We all have our pet carbohydrate. Usually it functions as a comfort food. And most likely it also has something to do with childhood, or at least the part of the world you come from. No doubt there is the one Japanese person out there who reaches for boiled potatoes when he is craving a simple carbohydrate dish, but from my experience, it will more often be rice. Leave the potatoes to the Polish.
Ok, let’s continue this fun little game of carb-related analogies. Japan is to rice as Italy is to…. BLANK. Wild guess? I know, too easy.
For Italians, pasta is ubiquitous. Weekday, weekend, in casual clothes or formal, it is just there: happily boiling away in a large pot of well-salted water, until it can slide into a pan of something saucy and spicy. Like Amatriciana.
Tomaso makes a Spaghetti all’Amatriciana that can win over even the hardened hearts of brown-bread-loving Germans. (He had better, since he has a German girlfriend and a half-German baby on the way!) Now after living nearly 17 years in Berlin Tomaso has broadened his mind when it comes to carbohydrates, however he admits that in his first years living abroad, he ate pasta nearly every night. It may sound extreme when you consider all the potential grain-based delights that he was missing out on. But then again, when it comes to carbohydrates, pasta is about as versatile as it gets. Even something seemingly straightforward, like Amatriciana, has endless minute variations that can give very different results. Use a bit of onion, get a sweeter sauce; choose spaghetti instead of bucatini, enjoy a slightly different texture. The brand of canned tomatoes or pasta itself makes a world of difference. There is no incorrect recipe per se (though pastas not originating from Italy are completely verboten), but there are ways of doing it that just feel more “Italian” than others, and, therefore more like comfort food, no matter which carbohydratic tradition you come from.
I particularly like Tomaso’s Spaghetti all’Amatriciana because it blends a spicy sharpness with the typical salty-savory quality that one expects from this dish. He emphasizes the importance of the proper amount of sauce for the pasta. If it is swimming in sauce, it’s not right, but it also need not be thinned down with pasta water at the end to compensate for too little sauce. While guanciale (salt-cured pork jowl) is the classic choice of meat, it is more difficult to procure in Germany than in Italy; Tomaso instead cut strips of bacon, which I think worked perfectly. Though in principle it is a simple, everyday meal, this Amatriciana possessed a refined quality that perhaps can only be achieved by a seasoned cook. One who has prepared and eaten pasta many, many… many times.
Recipe- Spaghetti all’Amatriciana
2 Tbsp Olive oil
Approx. 125 grams bacon (or guanciale, if you have it) sliced into thin strips
2-3 cloves of garlic, cut into large pieces
1 can peeled (pelati) tomatoes (Tomaso used Del Monte, readily available in Germany)
a few basil leaves
500 grams dried spaghetti or bucatini (De Cecco or Voiello)
approx.. 50 grams finely grated Pecorino
1. Fry strips of bacon in a pan for about four minutes over medium heat until golden-brown. Remove from pan and set aside.
2. Heat 1 Tbsp of olive oil in the pan and add the garlic and pepperoncini. Stir occasionally and cook until garlic is golden in color. Add the can of tomatoes. As the oil is quite hot, the tomatoes will sizzle and cook quickly. Reduce heat and stir occasionally, cooking tomatoes for only about 2 minutes. Add bacon. Tear basil leaves into pieces and add them as well.
3. Remove pan from heat. Ideally let the sauce sit for about a half hour so that the flavors become more concentrated.
4. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Season with salt. Add dried spaghetti or bucatini, whichever you have on hand or prefer, and cook, stirring occasionally with a fork.
5. Meanwhile, turn the stove back on to re-heat the tomato sauce. Add the last couple of cherry tomatoes and stir into the sauce. Remove the pieces of garlic and discard. Season sauce with salt and black pepper to taste.
6. Just before the pasta is al dente, drain in a colander. Sprinkle over it the remaining tablespoon of olive oil, to keep pasta soft and to add a bit more fatty flavor. Add pasta to the sauce, stirring vigorously with a fork or tongs to coat. Cook until pasta is al dente.
7. Transfer pasta to four warmed plates. Add a bit of the grated pecorino to the top. Serve to carbohydrate-comfort-food starving friends (with or without a spoon to help).