Matriciana Tweak and Tip(s)

Whether you want to call it Amatriciana or, as the Romans usually do, simply and laconically “Matriciana”, one rule obtains: it is all about the ingredients.  For reasons of blogosphere self-preservation, I will refrain from getting into the ‘origins’ of the ‘real’ A/Matriciana  because I haven’t the time just now, it being a hornet’s nest of  a topic and best left for another occasion.   The subject of a true A/Matriciana ignites fiery Pasta Policing and wars.  However, I can pacifically attest to the following: a Roman Matriciana concedes the inclusion of onions (which I don’t usually bother with) and a splash of wine – again, something I don’t bother with, although I did this time with the recipe I am outlining below.

When making this particular Matriciana, it was Charles Scicolone who came to mind.  We were having a jolly nice lunch together with his wife Michele and our friend Michelle Smith earlier this year at the now Michelin-starred restaurant called “Da Sora Maria e Arcangelo” (Michele, Michelle and Michelin … all these Miches !) in Olevano Romano.  Charles ordered a Matriciana, one of his favourite pastas.  He said he liked it well enough … and the pasta itself was fresh and home-made … but there was an unsaid ‘but’ hovering in the conversation and eventually he spilled the beans.

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But, he told us, the amatriciana he had just eaten was not as good as the one he had enjoyed some time previously at the Casale del Giglio wine estate.  The reason?  He preferred his guanciale to be crisp.

Now, as a rule, there is no mention of the A/matriciana’s guanciale having to be crisp (the same goes for a carbonara) but I ‘got’ what he meant, I like it that way too (my daughter, instead, doesn’t … she prefers it to be softer on the palate).  So the “tweak” in the title refers to the guanciale being crisp.

The “tip” instead is something of my own making, which I think makes a lot of sense.  I hope to persuade you of its usefulness, in a waste-not-want-not sort of way.

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Are you ready?

It all begins with putting the water onto the boil, and then trimming the guanciale (the cured pork jowl).

3aInstead of throwing away these trimmings, also known as “cotiche” in Italian, once boiled, they can be used to flavour many another good dish (such as pasta e fagioli for instance).  I also had the notion that these trimmings might impart another edge of ‘flavour’ to the cooking water of the pasta.  There is no need to wait for the water to come to the boil: you can add the trimmings of the guanciale (i.e. the exterior lining/edge that is not normally eaten and all too often thrown away) straight away.

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My guanciale slices, now without trimmings, had been sliced a little too thickly so I decided to give them a pounding to flatten them a bit.

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Ah, that’s more like it.  The guanciale now needed to be sliced into a matchstick shape.

3If you can, try and cut the guanciale matchstick so that there is a piece of the meat encased by fat at both ends (i.e. meat in the middle, fat on the outside).

4So, while the water is doing what it’s supposed to do and not requiring any attention just yet, we can carry on with cooking the guanciale matchsticks.  The guanciale is full of good fat, so let it cook over a low heat in order let its fat ‘render’ – i.e. let the fat ooze out into the pan.  As in the photo above. The photo above contains about 2/3 of the total guanciale.

5The remaining 1/3 of guanciale is left to render in another saucepan, a teensy weensy one.

61.jpgHere are the two saucepans.

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I poured some white wine into the large saucepan and turned up the heat.  As you can see, below, the guanciale is cooked but not ‘crisp’ as such.  This guanciale is what is going to make the matriciana sauce taste good!

Once the wine had evaporated, I added a little bit of olive oil and a small amount of chilli, for a bit of spice.

1112And once the smaller saucepan’s guanciale cooks to a crispy consistency, remove and set aside.  Transfer the fat that has rendered in that teensy pan into the larger pan.

It’s actually easier to do all this than it is to give instructions !

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Add fresh or tinned plum tomatoes to the saucepan and let it cook down.  Add salt and even a bit of sugar if necessary.13Okay, so now we can remove the cooked guanciale trimmings from the boiling water and allow them to cool.

13bOnce cooled, they can be placed in the freezer to be enjoyed at some point in the future. But back to our Matriciana.

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Okay so the water has come to the proverbial rolling boil and is looking pretty oily, in a good way!, all that fat.  All that is called for now is the required amount of coarse sea salt (roughly 10g per litre of water is the rule of thumb).  Add your pasta and we’re nearly there.

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Grate plenty of pecorino romano.

16When cooked all dente, drain the pasta (spaghetti in this case,  bucatini are also very common in Rome) directly into the saucepan … turn the heat up and add a little bit of the cooking water.  You know the drill.  And no bits of green, please! No guilding this lily with basil or parsley or mint.  Just unadulterated matriciana sauce.  This is not supposed to be a ‘light’ sauce.  It’s supposed to keep you company all afternoon as  you let your body lingeringly digest it.

18A snowfall of pecorino over the pasta and last but not least … the crispy guanciale on the very top.

17And if anyone should object to the guanciale being crisp, he or she can just put the offending pieces to one side of the plate.

19It’s making me hungry just looking at it.

Mucking About with Cod (Baccalà)

 

5Fish and Chips, perhaps Britain’s most iconic dish, is made with cod (along with haddock and plaice).  In Rome too, fried cod is pretty much an iconic dish but usually served as a preamble rather than as a main course.  There is a place in the Campo de’ Fiori area of Rome that specializes in its fried cod fillets, called “Dar Filettaro a Santa Barbara”.  And if anyone has been reading my posts for any amount of time, he or she will know that I absolutely adore fried foods and call myself an FFF: fried food fanatic.  Today, however, I am going in a completly opposite cooking direction, that of poaching.  Poaching cod.  Turning it into the consistency of a spread, nothing crunchy about it whatsoever.  The French call this a ‘brandade’.  The Spanish name for it is “brandada”.  In the Veneto in Italy they call it “baccalà mantecato” and in Genoa, according to Eleonora Baldwin’s Ligurian friends, it is known as “brandacujùn” (http://www.aglioolioepeperoncino.com/2015/01/brandacujun-ligurian-brandade.html).  It appears that the origin for this fishy mush is the French town of Nimes and that mashed potatoes were not added in the original recipe.

Well, I didn’t even know that an ‘original’ recipe existed, I just mucked about with what I had.  Some milk, a solitary clove of garlic, a slice of lemon and off we go.

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This is as unhelpful as a photo can get, the viewer can’t tell what’s going on.  So just trust me.  I covered the cod with full-fat milk, added one clove of garlic and a slice of lemon and brought the lot to a light simmer.

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While it was simmering, I got hold of the ingredients that would be required next: top notch olive oil (thank you Mayde Wiener!) and some lemon juice.

3Once I drained the cooked cod, I put it back in the saucepan, and it shredded into flakes.  That’s okay.  I removed the garlic and the slice of lemon.  I poured olive oil over it. I used a hand-held blender to process the cod, adding the olive oil a little at a time, until I was pleased with the consistency.  Not exactly rocket science.

4At this point I unhygienically stuck a finger in the mousse and tasted some.  Jolly nice it was too.  But it needed the tweaking of a little bit of salt and a few drops of lemon juice. A twist of white pepper would have been good too, I shall remember that for next time.

56And this time, in a most hygienically correct manner, I slathered some of this mousse onto morsels of bread and wolfed a lot of them down as part of my dinner that evening.

IMG_2052I – of course! – also fried myself a little cod fillet, just to make sure I had not lost my frying touch.  A two-way baccalà evening for me.  Followed by a very nice winter salad.

And then … just a few days ago … I came up with another way to enjoy baccalà mantecato.

1I hasten to add that this was freshly cooked and not a leftover from before.  I placed the cod mousse into one of those round thingummies or food ‘rings’ or whatever they are called, in the middle of the plate.

2I seasoned a clutch of puntarelle leaves with olive oil and red wine vinegar, salt and pepper.  If you don’t have puntarelle where you live, you could use any kind of crisp, strong-tasting salad or even strips of celery?

3A close up of my baccalà … not very ‘tidy’ as you can see in terms of ‘plating’.  But it didn’t matter.

4It did not matter because I covered it with the puntarelle salad.  I also added strips of deseeded tomato.

5Pretty hey?  And pretty damned good to eat too.  I hope you enjoy this recipe one of these days, it’s easy on the eye and pleasant on the palate.  Tasty but not too ‘fishy’.