Another Italian food war

There’s a few things Italians simply won’t let you mess with: their mothers, their god-given right to cut you off in traffic, and perhaps the most important, their food. Imagine, therefore, the outrage, the anger, the seething hatred when a famous Italian chef, of all people, recently announced on national television that he put garlic in his amatriciana. Yeah, imagine the outrage. Oh what, you can’t? You have no idea what I’m on about? I’ll explain.

Before anything else, you’ll probably want to know what amatriciana means. It’s a traditional dish that supposedly originated in the close vicinity of the city of Amatrice, near Rome – hence the name, all’amatriciana or ‘Amatrice style’. It’s one of those Italian traditionals that you just can’t change, not even a little, like carbonara.

So recently Carlo Cracco, this famous TV chef, was on some TV program, talking away about food, when he mentioned that his ‘secret ingredient’ when making amatriciana is ‘aglio in camicia’, or a clove of garlic in its skin.

The traditional recipe does not allow for garlic.

The seemingly innocent comment unleashed a shitstorm, as the city itself, the city council of Amatrice, posted a statement on its facebook page, condemning the chef’s lapse in judgement, as they put it.

“The city of Amatrice was left disconcerted by the events that took place in the transmission of Canale 5’s ‘C’è posta per te‘ with guest Carlo Cracco, who claimed that in the recipe for Amatriciana there should also be a clove of garlic, which he considers a ‘secret ingredient’ of his. We issue the reminder that the only ingredients that constitute the true Amatriciana are guanciale, pecorino, white wine, San Marzano tomatoes, pepper and chili.”

Chew on that, Carlo Cracco. And that was just the recipe, the real smack in the face was yet to come:

“We are confident that this has been a mistake on the well-known chef’s part, considering his professional history […]. Whilst reiterating that we have all confidence in the illustrious chef’s good faith, we hold the belief that the latter is absolutely free to add a clove of garlic to a sauce prepared by himself. It is our even firmer belief that any such sauce might even be good, but that it cannot be called Amatriciana.”

Ouch. But there you go. Try to innovate, try to be original, and that’s what you get. Shamed nation-wide. Schooled like some ignorant urchin, and in your own field, no less. Anyway, I’m going to have to agree a little bit, as this is what I always say: you can add whatever you like to whatever dish you’re making, but then you can’t call it by a name that’s no longer valid. It just becomes a dish of your own invention, which is totally fine.

So ever since this whole riot started, I’ve been reading up on the amatriciana. Turns out it was originally a dish prepared by shepherds who were spending time away from home in the hills with their flocks. They favoured it because it was easy to prepare: at the time it consisted only of pasta made freshly on the spot (always bucatini, apparently – a type of long tubular pasta), guanciale (pork jowl) and pecorino (hard sheep’s cheese). It was only after the 18th century when tomatoes and chili peppers had been introduced to Europe, that those were added into the mix. (When the white wine appeared I haven’t been able to find out – all of my sources seem to ignore it completely.)

Anyway, I decided to have a go, seeing that I’d always made amatriciana-esque dishes that were probably close, but no cigar. The whole experiment taught me two important lessons:

1) guanciale really, really is a completely different thing than pancetta (which, of course, comes from the belly, whilst guanciale is a cheek) and
2) bucatini are hard as all fuck to eat.

Aside from that I learned it’s a delicate wee thing that is worth having a shot at.


For two:

  • 200gr bucatini
  • 80gr guanciale – take a slab and cut it up yourself, if you can be bothered
  • some freshly grated pecorino
  • some tomatoes – 4 fresh, peeled and deseeded if you have, but they’re so out of season right now that I went for bottled tomatoes, about 200 ml
  • a glass of white wine
  • one small dried chili, or a cm of fresh, seeds removed
  • some pepper (which, to me, is totally optional, but you heard the city council)



Fill a large pan with water and enough salt, put on heat and wait for it boil.

Cut your guanciale into adequate pieces. I like thinner slices, but go for whichever way you prefer. Pop them in a frying pan with a bit of olive oil and the chili, chopped, and fry them on medium heat. When they’ve gone all transparent and funny, add the white wine. Stir occasionally, and wait until most of the liquid has evaporated. Now add the tomatoes.

In the meantime, your water should be boiling, so you can chuck in your bucatini. You want them to be al dente or still slightly hard – nothing quite as disgusting as overcooked bucatini, or so I learned. When they’re done, drain them, add some freshly grated pecorino, mix, then add the pasta and cheese to the tomato sauce and mix well. Serve up, and top with some pepper and some more pecorino. Not so bad eh, the life of a shepherd?


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2 Responses to Another Italian food war

  1. Adelbert Verhagen says:

    De enumeratio in je eerste, en de climax in je tweede zin deden mij mijn dag al monter beginnen. Vooral de seething hatred en de cigar waren spekjes naar mijn bekje en dan heb ik het over de armatriciana nog niet gehad. Ik heb er nu al zin in en ik zal R voorstellen het binnenkort eens op het menu te zetten. Dank, dank.


  2. Pingback: The unhealthiest thing in the world | La dittatrice della cucina

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