Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Yellow Jackets in the Laundry and Pasta all'Amatriciana

So I put a washcloth in the broiler on Sunday until it caught on fire. It happens.

And yesterday, I got stung by a yellow jacket. While doing laundry. Inside. Oy.
There was a brief, unplanned expletive festival which finished (mostly) with the violent death of the yellowjacket. My sister (who, I might add, was not in a position to throw stones since she got herself a sunburn from being outside all day in 80 plus degree heat) noted that I make dumb people look smart. Thanks. I’ll be adding to your son’s drum set come Christmas. Of course, my mom and other sister both said something along the lines of "that's harsh" without actually contradicting the sunburned sister's remarks. Ouch.

Despite my fecklessness and this past weekend's series of kitchen failures, I turned out a competent pasta all’amatriciana last night. A while back, Sognatrice of Bleeding Espresso postsed about one she'd made, and although I felt awful at the time, a little light went on in my head, because I love pasta all’amatriciana. It’s a simple, flexible, delicious sauce. I am not deeply attached to authenticity. It doesn’t take much time in Italian kitchens to realize that there are many, many variations of any given dish, and that any Italian will look shocked (as if you’d insulted the pope, their mom and soccer in a single sentence) when they walk into the kitchen and see that you are not doing it the way they are accustomed to. So I don’t really fret much if I’m using pancetta instead of guanciale (or even bacon), or if it’s sliced instead of cubed. Someone, trust me, is always going to say "non cosí!"

The pasta was pleasantly al dente (we used penne—I didn’t feel like making a special run just for bucatini). The sauce came out well. The pecorino romano on top had just the right bite to it. The kids watched me make the sauce with some interest (they were trying to find a way to stall on their own dinner/bath/bed process), and although both were suspicious of tomatoes being added, were interested in the whole cured pork portion. I chatted to them about spaghetti alla carbonara (at least, until I realized I was getting played), and they looked very, very interested (which you would, if you're playing someone and trying to stall). Bacon, eggs, cheese and pasta. In a single dish. I'd never thought about why, exactly, I love carbonara, but (done properly) it's pretty much the perfect storm of foodstuffs.

Amatriciana, though, is no slouch. It was a relief, after such a severe bout of kitchen (and life) klutziness, to turn out something effectively. It was interesting to read Sognatrice's recipe (in a good way, obviously, since it made me really, really want to eat it); I find it amusing that there are a ton of little variations within a recipe that is commonly considered written in stone. And it's fun to try the variations.

Amatriciana, in a way that will likely meet with disapproval from Italians. serves 3-4.

1 Tablespoon butter (optional)
1 tablespoon (or so) olive oil (I rarely actually measure olive oil. I just pour a little in the pan, and if doesn’t look like enough for the job, add a little more)
1 yellow onion, diced
3-4 pieces pancetta, about 4 ounces or a little less, diced (or a piece of guanciale, cut into small cubes)
1 large can diced tomatoes
Chili pepper flakes to taste
Grated pecorino to serve.

1 lb pasta, in an ideal world, bucatini, but... I usually use penne rigate

1) add onion, butter and oil to pan and turn to medium heat. So, really? I put the butter and oil in the pan, turn it on, and add the onion as I chop it.

2) When the onion is turning gold at the edges, add the pancetta. Cook for a few more minutes, about 5-10. This usually turns into 10-20 minutes for me, or it did last night, as I exhorted the kids to finish their dinner, helped Curly button her pajama top, supervised toothbrushing, etc. However, as long as it gets stirred regularly, it will simply result in the pancetta and onion caramelizing in a pretty tasty way.

3) Add tomatoes and chili pepper. Scrape any pan brownings off the bottom of the pan. Bring to a simmer, turn the heat down a bit and allow to simmer gently for about 20-30 minutes, giving it a stir every now and then (you probably don't really need to, but I can never resist). Mine went 45 or so; my boy has been stalling heavily at bedtime lately and requires near-constant management to get to bed on time. I usually put the pasta water on around when I turn it down to simmer, as my 40+ year-old stove needs some time to wheeze away to heat up a big pot of water.

4) Toss with cooked pasta, and serve with pecorino (we actually grate the pecorino into a bowl and pass it, but, whatever, really.)

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