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Last month I posted about a cooking group called Cooking Italy, started by Angela of Spinach Tiger. The idea behind the group is that each month, you prepare a set of pre-chosen recipes from Marcella Hazan’s Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking.

I loved the idea of the group as soon as I heard about it because I am a huge fan of Hazan’s and don’t use her book nearly as often as I should.

One of the things I told Angela, right off the bat, is that it would be very unlikely that I’d be able to make all of the recipes each month. These days, I’m having enough difficulty getting to the Daring Bakers/Daring Cooks challenges, much less anything else.

Add to that the fact that the past month-and-a-half has been brutal at work. I’ve barely been home and the idea of cooking has been just that … an idea.

Thankfully, work has eased up and I can begin to contemplate some return to normalcy. The very first thing I did this weekend was to make one of the Cooking Italy November recipes: Amatriciana.

Amatriciana is a sauce that originated in Amatrice, Rome, where one would usually eat the sauce with a type of pasta called bucatini. I have other recipes for this pasta dish, Bucatini all’Amatriciana, but many of them do not include tomatoes, which I find interesting.

I believe that it is more authentic to include tomatoes, as Hazan does in her book. Essentially, Amatriciana is a sauce of onion, pancetta, tomato and chili pepper. In my opinion, the spicier the sauce is, the better it is.

Another reason why I wanted to finally try this recipe for the cooking club is that several weeks ago, we went to one of our favourite restaurants and unfortunately, I had a most disappointing dish of pasta with Amatriciana sauce. The pancetta had no flavour (which to me means that it must have been very old) and the pasta was literally lost in a plate full of sauce. Way too much sauce. Worst of all, the pasta was overcooked. I was so disappointed that I vowed to make a good plate of Amatriciana as soon as the opportunity presented itself.

When Angela chose Amatriciana as part of the November schedule, I was thrilled!

This sauce was so good. It was bright, spicy and flavourful. I especially loved the finishing touch of Parmigiano Reggiano combined with Pecorino Romano, two of my favourite hard cheeses.

While I couldn’t find bucatini at the store, I did find spaghettoni which are a thicker version of spaghetti.

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I absolutely loved this pasta. I’ll be honest, my eating habits haven’t been very good for the past month or so. Late nights at work mean lots of pizza and take-out. It was lovely to have a simple, yet robust plate of good ol’ home-cooked pasta.

I altered the recipe slightly so here’s my version, but Marcella’s version is on page 157 of the book.

Check out the Cooking Italy page for more information on the group and also to see the monthly schedule.

Ciao!

Spaghettoni all’Amatriciana

Note: If you can’t find bucatini, try another thick, long pasta or try a larger small pasta like rigatoni. An authentic Amatriciana should use fresh hot chili peppers but I didn’t have any and surprisingly, our local grocer didn’t have any either. I substituted red pepper flakes. This dish will serve 4 people very generously

1 tbsp. olive oil
1 tbsp. butter
1 small yellow onion, finely chopped
1 small piece of pancetta, finely diced (you want between a 1/4 cup and 1/2 a cup of diced pancetta)
1-1/2 cups of chunky tomato puree (either use whole canned tomatoes that you chop up yourself until you have a chunky/juicy blend or, when they’re in season, use fresh tomatoes that have been coarsely chopped in a blender or food processor).
1 tbsp. red pepper flakes (yes, that’s a lot, but we like it spicy)
salt, to taste
3 to 4 tbsp. Parmigiano Reggiano, grated
3 to 4 tbsp. Pecorino Romano, grated
1 pound of the pasta of your choice

Prepare the sauce:

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Heat the olive oil and butter in a large, shallow pan that is big enough to accommodate the pasta. Add the onion and saute for 3 to 4 minutes, over medium heat.

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Add the pancetta and continue sauteeing for 2 to 3 minutes.

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Add the tomatoes and the red pepper flakes. Let the mixture come to a boil and then salt to taste.

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Reduce the heat to medium-low and let simmer for about 20 minutes. You want the sauce to reduce considerably. You should have a thick sauce when you’re done.

Prepare the pasta:

While the sauce is simmering, boil the water for the pasta. About 10 minutes before the sauce is ready, boil your pasta according to package directions.

Assembling the pasta:

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Once the sauce is done, adjust the seasoning and then lower the heat until the pasta is ready. When you’ve drained the pasta, add it to the pan with the sauce and toss to coat.

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Immediately add in the Parmigiano and the Pecorino and mix well. You may need to add a bit more cheese, but that’s up to you.

Serve immediately and enjoy.