Spaghetti from poverty and necessity
Today, rather than focusing on a single ingredient or recipe, we look at regional Italian cooking, starting with Lazio in central Italy, which is home to the country’s capital, Rome. It is a region which is diverse in culinary bounty with its easy 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 – like 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, to follow antipasti (olives, a simple salad, a carpaccio, etc.) and to be followed by a heartier main course.
Spaghetti cacio e pepe
Spaghetti cacio e pepe means ‘spaghetti with cheese and pepper’ and is as simple as it sounds. To start with, place a large pan of water over a high heat and season it heavily with sea salt (about 1 tablespoon per 2l of water). You want flavourful pasta, so seasoning it while it cooks is a good idea. In the meantime, finely grate 200g of Pecorino Romano, a hard cheese made out of sheep’s milk from the region.
When the water comes to the boil, add 400g of dried spaghetti (good for four people as a starter), stir and let the water return to the boil. Place a large frying pan over a 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 (which should be 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 al dente and finish cooking it in the pan. Then add 3/4 tablespoons of the cheese and toss the mixture until the sauce is creamy and the cheese has melted. Serve the dish with the remaining cheese sprinkled on top.
For the bucatini all’Amatriciana, you’ll need 400g of bucatini or a similar thin, long tubular shape of pasta (spaghetti or linguine will do at a pinch). Place a large pan of salted water over a high heat. While this comes to the boil, prepare the sauce.
Place a large frying pan over a medium heat and add 2-3 tablespoons of olive oil. Then add 1 teaspoon of dry chilli flakes (or more if you’d like a spicier dish) and 200g of guanciale, diced into 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 400g of diced tomatoes (either ripe, fresh ones or canned). Season the sauce with salt.
This is a good time to add the bucatini 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 100g 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 being accompanied by a dry white wine.
This food-related column is by Anastasios Sarampalis, lecturer at the Psychology department
foto Jeroen van Kooten