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Spaghetti e Pollo, Spaghetti and Chicken

For some reason chicken isn’t that common an accompaniment to pasta in Italy: One generally encounters it as a second course, after the pasta. The recipe calls for a half a chicken, weighing about 1 1/2 pounds (750 g), but you could also use an equivalent weight of chicken legs.

To serve 4 you’ll need:

  • 3/4 pound (350 g) spaghetti, broken into 4-inch (10 cm) pieces
  • A half a chicken, weighing 1 1/3 pounds (750 g)
  • An onion, finely sliced
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste form a can or tube
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • A hot pepper or some hot paprika (to taste but go easy)
  • Salt and pepper
  • Boiling water

Flame the chicken if need be to remove pinfeathers, and cut it up into pieces, eliminating the largest of the bones. Heat the oil in a pot, and when it begins to sing add the onion and chicken all at once; cook, stirring often, for about 5 minutes, or until the chicken pieces are all browned. Add the tomato paste, hot pepper, and enough boiling water to cover the chicken pieces.

Cover and simmer over the lowest possible flame for about an hour.

When the chicken is done, remove the pieces from the pot with a slotted spoon, taking care lest you leave a bone behind, and put them in a heated bowl. Put the bowl in a warm place.

Pour a pint (500 ml) of boiling water into the pan drippings in the pot, turn the heat up, and as soon as the mixture boils add the spaghetti and cook them until they are al dente, by which point almost all of the water will have been absorbed. Remove the pot from the fire and stir in the butter. Check seasoning and turn the pasta out into a tureen. Arrange the chicken pieces over the pasta and serve at once.


Pasta all’Amatriciana

Pasta all'Amatriciana

Pasta all’Amatriciana

Amatriciana sauce is a zesty guanciale (or pancetta, in a pinch) and tomato sauce, and though it’s commonly considered one of Rome’s signature pasta sauces, it draws its name from the town of Amatrice, which was just over the border into the Abruzzo before Mussolini redrew the maps.

To serve 4 you’ll need:

  • 1 pound pasta, for example mezze maniche (shown here), bucatini, or thick stranded spaghetti (see note)
  • 1/4 pound (100 g) pancetta or guanciale, diced (see note)
  • 1 pound (400 g) ripe tomatoes (4-5 plum tomaoteos), blanched, peeled, seeded and chopped
  • Half an onion, minced
  • A hot pepper, seeded and shredded (or leave it whole if you want to remove it)
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • An abundance (a cup) of freshly grated Pecorino Romano

Set the pasta water to heat, salt it when it boils, and cook the pasta. While this is happening, heat the oil in a skillet, add the diced meat, and cook until it browns, stirring the pieces about. Remove them to a sheet of absorbent paper with a slotted spoon and keep them warm. Add the onion to the grease in the pan, together with the hot pepper, and when it begins to color add the tomato pieces, which should be well drained. Cook, stirring, for 5-6 minutes, then return the diced pancetta to the pot and heat it through. Drain the pasta while it’s still a little al dente, turn it into the skillet with the sauce, cook a minute more more, stirring the pasta to coat the strands, and serve, with grated pecorino.

La Gricia, L'Amatriciana's Ancestor

La Gricia, L’Amatriciana’s Ancestor

Several Notes:

  • First, Romans traditionally make Amatriciana sauce with Guanciale, salt-cured pork jowl. It is similar to flat pancetta, but not as lean, and therefore has a richer, more voluptuous feel to it. If you can find guanciale, by all means use it, though in its absence pancetta will work. Bacon is not a good substitute, because it is smoked and also contains sugar not present in either pancetta or guanciale.
  • Second, Amatriciana sauce derives from a much older sauce called La Gricia, which the shepherds used to make by sautéing diced guanciale so gently as to keep it from browning, and adding freshly boiled pasta, a healthy dusting of pepper, and grated pecorino Romano. The Amatriciana sauce, with tomatoes, was initially enjoyed by the nobility, because only they could afford tomatoes.
  • Third, the people of Amatrice prefer to use spaghetti in preparing their signature dish. Romans often use bucatini, which do result in a different texture, but are happy to use other shapes as well, for example the mezze maniche shown here.

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.


A Mock Carbonara Sauce

The classic Spaghetti alla Carbonara suace enjoyed in Rome is quite simple: Spaghetti, Eggs, Guanciale (or pancetta in a pinch), salt and pepper, and that’s it. Very good, but this doesn’t mean people don’t feel the need to jazz it up, and while purists shudder that the cream some recipes also call for, people also add other things. In this case scallions, and the pasta is different too: Penne instead of spaghetti.

  • 12 ounces (300 g) smooth-sided penne
  • 8 ounces (200 g) smoked pancetta (thick cut bacon will work well as a substitute), minced
  • A shallot, minced
  • 1/4 cup heavy cream
  • 2 tablespoons extravirgin olive oil
  • 2 egg yolks, lightly beaten
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Set pasta water to boil; when it does salt it and add the pasta. Heat the olive oil in a large high-sided skillet, add the minced pancetta and shallot, and cook, stirring, over a gentle flame, until the pancetta has browned. Combine the cream and egg yolks in a bowl and lightly beat them.

Taste the pasta; when it’s just shy of being al dente drain it and transfer it to the pancetta pot before it has completely stopped dripping. Turn the heat  to high and cook, stirring; after a few seconds stir in the beaten yolk mixture and cook for 30 seconds more; the heat of the pasta will cook the egg. Give it a goodly grating of pepper and serve at once.

A wine? White, and a Frascati from the Castelli Romani would be perfect.

Yiled: 4 servings of penne with mock Carbonara Sauce

Spaghetti alla Carbonara

Spaghetti Alla Carbonara

Spaghetti Alla Carbonara

Though the Romans claim to have invented this astonishingly simple, mouth watering dish, some say spaghetti alla carbonara was developed by Umbrian charcoal burners. Others say it was invented as a way to use bacon and eggs bought on the black market from American service personnel during the Second World War. In any case, spaghetti alla carbonara is one of the few dishes in which bacon can be substituted for the pancetta or guanciale.

  • 1/4 pound (100 g) guanciale (see note), pancetta or bacon
  • 1/2 cup (25 g) grated Pecorino Romano
  • 4 egg yolks and 2 egg whites
  • 1/4 cup (60 ml) heavy cream (optional; purists shudder at it)
  • Olive oil, salt, and pepper
  • A scant pound (400 g) of spaghetti

Set pasta water to boil. Meanwhile, dice the meat, sauté it in a tablespoon of oil till it’s well cooked, and drain the pieces on a paper towel. As soon as the water boils, salt it and add the pasta.

While the pasta’s cooking, lightly beat the yolks and one or two whites (just one white if you’re using the cream). As soon as the yolks and whites are combined, beat in the cheese, pinches of salt and pepper, and the cream, if you’re using it.

When the pasta’s done, drain it and transfer it immediately to a heated bowl. Add the pancetta and pour the egg mixture over the pasta, stirring briskly (the heat of the pasta will cook the eggs). Serve immediately.

Two Observations:

  • Given the risk of salmonella from commercially produced eggs, you may want to use dried eggs unless you buy from a trusted delicatessen or have access to true farm-fresh eggs. Unfortunately, I have no experience with egg substitutes.
  • Romans use guanciale, cured pig’s jowl, which is more delicate than pancetta, and also leaner. If you can find it, by all means use it. Otherwise, either pancetta or bacon will work well.

The wine? A white, from the Castelli Romani.

Yield: 4 servings Spaghetti alla Carbonara.

A slightly richer Mock Carbonara Sauce