Today, rather than focusing on a single ingredient or recipe, we look at regional Italian cooking, starting with Lazio, one of the regions of central Italy, which is home to the country’s capital, Rome. It is a region which is diverse in culinary bounty, with plentiful access to the Tyrrhenian Sea, open flatlands, and densely wooded, volcanic mountains. Still, many of the traditional recipes from Lazio are recipes of poverty and necessity, featuring only one or two high-quality ingredients. Such are the two recipes we are cooking here: spaghetti cacio e pepe from Rome and bucatini all’Amatriciana from the mountainous town of Amatrice. Both are primi piati, or first courses in a typical Italian meal, to follow simple antipasti (olives, a simple salad, a carpaccio, etc.) and to be followed by a heartier main course.
Spaghetti cacio e pepe means ‘spaghetti with cheese and pepper’ and is as simple as it sounds. To start with, place a large pot of water over high heat and season heavily with sea salt (about 1 tablespoon per 2liters of water). You want flavourful pasta, so seasoning it while it cooks is a good idea. In the meantime, grate finely 200gr of Pecorino Romano, a hard cheese made out of sheep milk from the region. When the water comes to a boil, add 400gr of dried spaghetti (good for four people as a starter), stir, and let the water return to a boil. Place a large, dry frying pan over medium heat and add 1.5 tablespoons of coarsely grated black pepper. When it’s fragrant (careful not to scorch it), add 2 tablespoons of butter and a good drizzle of olive oil. When the butter melts, add 100ml of the pasta cooking water (rich in starch, by now) and swirl to form an emulsion (the fat molecules become suspended in the water and form a creamy sauce). Add the spaghetti when it is just short of being al dente and finish cooking in the pan. Add 3/4 of the cheese and toss together until the sauce is creamy and the cheese melted. Serve with the remaining cheese sprinkled on
For the bucatini all’Amatriciana you’ll need 400gr of bucatini (a thin, long, tubular shape) or similar shape of pasta (spaghetti or linguine will do in a pinch). Start a large pot of salted water over high heat. While this comes to a boil, prepare the sauce. Place a large frying pan over medium heat and add 2-3 tablespoons of olive oil. Add 1 teaspoon of dry chilli flakes (or more if you like it spicier) and 200 gr of guanciale, diced in 1cm cubes. Guanciale is cured pork jowl and is similar to bacon or pancetta (so, if you cannot find guanciale, use one of these alternatives). When the meat is translucent and a little crisp, turn the heat up and add 400gr of diced tomatoes (either ripe fresh ones, or canned). Season the sauce with salt. This is a good time to add the pasta to the boiling water, as they take about the same time as the sauce to cook. When they are just short of al dente, add them to the sauce with a ladleful of cooking water and 100gr of grated Pecorino Romano. Toss well so the sauce comes together and serve with an extra drizzle of olive oil and chilli oil for those who like to live on the wild side. Both dishes benefit from the company of dry white wine.
This article first appeared on the Universiteitskrant on Marth 6th, 2013. For the original article, click here.