‘You need to pick up three things from the supermarket for tonight’s demonstration: Some pancetta, parmigiano cheese, and a good red wine. You can handle that right?’
Of course we can!
Off to the supermarket we go with Beppe, our host and friend based in San Dona di Piave, a small town outside of Venice, Italy.
A few quick nibbles of some sample cheese and prosciutto at the supermarket set our stomachs to rumbling in anticipation of the evening’s spaghetti fiesta.
First up the pancetta.
We debated the various options in the supermarket fridge before Beppe pulled rank and chose his favourite brand.
Next the cheese.
This “Tuscan” parmigiano looks good…
And the red wine… ‘No problems!’ Beppe said, ‘I’ve got one ready to go back at home.’
You can see where this is going, can’t you? ????
Spot on 8.00pm Beppe’s friend and Italian Chef Stefano walked through the door, topped up with a shot of espresso and ready to work his magic in the kitchen.
He’d come to teach us his Spaghetti all’Amatriciana recipe, a deliciously authentic Italian pasta dish which originates from the village of Amatrice in central Italy.
First, he set a large saucepan full of water on the stove to boil and explained that the best way to cook pasta is to use 1 litre for every 100g of pasta; it keeps the boiling water from becoming too cold when you add in the cold pasta.
Be sure to take note of the cooking times on the pasta packet to get that perfect al dente texture, and in the case of amatriciana, reduce the cooking time by a couple of minutes as it will finish cooking in the sauce.
Good tips we think!
Pulling our carefully chosen ingredients out of the fridge our lesson screeched to a sudden halt.
‘Dolce pancetta!? No no no Beppe this is all wrong!’
‘You need to use smoky pancetta, not sweet! And what is this cheese? It’s far too soft. You need aged parmigiano, or even better a pecorino romano blend. It’s gotta be hard and old so you can grate it!’
Oops, sorry chef! (But we’re looking at you here Beppe :P)
The best part of working in the kitchen is making the best you can out of what you have at hand, so we proceeded to prepare the sauce while the pasta merrily boiled on the stove. Into the hot extra virgin olive
Into the hot extra virgin olive oil we threw chopped brown onion, tiny hot chillis and the oh-so-wrong pancetta, and stir-fried everything until the room was filled with their mouth-watering mingled aromas.
Popping the top on the passata bottle, we ran across our next problem.
‘Cold passata! Beppe, who keeps passata in the fridge?’
Take note guys, for the best flavour when using passata in your sauce be sure it’s at room temperature. If you keep it in the fridge, just run it under some warm water before cooking. Soft glugs of the warmed passata went next into the pan, along with a few scoops of hot water from the boiling pasta to create the perfect consistency.
Soft glugs of the warmed passata went next into the pan, along with a few scoops of hot water from the boiling pasta to create the perfect consistency.
Our happy production line took a little break while waiting for the right cheese to arrive (it was the one thing we couldn’t do without for this recipe). In the meantime the pasta, just slightly undercooked, was drained and set aside; it would finish cooking once added to the sauce.
In the meantime the pasta, just slightly undercooked, was drained and set aside; it would finish cooking once added to the sauce.
The arrival of our pecorino romano led to our most exciting discovery for the evening. Have you ever wondered how restaurants make the sauce stick so well to the pasta? Well, here’s the secret…
As the sauce simmered over a low heat, Stefano popped the pasta on top and added a good handful or two of the grated (aged!) pecorino romano cheese, which he carefully mixed into the pasta without disturbing the sauce underneath.
This became the ultimate glue that would bind our sauce and pasta together in delicious cheesy glory.
All that remained was a glass of red wine to really bring out the flavour of the dish. According to Stefano (and all good lovers of Italian food of course), you must never drink beer with pasta, red wine is a must. Time to pop the cork!
‘No wine? You’ve got to be kidding me… I’m going to destroy your Italian passport Beppe!’
So, going against all sense and tradition we popped the top on a few bottles of beer and sat down to our Amatriciana.
Completely ruined, according to Stefano… but according to the Wandercooks it was completely delicious!
- 400 g pasta or 100g per person
- 400 g passata
- 200 g smoky pancetta or bacon pieces
- 1 chopped brown onion
- ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil*
- 4 pcs small hot chillis
- ½ cup grated aged pecorino romano cheese blend
- Handful rock salt for boiling pasta
- Bring a large saucepan of water to boil. For the best texture, use 1 litre of water per 100g of pasta cooked. Add in a large handful of good quality rock salt.
- Add the pasta and boil for a few minutes less than the packet directions indicate (the pasta will continue to cook when added to the sauce). Drain the pasta, reserving some of the liquid to use in the sauce. Set aside.
- Meanwhile heat the oil in a large pan over a high heat. Add the onion, chillis and pancetta or bacon pieces. Stir fry until fragrant.
- Add the passata and 5 – 6 scoops of pasta water. Stir through, then reduce the heat to low and simmer for a few minutes.
- Place the drained pasta on top of the sauce. Don’t mix through yet. Top the pasta with the grated pecorino romano cheese blend and gently mix through the pasta. Avoid mixing in the sauce at this stage.
- Once the pasta is coated with the melted cheese, slowly mix through the sauce. It should bind nicely to the cheesy pasta.
- If the sauce is too dry, add more pasta water and mix through.
- Portion the pasta out into serving bowls, leaving some of the cooked pancetta to place on the top as a garnish.
- Serve immediately.
For the best flavour make sure the passata is at room temperature before cooking. If you keep it in the fridge, just run it under some warm water before cooking.