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Bucatini Amatriciana

bucatini

Gail and I had dinner last night at a nearby Italian restaurant, Piatti in University Village, on the edge of the University of Washington campus. We don’t eat there often, but we like it when we do. We went with Joel in December, just before New Year’s. That’s when I discovered that it’s part of a chain. Joel and I were discussing chain restaurants and we agreed that Piatti had some features of an upscale chain. I looked for their website, thereby discovering that there are a dozen Piattis: six in northern California, three in southern California, plus three more in San Antonio, Denver, and Seattle. But the website provides assurance that Piatti is not exactly a chain:

Piatti is a collection of restaurants, rather than a chain. In order to ensure that each Piatti location is a unique experience, suited to its surrounding, Piatti chefs are encouraged to personalize their menus to meet the needs and desires of their guests. Like their European inspirations, Piattis are as much a part of their communities as they are dining destinations.

In any case, chain or no chain, it does a pretty good job.

For dinner last night at Piatti, I had — well, you can guess — yes, I had the bucatini amatriciana. It’s described in the menu as “Hollow Spaghetti, Pancetta, Chili Flakes, Garlic, Red Onion, Pecorino & Tomato Sauce.” I wouldn’t have mentioned it here had I not read about the very same dish this morning at the end of a wonderful article by Mimi Sheraton that will be in tomorrow’s New York Times. The theme of the article is meals that are worth a flight, the initial example being a meal at L’Ami Louis in Paris. After lovingly describing one such meal, Mimi writes:

As it turns out, many meals and their settings, as at L’Ami Louis, have been memorable enough to induce me to enplane. And that even in the most punishing economy class, where I would be seat-belted in for eight or nine torturous hours of bad movies, stiff knees, stale air and crying babies. And although full, formal meals in bona fide restaurants are the main draws, I would even fly off for some exceptional and adventurous street eating or one great inimitable dish, whether it is to be found in an elegant Paris restaurant or a busy market.

More examples follow. Munich, Vienna, Madrid, London. And then we get to Italy, and, in the penultimate paragraph, bucatini all’amatriciana:

When in Rome it’s carciofi alla Giudea, or Jewish style, a ghetto specialty of artichokes pressed open flat and fried to crispness that suggests dried sunflowers and best turned out at La Matricianella in a little alley that leads to the Piazza Navona. Other classic perfections there are tripe simmered with tomatoes and what just may be the world’s second best bucatini all’amatriciana, the thick tubes of pasta caught in a robust sauce of tomato, onion and guanciale.

Second best? Where’s the best? The closing paragraph provides the answer:

For the world’s No. 1 amatriciana, no plane is required. I need risk only a cab ride to East 81st Street in Manhattan to my currently favorite hometown Italian restaurant, Sandro’s, where the chef-owner Sandro Fioriti cooks as the Romans would like to.

Now, of course, I’m desperate to go to Sandro’s. The online menu lists “BUCATINI AMATRICIANA – with tomato sauce onion and pancetta.” I’m ready.

In the meantime, I can content myself with the Babbo Ristorante recipe for bucatini alla amatriciana. (The picture at the top is taken from this webpage.) The webpage has an enticing description of the dish:

This dish is one of the most celebrated in Italian cuisine and a favorite here at Babbo. Named for the tiny town of Amatrice, located 100 miles east of Lazio from Abruzzo this dish can be made both with or without tomatoes. Ever since Abbruzzese shepherds begin the tradition of eating this spicy pasta after a day in the chilly mountain air, the cooking process has always begun with the rich smell of a fatty piece of pork bubbling in the pan. At Babbo, we use our homemade guanciale, or cured pig jowls, with its distinct pork flavor, to achieve the same rich taste that comforted the shepherds of old.

This raises an interest issue: guanciale or pancetta? It would appear that guanciale is the authentic ingredient, yet Sandro’s menu lists their version with pancetta, so maybe it doesn’t really matter. And where does one buy guanciale anyway? Well, I didn’t have to look far. After all, Babbo was started by Mario Batali, and Mario’s father, Armandino, started Salumi, Seattle’s own purveyor of cured meats. Sure enough, they purvey guanciale. We have the recipe. We have (access to) the ingredients. Let’s start.

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Categories: Food, Restaurants
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