Many many years ago, I received a copy of "The Silver Spoon," the Italian equivalent of "The Joy of Cooking" and only recently translated into English. It's the kind of fat, hardcover cookbook one receives as a wedding gift, or to find that kitschy but insanely good trifle recipe an aunt used to make. I've read the book so many times (like a classic novel) that the spine peeled off and pieces of glue and paper bits fall to the kitchen floor every time I pull it off the shelf. For me, the most-used and impactful recipe in that book has been a pasta sauce called "Amatriciana." You need to learn how to make this sauce. You will go to it again and again and it's incredibly simple.
Like all good sauces, the recipe varies a bit from town to town and kitchen to kitchen. My staples for the recipe are tomato, rosemary, garlic, bacon. Just imagine how that smells in the kitchen. Traditional Amatriciana sauce calls for guanciale (pork jowl) but for my adaptation, use good, thick-cut bacon, ham if it's all you have, and if you're really lucky, pork belly. I have no idea where I actually did learn to add fresh rosemary, but it may have been on one of my visits to Tuscany. You can omit the rosemary and you can also add sliced red onion. You can also use this as a memorable pizza sauce, topped with grated fresh Parmagiano Reggiano. For pasta, I love it with tubular versions like bucatini or ziti, which really hold on to the sauce. It's also beautiful served on top of polenta.
Writer's Note: if you are talking to someone from Lazio, DON'T call this Amatriciana or it could end badly for you. My recipe is a "tribute," if you will, but my ingredients do not match their specifications, and they sometimes take these things rather personally. I respect that and want to preserve tradition. But I also like MY sauce the best!
OK, here we go:
ANNIE'S AMATRICIANA (ah-mah-tree-chana)
3 glugs extra virgin olive oil
4 strips of good bacon, cut into cubes
2-3 cloves fresh garlic, chopped
4 cups fresh peeled and seeded tomatoes OR 2 cans Muir Glen diced or peeled tomatoes
2 sprigs fresh rosemary needles, chopped
Sea salt, black pepper, and red chili flakes, to taste
Parmegiano Reggiano cheese, grated (to top your finished dish)
Heat up the olive oil in your frying pan, and add the bacon pieces. Cook until they are halfway browned (don't crisp them). Then add the rosemary and cook until you hear it sizzle and see it soften a bit. Then add the tomatoes and continue to cook on medium-high heat. Add the diced garlic (I do this after the tomatoes so they don't crisp or burn in the oil). Add salt, pepper and chili flakes to taste. Cook on medium-low, stirring occasionally, for about 20 minutes (bubbling gently but not boiling)..