Friday, February 19, 2010
A Throw-It-All-In Version of Alla Matriciana
My mother always told me that a woman, a married woman, especially, should know how to cook. No, no, it's not one of those "A Man's Heart (and your mother-in-law's) is Through the Stomach" lectures. It was more of a lecture on how to keep your man (it's strange, I know, but...whatever).
She told me that women who do not know how to cook are merely "Mujeres Por La Cama" which means, "women for bed." A woman must know how to entertain a man in and out of bed, in the kitchen included. She must know how to entertain his friends, stand her ground, work for her own funds and generally run a tight ship at home.
Frankly, I've no time to cook and recently, Allan's schedule and mine doesn't really allow us to sit down and have a normal meal. We would usually just buy food on our way home and eat that together. So I thought: "I'm being such a loser of a partner these days...I'll cook Alla Matriciana this Saturday!"
The text part is becoming long, so let's get us some pictures!
Bacon. A little background, Alla Matriciana is actually uses Guanciale. It's an Italian smoked bacon made from the pig's cheeks. What's so good about it is the yummy gelatinous goodness, malinamnam-ness of it. You really can't substitute just plain bacon and get the same taste, but it'll work. I tried scouring four different groceries and found no guanciale. I think I have to go to Galileo Enoteca or Santis to get some of that. And the trip is not something I wanna make. Besides, I wanted this to be a quick, whatever's-in-the-fridge meal. But if you can get guanciale, go get. The bacon here is just Purefoods, the smallest pack.
Canned WHOLE Tomatoes with the juice from the can.I used just one can. In the picture I already diced the tomatoes, but be sure to get whole ones. Italian tomatoes (San Marzano brand) is better, but it's expensive. I used Hunt's whole tomatoes and it's great. I guess you're asking why get whole tomatoes then dice them, when there's canned diced tomatoes and simply just tomato sauce? Whole tomatoes are better because they still have shape. You buy diced tomatoes and the contents of the can would look like a chunky puree. You will want to actually SEE that there's tomato in your dish (adds to the appeal) and not some red stuff, hence no tomato sauce. Besides, canned whole tomatoes have a fresher and lighter taste than tomato sauce. But either will work. I wouldn't get stewed tomatoes though, that's tasty but since it usually has celery and peppers in it, it won't be good for this recipe.
Pasta, of course. You can use your favorite brand and type for this recipe. However, you'll need to adjust the soupiness of the sauce when using tube pastas. I used San Remo, but that's because it's on sale and Momma told me never to pass up on sales of basic necessities. I cook mine for around seven minutes only, al dente, meaning the pasta still has to be THIN and not engorged. Salt the water, but no oil.
Spices. I used Italian seasoning (marjoram, sage, thyme, rosemary and something else I can't remember), basil and a little bit of weed. Kidding, that's dried oregano. I would have used fresh basil, but the stash in the fridge is black already, and the oregano in the garden was feasted on by our dog. But fresh is best! A friend gave me a whole army of McCormick spices during Christmas, so why not? Since this is just for two people, I put in a small palmful of basil and oregano and one and a half small palmful of Italian seasoning.
Of course, there's garlic and a bit of chili flakes. But no onion please! The original recipe does NOT have onions, so since I've bastardized this recipe with the bacon, I prefer not to add salt to the injury.
First, brown the bacon. Some will want their bacon crispy, but we like ours a little chewy, so it's up to you. If you crisp it up, though, drain some of the oil before adding olive oil. After that, add your garlic.
Once the garlic is cooked and aromatic, add the tomatoes. I would add some wine, to deglaze the pan, but we've no red wine in the house (larder is practically empty during the weekend). In any case, the tomatoes will deglaze the pan anyway.
Once it starts to bubble, add the spices. You can also add some pepper at this point. A note on pepper, freshly ground pepper tastes much better than the already powdered ones you buy in stores. However, I don't have a pepper mill myself *cough birthday August 14 cough* so I just buy whole peppercorns and grind them myself with a good ol' wine bottle everytime I cook.
Let the whole thing cook and simmer. You'll know it's done when the oil starts to separate from the sauce. It doesn't have to be dry, but it shouldn't be too soupy, too.
So, what else should we do at this point? Toss the pasta!
Traditionally, you top it with pecorino romano. But a lot of restaurants use parmesan, so that will work as well.
A tip on buying hard cheeses, some groceries sell cheese by the gram, or by wedges. Get those than those shake-'em things in plastic containers. Nothing very bad about those, but say, 250g of cheese will yield a lot of grated cheese, much more than what's in those plastic container, so they're better value.
Allan said that it's the best pasta he's had (maybe he doesn't want to do the dishes) but he finished up a lot of it. It's really good, seriously. You can't go wrong with bacon and tomato.