Tag Archives: pasta

Pasta alla Gricia

Up until recent times, January has never been the month of diets and cleanses, at least not in Italy. There were no concerns about being fit or losing weight. Rather, the biggest concern was to keep the family fed, and warm.

In Italy, January used to be the month in which people consumed the largest quantities of pork-based product. Rearing pigs was a common practice among farming families. This is because pigs were the most convenient animals to keep: they would eat anything and, likewise, they could be eaten nose to tail. They basically made a good investment.

Pigs were traditionally butchered in winter, usually from December to mid-February, as the butchering operations needed to be carried on at low temperature. In addition, the freshly cured meats would benefit from the cold for both drying and preserving. Mind, not all cuts were turned into cured meats. Some were eaten straight away – braised, fried, roasted etc. However, curing (and therefore preserving) most of the animal meat meant having enough to eat for the rest of the year.

Among the many excellent types of cured meat belonging to the Italian tradition,  guanciale is one of my favourites. Typical of Central Italy, guanciale is made from the cheek of the pig, a cut that is mainly made of fat, with only one or two thin stripes of lean muscle. The composition of the fat is different from the fat found elsewhere. It’s tougher and it has a more intense flavour. The generous salting and spicing all contribute to the unique taste of this product, as well as the wood-fire smoking.

Perhaps the most famous guanciale comes from the town of Amatrice, located on the border between Lazio and Abruzzo. Amatriciana is a pasta dish that was concocted in the area around the end of the 18th century and featuring tomatoes, guanciale, and pecorino. It was the dish of the transhumant shepherds moving from Amatrice towards Rome to sell their products.

The origin of the dish, however, dates further back in time, before the discovery of the Amaricas, with the sole difference that it didn’t have any tomatoes in it – only guanciale, pecorino, and black pepper. The name of this humble pasta dish was (and still is) gricia, from Griciano, another village not far from Amatrice.

Gricia is a dish that is telling of the lives people run in the area in which it originated. Shepherding needed energetic meals, while the nomadic lifestyle required foods that didn’t spoil too quickly. But the true fame of gricia came when it started to be cooked and consumed around Rome.

Making gricia at home isn’t difficult. All you need is the right set of ingredients and some practice, so as to master the art of melting the cheese in the pasta water to form the most perfect of sauces.

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Bigoli in Salsa

bigoi-in-salsa

 

Few things feel more festive to me (as to most Venetians) than bìgoli in salsa. As strange as this might sound, this poor, anchovy- and onion-based pasta dish is hands down the most popular Venetian Christmas Eve’s first course. A big classic in the cuisine of Veneto, bìgoli in salsa used to be enjoyed on giorni di magro (fasting days) such as Ash Wednesday, Good Friday and Christmas Eve. Nowadays, you can find all year round in traditional osterie and local restaurants all over the region. However, it remains very much linked to fasting days in the local tradition.

Context. Bìgoli is a type of thick, fresh spaghetti that is originally from Veneto. Their origin seems to date back to the 1600s, when the whole region was under the domain of la Serenissima. A pasta maker from Padova designed and patented a machinery (called bigolaro) apt to make different shapes of pasta. Among them, thick bìgoli gained people’s preference, and fast became the signature pasta shape of the Venetian republic.

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Wild Garlic Spaghetti with Chilli Oil

Since I was a little kid, springtime has always been synonym with foraging and cooking with wild herbs.

For years in this season, our table has been filled with dishes featuring wild garlic, wild hop shoots, mauve leaves, dandelion, and nettle. Usually, we would keep things simple and stir fry the herbs quickly before throwing them into a frittata or a savoury tart, or serving them as a side for meat or hard boiled eggs. Sometimes, we would do risotto or pasta or a minestrone with legumes and grains and whatever vegetables the season offered.

Living in the countryside has deeply shaped my way of conceiving food as something seasonal, and our cooking reflected this philosophy.

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