La Pajata

La Pajata, a Roman Treat

La Pajata, a Roman Treat

There are many classic Roman dishes loved the world over, for example spaghetti alla Carbonara, or pasta all’Amatriciana, Saltimbocca alla Romana, Carciofi alla Giudia, and Coda alla Vaccinara.

One just as classic Roman dish that Romans are more likely to keep for themselves is La Pajata, one of the noblest expressions of the Quinto Quarto, in other words the organ meats that don’t belong in the other quarters of a butchered animal, and that were once cheaper and therefore enjoyed by those unable to afford more expensive cuts.

And what exactly is Pajata? The intestine of a milk-fed veal (or lamb or kid, though veal is more common), containing chimo, the mother’s curdled milk, cut into lengths and tied into rings to keep the chimo from dribbling out, and then gently stewed. It’s a concept that takes a bit of getting used to, and a certain courage to try for the first time – there’s a wonderful scene in an Alberto Sordi movie in which he says to his guest, who wants to know what the Pajata he’s eating is, “I’ll tell you when you’re done.”

The Pajata pictured here was prepared by a Roman friend, Armando, who made a special trip to Rome to buy it from his family’s butcher, who had already prepared it for him, removing the membrane that surrounds the intestine, cutting it into 8-10 inch (20-25 cm, or a palm and a half, says Livio Jannattoni, quoting Giaquinto) lengths, and tying the lengths into rings using lace fat as string. He served it as a second course because he wanted us to enjoy and discover the full flavor of the dish (I confess I had never had it before because when I lived in Rome decades ago I was too skittish to approach it), while Romans also commonly use stewed Pajata to season tortiglioni or rigatoni, or even rice.

As occasionally happens, Livio Jannatoni quotes Ada Boni in “La Cucina Romana e Del Lazio” and then continues.

To serve 6 Mrs. Boni calls for between 1 and 2 kilos (2.2 and 4.5 pounds) veal intestine with chimo, and Armando cautions that it is very important that the chimo be white, with no traces of green, which would indicate that the veal was already being weaned when it was butchered, and the intestinal contents are shifting towards (ahem) fecal matter.

If your butcher did not do it, you have to trim away all traces of fat, and and then carefully remove the membrane surrounding the intestine, squeezing the intestine as little as possible to avoid squeezing out the chimo. At this point cut the intestine into the above mentioned lengths and tie them into rings.

Mrs. Boni also calls for 250 grams of rice (about a cup), or 500 grams (a slightly abundant pound) of tortiglioni, while Mr. Jannattoni notes that Carnacina suggests 2 k of Pajata for 6-8 people, and either 500 g of rigatoni or 350 g of rice, and then says that the best place to go for Pajata in Rome is Checchino dal 1887, in front of the old slaughterhouse in the Testaccio neighborhood. And having said where to go, he presents Ninetta Ceccacci Mariani’s instructions.

To serve 4:

  • 3 2/3 pounds (1.5 k) pajata, prepared as above
  • A scant pound (400 g) rigatoni
  • 1/2 a glass of dry white wine, ideally from the Colli Romani (don’t use something tremendously ripe or oaked)
  • Olive oil
  • Half an onion, peeled and finely sliced
  • Half a garlic clove, peeled and crushed
  • Coarse sea or Kosher salt
  • A clove
  • Freshly ground pepper
  • 1 1/8 pounds (500 g) chopped canned tomatoes
  • Freshly grated Pecorino Romano

Heat a deep, thick bottomed pot with about a quarter cup of olive oil, and as soon as it’s hot add the pajata, with a dusting of salt, the clove, and a dusting of pepper. Brown the Pajata over a gentle flame, gently stirring the rings about lest they form crusts, stick, and break apart.

When the rings have browned, add the sliced onion and the garlic. Continue cooking until the onion is translucent, and then sprinkle the wine over all and let it evaporate. Cover the pot and simmer for another 15 minutes, and while it’s simmering blend the tomatoes or put them through a food mill.

La Pajata, a Roman Treat

La Pajata, a Roman Treat

Add the tomatoes and simmer over a low flame, covered, stirring occasionally, and carefully, lest you break open the rings. After about an hour, pinch one of the rings to see if it is tender.

If it is turn off the flame and leave it covered to absorb the essence of the sauce; if it’s not cook for another 10-15 minutes and check it again. In any case, when it’s ready set pasta water to boil, and when it does salt it and cook the pasta until it’s barely shy of the al dente stage.

Drain it and turn it into a fairly deep skillet while it’s still dripping. Ladle some of the sauce from the pajata over it and cook over a brisk flame for a minute or two to force the rigatoni to absorb some of the sauce, and then stir in freshly grated cheese to taste. Mix well, divvy the pasta into 4 heated deep dish pasta bowls, dust with a little more cheese, and top with several rings of pajata.

Enjoy!

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Categories: Meat Sauces For Pasta, Recipes from Rome & Lazio, Cucina Romana e Laziale, Tripe, Liver, and More

Author:Cosa Bolle in Pentola

Italy boasts an astonishing number of varietals, denominations, and wines, and tremendous changes are sweeping the land. New wines are being created, new DOCs are being introduced, and the existing denominations are overhauling their regulations both to reflect the practices adopted by their member wineries and to favor improvements in quality. Even the most staid and stolid region can flower seemingly overnight, emerging with exciting new wines and wineries that require rewriting the enological maps and rethinking one's positions. And, of course, recipes too, because cuisine and wine are closely intertwined and it's difficult to imagine one without the other.

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