Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Pasta Love: Strozzapreti all'Amatriciana

Mario Batali's Babbo Ristorante describes Bucatini all'Amatriciana, originating from the town of Amatrice, located 100 miles east of Lazio from Abruzzo, as one of the most celebrated dishes in Italian cuisine. Ever since the Abbruzzese shepherds begin the tradition of eating this spicy pasta after a day in the chilly mountain air, the cooking process has always begun with the rich smell of a fatty piece of pork bubbling in the pan. Guanciale, or cured pig jowls, with its distinct pork flavor, is used to achieve the same rich taste that comforted the shepherds of old. Pancetta, a salt-cured Italian bacon, can be used when guanciale is not available. This dish can also be made with or without tomatoes.

While tomato-less gricia is still prepared in central Italy, it is the tomato-enriched amatriciana that is well-known all over Italy and has been exported everywhere. In Amatrice, the dish is prepared with spaghetti, but the use of bucatini has become extremely common after the recipe became popular in Rome. Other types of dry pasta is also used, such as rigatoni, but fresh pasta is generally avoided.

We were out of our favorite bucatini from Rustichella d’Abruzzo, but I found an amazing substitute from the same artisanal pasta company, called strozzapreti. Like all'Amatriciana sauce, strozzapreti ("priest choker" in Italian) has its own story.

According to Wikipedia, there are several legends to explain the name priest choker. One is that gluttonous priests were so enthralled by the savory pasta that they ate too quickly and choked themselves, sometimes to death. Another explanation involves the housewife ("azdora"), who "chokes" the dough strips to make the strozzapreti, expressing such a rage, perhaps triggered by the misery and difficulties of her life, to be able to strangle a priest! Another legend says wives would customarily make the pasta for churchmen as partial payment for land rents, and their jealous and angered husbands silently hoped the priests would choke on the pasta. In appearance, it resembles an elongated form of cavatelli, or a rolled towel. The texture is dense and chewy. Combine it with all'Amatriciana sauce, and your Italian pasta cravings will be more than satisfied.

Strozzapreti all'Amatriciana
Minimally adapted from Bon Appetit
(Serves 4)


2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
4 ounces thinly sliced pancetta
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
3/4 cup minced onion
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 28-oz. can imported tomatoes, preferably from San Marzano
Kosher salt
12 oz. package of Rustichella d’Abruzzo’s dried strozzapreti pasta, or bucatini
1/4 cup finely grated Pecorino cheese (about 1 oz.)


Empty the can of tomatoes, with their juice, into a large bowl. Gently crush and tear the tomatoes by hand, discarding the fibrous core. Set aside crushed tomatoes and juice.

Heat olive oil in a large heavy skillet over medium heat. Add pancetta and sauté until just slightly crisp and golden, about 4-6 minutes. Add pepper flakes and black pepper; stir for 10 seconds. Add onion and garlic, and sauté, stirring often, until soft, about 8 minutes. Add tomatoes with their juice, reduce heat to low, and simmer, stirring occasionally, until sauce thickens, about 15-20 minutes.

Meanwhile, bring a large pot of water to a boil. Season with salt, add the pasta, and cook until 2 minutes before al dente. Drain the pasta, reserving 1 cup of the pasta cooking water.

Add the drained pasta to the sauce in the skillet and toss the pasta to evenly coat with the sauce. Add 1/2 cup of the reserved pasta water, stir, and continue cooking on low until the sauce coats pasta and pasta is al dente, about 2 minutes. Add a little pasta water if sauce seems too dry. Stir in cheese, and transfer pasta to warmed serving bowls.

Newfy Notes:  I love pasta. There are hundreds of pasta recipes out there, but this is one you must have in your go-to collection. It doesn't take much time to prepare, but next time I will double or triple the recipe and freeze portions for future dinners. I would serve this pasta at a dinner party. Who doesn't love pasta? Who doesn't love pork and pasta? This sauce has earned a spot right up there with my favs - Carbonara, alla vodka, Pomodoro, and Bolognese. Go make it now, eat it slowly, and savor each bite.

There's even a postage stamp in its honor!


Chris and Amy said...

Amatriciana is one of our favorite sauces. Yours looks divine!

Mom said...

Beautiful photo. Love that Strozzapreti. Amazing pasta.