Being Italian

11 Aug

Some cultures seem to view food and eating as simply means for nutrition and sustenance, while others, like Italian or Indian or Filipino, embrace food as a means of entertainment and as the center of social gatherings. We eat to live and we live to eat. Family gatherings begin and end with multiple courses or servings of food in these cultures and there is no such thing as too much. You’re as much likely to be chastised for not accepting another slice of an Italian nonna’s lasagna as you are refusing seconds of adobo from a Filipina lola.

I’m seeing such a food culture grow in the United States as well, as the society of foodies expands and the emphasis on quality culinary experiences becomes an important part of our lives. Though born of immigrants, I am, firstly, an American. And I developed my own culture from all the unique, fascinating cultures that I’m surrounded by daily, on top of the Filipino and Indian traditions that I am rooted in.  My own American food culture has borrowed, and continues to borrow, from many different ethnicities and nationalities. The first of which was Italian, when one of my first cooking endeavors was Amatriciana.

Traditionally, Amatriciana is made with guanciale and pecorino romano, but the version I found substitutes these with bacon and freshly grated parmesan cheese. It’s fairly easy, doesn’t take more than an hour, and is beautifully multi-tiered with different flavors coming together. The bacon gives the sauce an addictive richness by using the fat to cook the onions and garlic. Canned stewed tomatoes are surprisingly tasty and add sweetness on top of the saltiness from the bacon. (You can sub with low-sodium stewed tomatoes, but the flavor is more muted.) And if you like spice, add more crushed red pepper, which really rounds out the complexity of the dish’s taste.

Onions cooking in bacon enticing smell

Another plus about this dish is that because it evolved over the years in Italy, the ingredients of its present-day version are interchangeable.  I’m not sure if a traditional Italian cook would appreciate that, but living in a country made of hundreds of cultures, it’s bound to happen. And isn’t that how we, as Americans, make a food culture of our own?

Amatriciana (adapted from

  • ¼ to ½ of a standard package of bacon, sliced into ½ pieces
  • 1/2 of 1 large white onion, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon minced garlic
  • 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes (or more depending on taste)
  • 2 (14.5 ounce) cans stewed tomatoes
  • 1 pound spaghetti pasta, uncooked (bucatini or linguine also work)
  • 1 tablespoon fresh basil, chopped (can sub with a little less than a tablespoon of basil paste)
  • freshly grated Pamesan cheese

Cook sliced bacon in a large saucepan over medium high heat until crisp, about 5 minutes. Drain all but 2 tablespoons of drippings from the pan. Add onions, and cook over medium heat about 3 minutes. Stir in garlic and red pepper flakes; cook 30 seconds. Add canned tomatoes, undrained. Simmer for about 20 minutes and break up tomatoes halfway through cooking. Sauce will thicken.

Stewed tomatoes, stewing even more

Meanwhile, cook the pasta in a large pot of 4 quarts boiling salted water until al dente. Drain. Stir the basil into the sauce. Spoon over a serving of pasta, and top it all with the Parmesan cheese. Buon apetito!

Buon apetito!


3 Responses to “Being Italian”

  1. Rufus' Food and Spirits Guide June 29, 2011 at 5:52 pm #

    Looks wonderful and I’ve never made this! I love finding pasta recipes I’ve never made.


  1. Healthy, toasted love « The Novice Nosher - October 22, 2010

    […] peanut butter chocolate chip cookies or when The Bf and I tag-team it in the kitchen with prepping Amatriciana. So I felt surprisingly less groggy and cranky one Saturday and had the Boyfriend come over for a […]

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