07 March 2013

AUNTIE PASTA: Roman Holiday

CHIAVERI, Italy – Two new food discoveries this week. One is coppiette and the other is pasta alla gricia. They are not new foods – actually they are very old foods, they are just new to me. I found them on menus listed on the homefood Italy web site, Homefood being an Italian organization of home cooks who, for a small fee, will invite you to their home for dinner.

Pasta Gricia 
The cooks and their menus are grouped by region and, since Homefood all about preserving and showcasing Italian home cooking, the cooks are encouraged to offer regional specialties like coppiette and pasta alla gricia.  But because many of the dishes on their menus are regional specialties, many of us are not familiar with many of the foods on offer, even those of us with Italian heritage.

Coppiette is a good example. Raise your hand if you have ever heard of it. Me neither.  What it is is very thin strips of meat that have been seasoned with salt and spices and air cured for sixty days.  While today coppiette are made from pork and served as part of an antipasta platter, they were originally made from horse meat and sold in Roman osterie where, like peanuts and potato chips, they were a salty snack designed to increase the thirst of the osteria patrons.
You can still buy them in some grocery stores in Rome – Auchan for example – or you can go to the hilltown of Ariccia – Riccia in Roman dialect – where the recipe was developed and find them on restaurant menus along with other Roman specialties, maybe even pasta gricia.

Pasta gricia is one of the most famous dishes in Lazio and is considered the great, great granddaddy of pasta dell’amatriciana. Like amatriciana, pasta gricia calls for guanciale, which is salted and cured pig’s cheek, plus pecorino cheese and pepper. Unlike amatriciana, there is no tomato in pasta gricia because when the recipe was first developed the tomato had not yet been introduced in Europe. That didn’t happen until the mid 1500’s.   

The dish is said to have been created by shepherds in the hills of Latium. It was – and still is - quick and easy to prepare using just a few, but very tasty ingredients.  You can make in the time it takes for your pasta to cook, and while you can use any kind of pasta you like including long ones like spaghetti or bucatini, or short ones, and in that case the recommended pasta is rigatoni.  
 (Serves 4)

400 grams Rigatoni pasta
250 grams guanciale cut into strips
50/60 grams grated Pecorino Romano cheese
Salt and pepper to taste

Cut the rind from the guanciale and cut it into strips (1). In a no-stick frying pan, start cooking the guanciale over a medium/low heat, until the fat starts to melt and the strips become transparent (2). At this point start cooking the rigatoni in a pot of boiling salted water (3), not too salted as the guanciale and the pecorino cheese are both rather salty. 

Add a generous amount of black pepper (4) and then add a few spoonfuls of the pasta cooking water to the frying pan to extend the cooking juices (5). Drain the rigatoni and add them to the frying pan and let them cook together with the guanciale for a few minutes, stirring often to coat the pasta with the cooking juices (6). Add a few more tablespoons of pasta cooking water in needed.  Spoon into serving dishes, sprinkle with a good amount of pecorino romano and serve.  


1 comment:

  1. Your post cites CHIAVERI, Italy as the point of origin--do you live in Chiaveri? We spent time in Lavagna and so enjoyed our strolls in Chiaveri. When the market came to town it was most exciting and we especially liked the Saturday when the artisians had their wares on display.

    We speak of uprooting and living in the area--just love swimming in the water and partaking of the amazing food and culture.

    Well best to