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

 

 

New world record from Molise?

Snow in Capracotta. Image from the Capracotta.com website, which also provides ski information in three languages.

Snow in Capracotta. Image from the Capracotta.com website, which also provides ski information in three languages.

We rarely hear from Molise, that region southeast of Abruzzo, northwest of Puglia. Molise extends from the mountains of central Italy to the Adriatic coast. But a village in Molise made international news today, boasting a world record snowfall of more than 100 inches–in just 18 hours! Take a look here. 

The village of Capracotta (translation: cooked goat. Hmmm.) is in ski country, so winter snow is common. But their recent snowfall was out of the ordinary, even for them! Check out this webcam for an image of Piazza Falconi.

Tornado in Taranto, Italy!

Crazy weather in the Italian south today!! Watch the video.

WTVR.com

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RICHMOND, Va. (WTVR) – Tornadoes can happen in many other parts of the world, even though the U.S. is best-known for its tornadic activity. And one struck the biggest steel mill plant in Western Europe on November 28, injuring at least 20 ILVA steel plant workers and causing heavy structural damage. At least one worker on a crane was reported missing, and divers were searching for the missing person, according to the mayor of Taranto, Italy.

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Historic changes to Italian provinces

The current provinces and regions of Italy.

The Italian government has decided to abolish several provinces with smaller populations, combining and redefining them, as part of a streamlining effort to save money. Not everyone is happy about it. This article from the Guardian (UK) gives some of the reasons.

The number of Italian provinces has almost doubled, from 59 when Italy became a nation in 1861, to 109 today. The reorganization of provinces will take place in 2014, and affects provinces throughout the country. Last month the English language version of Italy’s Corriere de la Sera ran this article about the axing of 36 provinces.

The provinces are not to be confused with regions, the better-know subdivisions of Italian government. For example, Calabria is a region with five provinces. However, after reorganization, the provinces of Catanzaro, Crotone, and Vibo Valentia will be combined into one, leaving Calabria with three provinces.

The functions of provincial level governments include planning and zoning, police and fire protection, and transportation matters such as car registration and road maintenance.

Some proposals have called for the complete abolition of provinces, with the regions taking over all the governmental functions. Others want to protect the unique cultural or historic character of a place, such as Benevento, which is scheduled to throw its lot in with Avellino despite Benevento’s ancient Samnite history.

These changes are likely to spark some protests around the country, and are expected to be challenged in court. However for most visitors to Italy, the impact is expected to be minor. Look around and see history in the making.