What is amatriciana? Where to find the best classic Italian pig's cheek and tomato pasta

PLATE UP

There's much to argue about when it comes to the Italian pasta sauce amatriciana. Where did it come from? You can see below. What are the correct ingredients? Depends who you're talking to. What is the acceptable pasta shape? Again, find 10 Italians and you'll get 12 opinions.

What is truly impossible to argue, however, is that pasta all'amatriciana is absolutely delicious. A rich sauce of tomatoes, chilli, pecorino cheese and guanciale (cured pig's cheek) is mixed through bucatini or rigatoni, topped with a little more pecorino, and devoured throughout Rome and the Lazio region.

FIRST SERVE

Given the name, you would expect this dish came from the town of Amatrice, about two hours north-east of Rome, and it's certainly claimed there. Its true origins, however, probably begin in the small village of Grisciano, in the far north of Lazio, where farmers would use their hard sheep's milk cheese – pecorino – and cured pig's cheek to make a pasta sauce that became known, and still is, as "La Gricia".

Tomatoes and chilli were introduced to Italy from the Americas in the late 1700s, and it's thought the people of Amatrice decided to add them to their gricia sauces, and pasta all'amatriciana was born.

Migrants from Amatrice moved to Rome and popularised the dish there, and it's now one of the Eternal City's four key pasta dishes, with carbonara, gricia and cacio e pepe (cheese and pepper).

ORDER THERE

Controversial opinion here (as all opinions about Italian food are): the best pasta all'amatriciana is served not in Amatrice, but Rome. Try it at specialty restaurant Da Bucatino (dabucatino.it) in Testaccio, or Salumeria Roscioli (roscioli.com) near Campo de' Fiori.

ORDER HERE

In Sydney, order the strozzapreti amatriciana at Alberto's Lounge (albertoslounge.com). In Melbourne, try amatriciana at the homestyle favourite Waiters Restaurant in Meyers Place.

ONE MORE THING

There was a minor kerfuffle in Italy in 2015 when Rome-based chef Carlo Cracco admitted he sautéed garlic in his oil before making amatriciana. The deputy mayor of Amatrice said he was "ignoring a pastoral tradition almost 1000 years old". Given the people of Amatrice added tomatoes a mere 300 years ago, we feel tinkering can be forgiven.

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