Amalfi. © Jorge Royan / http://www.royan.com.ar / CC-BY-SA-3.0

A wedding in Amalfi. © Jorge Royan / http://www.royan.com.ar / CC-BY-SA-3.0

Abruzzo: In a castle near Chieti, you can host your reception dinner in the cantina, the castle’s winemaking cellar, surrounded by enormous wooden casks. The castle sits among grapevines on a hillside above the Adriatic Sea.

One Italian wedding website, Slow Dreams, has an especially helpful page on legal factors involved with marrying in Italy. A Google search for ‘wedding venues in Italy’ turned up nearly three million hits–you won’t have any trouble finding a wedding planner to help you. If you have accomplished the first step–finding your lifelong partner–see what Italy has to offer for your perfect wedding.