I have been derelict in my foreign correspondence.
You see, the entire maternal side of my family lives in Italy. And lately, I’ve been ignoring their outreach to me. I know it’s because I don’t know how to explain, in a language I hardly speak anymore, that I’m struggling with Bipolar Disorder and Depression and than I can’t come visit because I have both excessive credit card debt and a newly-discovered blood clotting disorder that makes long-distance flights dangerous. Frankly, I can barely explain it in English.
So I’m incommunicado, which I know sucks and makes me feel like a shitty person. Because I really need that on my head now, too. Yay!
It’s no surprise, then, that I wanted to cook something Italian tonight; cooking always makes me feel closer to my mom and my Italian half anyway, making pasta sauce doubly so. I decided on a sugo all’amatriciana, a simple tomato sauce characterized by guanciale and pecorino cheese.
Of course, I decided this late in the game, and shockingly, my crappy-ass PathMark does NOT carry guanciale. Or pancetta. Or anything at all other than family packs of ground beef and off-brand juice drinks. Ergo: bacon. Which is strike one against authenticity, but the show must go on; cranky people need dinner.
I thought I’d sweeten the sauce up with onion and carrot. Copying something I saw Lidia Bastianich do, I ground up the onion, carrot and some garlic in the FoPro before cooking them to a lovely light brown in rendered bacon fat. I’ve always liked a smoother tomato sauce anyway; when I was wee, I’d make my mother pick out the bits of onion in her sauce or force her to puree the finished sauce to perfect smoothness.
(I was a delightful child.)
A box of strained tomatoes went into the onion/carrot mix, along with some crushed red pepper flakes (marginally traditional) and fresh thyme (not at all traditional). Strike two against authenticity.
I always try to use strained tomatoes for sauce when I can find them both because they’re smoother in consistency than crushed tomatoes, and because they’re what my nonna and zie use for their sauces. (My mother used home-canned, whole, chunky plum tomatoes. The horror!) My Zia Lilliana, in particular, makes the best sauce in the entire world except for my Zia Wanda, who also makes the best sauce in the entire world. If it’s good enough for them, it’s good enough for me.
I let the sauce simmer and spatter for fifteen or twenty minutes, giving it the occasional stir and boosting the salt and pepper levels a bit.
Near the end of the cooking time, grated pecorino goes in.
Rather, grated pecorina SHOULD go in. However, in this case, grated parm went in, because the crappy-ass pecorino and crappy-ass parm were all jumbled together in the cheese case at my crappy-ass PathMark, and as I was riffling through them, trying to find a smallish block of cheese, I neglected to verify my final cheese selection. BETTER CHEESE SEGMENTATION, PATHMARK.
Strike three against authenticity! My god, is there any way to go on?
Why yes, there is, by way of Strike Four! PathMark also failed to provide bucatini, the pasta most often served with sugo all’amatriciana, and I didn’t feel like dragging my carcass to Citarella to spend $9 on artisinal bucatini. There was a box of campanelle – little bells – in the pantry; I figured their trumpet shape would be good at catching the thick sauce and bits of bacon.
I tossed my cooked campanelle with some sugo and a little reserved pasta cooking water to loosen things up and topped with still more (incorrect) cheese.
Once again, you gotta hand it to my people. We know how to make some food. Doubtless, this would have been better with higher-quality pork and the right cheese, but even all effed up, it was delicious. The sweetness of the carrot was both foil and complement for the tomatoes’ sweet acidity, the pepper flakes were just assertive enough, and every other bite had a burst of smoky bacon. The campanelle did an excellent job of holding the sauce, which was quite pleasantly smooth and coated each little pasta ruffle.
Now, off to write a long-awaited email.
4 strips thick-cut bacon (use guanciale or pancetta if you can get it)
1 small carrot, roughly chopped
1 small onion, roughly chopped
3 cloves garlic, peeled
1 26-oz box/bottle of strained tomatoes
1 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
3-4 sprigs fresh thyme
1/2 c. grated pecorino, plus more for serving
Slice the bacon into 1/2-inch pieces and put into a heavy saucepan over medium heat. Cook, letting all the fat render out, until the bacon is crisp. Remove the bacon to paper towels with a slotted spoon. If your bacon gave off a lot of fat, pour some of it off so you have 2-3 tablespoons left in the pan.
While the bacon is cooking, put the carrot, onions and garlic into a FoPro and process until finely ground. (Alternatively, you can just dice them.)
Add the onion/carrot/garlic mixture to the bacon fat left in the sauce pan and cook over medium heat until light brown, 8-10 minutes.
Stir in the tomatoes, red pepper, thyme and bacon bits. Bring the sauce to a bare simmer, and leave it to do its thing for 15 or 20 minutes, uncovered, stirring when you remember to.
Stir in the grated pecorino, check the seasoning, and adjust the salt and pepper (I had to add a bit of both, in spite of the salty bacon).