Wednesday, March 01, 2006

It's the Onions

I don't know why pasta all'amatriciana isn't more popular. In fact, my mom never made it when I was growing up, and it wasn't until I went to Italy that I discovered it. I clearly remember my friend Giuliana, with her daughter Silvia in one arm, stirring onions at her brand-new modern Italian stove, showing me the basics of amatriciana. I stayed with her family for two weeks on one of my trips, and I learned a bunch of things. This one stuck with me.

Amatriciana is a tomato sauce made with lots of onions, some hot pepper, and, oh yes, a cured pork product. (After a trip to my butcher, I am happy to report that I am now flush with cured pork products.) Tonight I used bacon, but pancetta is good. I think Giuliana, living way up in the Dolomites near Austria, used speck. Mmm... speck.

No matter how rhapsodic I wax over the pork, the onions are what make this dish special. Diced and cooked long and slow, they melt into the tomato to form an almost creamy texture, while some pieces retain a little crunch. Bucatini, those beautiful fat hollow spaghetti -- the ones that spray sauce all over you as you try to wind a few on your fork -- are considered the ultimate pasta to serve all'amatriciana, but I find the sauce works with just about anything, like the regular spaghetti I used here. I thought I cooked enough for Margy to have leftovers for lunch, but we couldn't resist eating it all.

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