No fear, less tears and more beers.

You’ve probably noticed I’m limping along here! Or maybe you haven’t. Either way, a rather belated but heartfelt Happy New Year to you all. In the words of John Lennon Lets hope it’s a good one without any fear. Or as I as sang incorrectly for years, ‘Lets hope it’s a good one without any tears‘ Or my friend Andy’s alternative pub lyrics  ‘Lets hope it’s a good one with plenty of beers. Personally I’m hoping for all three;  no fear, less tears and more beers. Oh and plenty of parmesan. Talking of parmesan, there isn’t any in today’s recipe. There is pecorino though – in this case pecorino romano; the hard, sharp, pungent, sheep’s milk cheese –  and plenty of it, added to the hot sauce just before you add it to the pasta. The sauce is question is a particularly good one, a classic and one of my favourites, sugo all’ amatriciana or alla matriciana in Roman dialect.

Sugo all’ amatriciana is a traditional Italian pasta sauce made with guanciale (unsmoked Italian bacon prepared with pig’s jowl or cheeks) tomato and pecorino cheese. The sauce originates from Amatrice, a town in the mountainous Province of Rieti, about 75 kilometres from Rome. There ‘s much heated debate about the precise origins of sugo all’ amatriciana and even more heated debate about the truly authentic recipe – of course there is we cry, this is Italy – particularly the inclusion of onion (gasp), peperoncino and black pepper. There are also rather strong opinions about the shape of pasta best suited to this excellent sauce: spaghetti (the traditional pasta in Amatrice), unruly bucatini – a thick spaghetti-like pasta with a hole running through the center, or my favourite, the mighty ridged tubes; rigatoni.

I’d been making a kind of sugo all’ amatriciana long before I came to Italy, long before I could say alla matriciana like a true Roman! I didn’t know it was sugo all’ amatriciana though, it was simply my take on a kind-of-Italian-spicy-tomato-sauce-with-bacon, best served with spaghetti and crowned with a vast heap of parmesan. I’m joking of course, about the pronunciation that is not the sauce, even after 6 years I still have deeply average and often embarrassing grasp of the Italian language and sound about as Roman as the Queen quoting Jane Austen.

My kind-of-Italian-spicy-tomato-sauce-with-bacon, well that was standard fare, perfectly acceptable, but generally very average and often a bit on the crude side! Actually it was often crude because it was one of my post pub repertoire and generally executed while I was under the influence of a large quantity of alcohol and hardly at my most lucid and precise. But since being in Rome, visiting Amatrice, eating my own body weight in sugo all’ amatriciana (I live above the trattoria Il Bucatino whose signature dish is, hardly surprisingly, Bucatini all’amatriciana) and a fair bit of kitchen experimentation, I think my sauce has improved, tightened up. In keeping with todays Beatles theme I could say my sauce, my sugo, has ‘Come together’ and I’d go as far as saying I make a pretty good alla matriciana.

I’m sure purists will gasp, but I like onion – preferably white and mild flavoured, chopped really finely and sautéed gently in a little oil – at the base of my sugo all’ amatriciana.

I generally use guanciale, I adore its glistening, deeply flavoured fat, but I’m happy with pancetta. I’m partial to a deep kick of peperoncino and lashings of black pepper. I use plenty of tomatoes – a whole tin of pelati (peeled whole san marzano tomatoes – like the tin under the Beatles in their Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band phase in the first picture). I chop the pelati coarsely with a pair of scissors while they are still in the tin. I cook my sauce for a modest 15 minutes, but in a shallow pan so it reduces and thickens willingly (today the blip blip boil splattered the white cover of my friend Betta’s cooker so dramatically it ended up loooking like a tomato sauce massacre). I mix the pecorino with the pasta at the same time as the sauce in the pan and stir energetically so the cheese becomes part of the sauce. Oh, and talking of cheese, I know this is stating the obvious, but pecorino is king here, parmesan just doesn’t hit the spot, too refined, you need the rough, coarse, piquant nature of pecorino Romano. As for the pasta, I often use spaghetti or bucatini but Rigatoni is my prefered pasta for sugo all’ amatriciana, I love the way the thick, richly flavoured tomato and cheese enriched sauce clings to the ridged tubes, the way a little sauce hides inside each tube, if you’re lucky alongside a matchstick of guanciale.

I know it would have looked so much nicer on my table, you know the one. I miss my table. I will be eating at it again soon. Great lunch though, captured on camera by my friend – and supplier of extremely potent Calabrese peperoncino – Pietro.

Pasta all’amatriciana

For 4

  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 small mild onion very finely chopped
  • 100g guanciale or pancetta cut into thick match sticks
  • 1 small peperoncino (red-hot chilli pepper) crushed or finely chopped
  • 350g tinned plum tomatoes (chopped)/tomato passata
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 75g freshly grated pecorino plus more for serving
  • 450g pasta (spaghetti, bucatini, rigatoni)

Bring a large pan of well salted water to a fast boil for the pasta.

Warm the olive oil in a heavy based frying or saute pan over a medium flame, add the onion and saute it gently until it becomes coloured pale gold. Add the pancetta and fry gently until the fat is translucent and the edges are just starting to turn golden.

Add the peperoncino and tomato to the pan, stir, season with salt and freshly ground black pepper and then cook uncovered over a modest flame for 15 minutes.

When the sauce has about 10 minutes of cooking time left, add the pasta to the fast boiling water and cook (according to the instructions on the packet) until al dente.

Darin the pasta (reserving a little cooking water in case you need to loosen the sauce) and toss with the sauce in the frying pan, add the cheese and more freshly ground black pepper and toss again. Serve immediately with more cheese and a glass of wine.

When I started this blog I didn’t imagine it would evolve into something quite so personal, so revealing and involve so many of the people in my life. I know this and my style of writing has both lost and found me readers (and friends). I wouldn’t have it any other way! But at a time in which my life has changed quite dramatically, I find myself flailing and quite unable to find the right words to share things in a way that feels appropriate. I do know I need time, otherwise I’m in danger of coming across as a dreadful and doomed character in a chickerflicker of novel. Ok, ok, not doomed – see I told you I love the drama and smattering of careless exaggeration – I am most definitely not doomed, just at a very particular moment in my life.  Yes, I most defiantly need time and a large gin and tonic in hand when the time is right. Meanwhile, for the second time, Happy New year to you all and ‘Lets hope it’s a good one without any fear and tears, more beers, lashings of parmesan and large portions of pasta all’amatriciana for us all’.


Filed under food, pasta and rice, recipes, sauces

72 responses to “No fear, less tears and more beers.

  1. Looks great Rachel! I make my amatriciana River Cafe style, with red onion and cooked for a long time. It’s probably my all time favourite pasta. I’m up for something new though and would love to try your version. Happy New Year to you.

  2. Happy New Year. Thanks for posting, I always enjoy it.

  3. happy new year, Rachel. i am very happy to have stumbled upon your blog- i love your writing style and it is also a little window into my past life in Rome. x and o shayma

  4. I am sure that I am not the only one who felt that something was afoot. Sending you love and best wishes for fortitude.

  5. Katie

    I’m so glad to see your post Rachel. I’ve been missing you, but also wondered how you were doing. I’m sorry you’re having a hard time. For some reason I’m thinking of a book that I recently read called, Keeping the Feast. It’s about an american wife struggling to keep balance and her husband recovers from the emotional and physical wounds after being shot while reporting. The act of shopping and cooking every day in Rome kept her moving ahead through the toughest times. I mention it because reading her descriptions gave me the same wistful feeling that I get reading your blog. Simple. Harmonious. Something like that. SO, I don’t know if cooking does that for you these days, but I hope something does. Thanks for all your wonderful posts. I’m looking forward for more to come, whenever.

  6. SRM

    So happy you are back!!! Happy New Year! Think I have probably checked your blog every single day for a new posting 🙂

  7. hope you’re ok, friend.

  8. Sara Rosso

    Hope things are well – don’t be afraid to reach out “off the blog” if you need more ears 🙂 I know our expat path is not an easy one!

  9. So glad to see you back Rachel. I love your blog, and guess we must be on the same Amatriciana wave length. My own preferred recipe is just like yours (with – gasp – onions). And I also prefer rigatoni. But for a completely different take (well not completely) see my post from a few days ago. Adds garlic and wine (!)
    And to Katie above: we must be on the same wave length too! I was just now chatting with Paula about Keeping the Feast, and she’s going to do a guest post on my blog next week. Amazing book.

    • rachel

      Hi Elizabeth,
      Thank you for your message and i will look out for the book, your blog and Paula’s post.
      All the best rach

  10. Oh my dear Rachel, I am with Michele on this one, I do hope that life gets easier and better soon. It will, it will, it always does. xxx

  11. Bravo – one of, if not, my favorite Roman dishes, executed simply and carefully by a (transplanted) Roman! My preference is for guanciale quite simply because it has that chewiness and butteriness (sp?) which pancetta doesn’t, and that when you find a sliver of it hiding it provides a real toothsomeness to the dish. And, please, don’t ever even consider apologizing for your style – the blog world is the perfect place for personal expression and you would have many fewer regularly returning admirers, and your blog would be all the poorer, without your distinctive timbre. Incidentally, other bloggers share your concerns about voice. Not sure if you saw this from Heather at Voodoo&Sauce:

  12. Rachel, Wishing you a New Year of great love and laughter.
    Take good care of yourself and I look forward to reading your beautiful words again when the time is right. x

  13. Ciao Rachel,
    Ci manchi e ti pensiamo, in bocca al lupo per tutto!

  14. Hi Rach–always good to be here with you and your splendid food; you Know that we are all with you in spirit—sending you the best wishes in navigating big change.

    (and, I love this sauce—I like the onion at its base, too.) x N

  15. Ciao Rachel,
    my train of thoughts reading this post: 1. These are not Rachel’s pictures. 2. This is not Rachel’s kitchen. 3. Something is wrong (and I have an inkling, what).
    I so wish a year with no tears and more, well, I really can’t bring myself to write beer, so please accept, wine. Do hope to see you again soon.

    • rachel

      Of course wine too…..You are right on all three counts (the first two pics are mine though.) Thanks for message my friend and I hope to see you soon too, love to you both xx

  16. Well begun is half done…

  17. Val

    Its good to read another excellent post from yours and I hope you will come through this hard time soon. I always believe that without the hard times we wouldn’t be able to appreciate the good things in life like this superb pasta all’amatriciana.

  18. Rachel,
    I was so glad to finally see a new post and then, all at once, so saddened to realize that all is not well in your world. My new year’s wish for you is that whatever has come your way, will leave you stronger, rested, focused and present in the moment of whatever you choose for your life. Best wishes and hoping for another beautiful post when the time feels right!

  19. Rachel, I so hope you are doing ok. I understand the need to step back when life gets in the way, take your time and take care Gx

  20. johanna

    Great post, Rachel. We made this last night and it was fantastic – thank you for the inspiration and the technique. Have missed your posts — hope that everything sorts itself soon and that you have a really happy new year.

  21. Julia

    Hey! First comment from me – love your recipes and style of writing. I’ve followed you a long while now and immediately realised something was off when I read this post and saw your pictures. I just split with my boyfriend after six years together and I also find myself in a strange kitchen trying to figure out my future. I don’t know what’s happening with you, maybe not anything similar at all – but I know we’ll both be fine. Good luck.

  22. Rachel – So happy to see you posting again! I hope 2011 brings you happiness, peace, gin and tonic, andbucatini to your heart’s content. Take care of yourself.

  23. No fear, less tears and more beers might be the best, top-notch ‘resolution’ I’ve heard. It sounds like a pretty solid life motto, too.

    This looks incredibly delicious by the way!

  24. Your food blog is the only one I have stumbled onto that I have returned to. Do what you need to do – and thank you for sharing yourself.

  25. Ziu

    Dear Rachel,

    all the best wishes to you, girl!

    I myself went through some very tough times recently. So bad I stayed away from both my kitchen and blog for a few months. But you know, however bad things get, this never lasts! I wish you all the best and for the sun to shine through those dark clouds very very soon!

    Everything will be alright and I know what I’m talking about!

  26. Ziu

    Just read other comments and could simply sign the one from Julia.

    I dont know whats up – stars? plannets? sun’s magnetic fields going crazy? 🙂 – but so many people are going through exactly that right now!

    And yet, things happen for a reason. We all know its a good one! 🙂


  27. Elp

    Love the pictures!

  28. Welcome back, again. I have a cured jowl in the fridge (and two more fresh ones waiting at the butcher) and this reminds me of the urgent need to make something with it. And please don’t change your style. The blogiverse is clotted with anodyne crowd-pleasers. Be yourself.

  29. A belated Happy new year to you. I think it’s been decided that 2011 is the year of pasta. Let the boiling begin. Good eating to you and great post, btw.

  30. Looks very yummy! The picture is making me hungry!

  31. I absolutely adore authentic pasta sauce and this post was just wonderful. And I have to say this recipe is definitely divine. Nice post.

  32. This looks absolutely delicious and I will be making this asap! Also, I really really enjoyed the story =) Man, I miss Italy…and eating my own body weight in pasta every night….sighh

  33. I always thought amatriciana involved wine, but must bow to the expert here, fantastic post.

  34. Wow that pasta looks good

  35. Cle

    I’m italian and I can say: great ingredients (I use them too in Italy!)
    good recipe!

  36. Hi there. I’ve missed you. I’ll be making this tonight. A few things I tend to consider when I find myself “in danger of coming across as a dreadful and doomed character in a chickerflicker of novel”…

    This too shall pass. (It inevitably does)
    What doesn’t kill us makes us stronger. (Right?)

    Forgive me for possibly botching both quotes and not looking up original authors, but you get the idea. I have only the best of intentions and truly hope you are feeling better soon.


  37. mae

    Hi there. I’ve only recently found your blog and I love your writing style. It’s personal but expressed directly without cliche. Not a whiff of chicker flicker coming off of you.

    I hope you’re feeling a bit better.

    Look forward to any future posts…

  38. i must be channeling your kitchen… i just wrote up a twist on this sauce (i love a heaping dash of fresh, minced rosemary also, fried in the fat), and am working up the nerve to trot out carbonara before my sauce-phobic six-year-old.

    i do hope your new year is off to a fine start, without fears or tears, and with plenty of bears. seems all but guaranteed that way, no?

  39. This looks simply divine. Next time I’m craving pasta, this is where I’m headed!

  40. Rachel, come back! We miss you.

  41. laura

    Ditto … and idem!

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  43. Sara

    Ciao Rachel
    just wanted to let you know that the header from this post was really meaningful for me and led me to write the sentence down in nice colours on a piece of paper, take a picture and let it stand as my mobile phones’ desktop!
    By the way i bucatini all’amatriciana me fanno morì, troppo buoni!

  44. I just wanted to let you know I made this for lunch today (out here 80 km SE of Rome) and we all loved it! It was really delicious.

    Sorry to read that you’re going through “the big D”. It has happened to the best of us and it’s amazing that one day you will look back and say all has happened for the best. Be strong, stay well…and keep eating well!

    Ciao, Diane

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