Messing with Pasta Perfection

February 17, 2012 / Food & Wine
Rome, Lazio
Class-A Amatriciana, the favorite Roman tomato and pork pasta, is rare. (Exhaustive research since the early ’80s has uncovered very few restaurants.) Places will either use pancetta (pork belly, aka bacon) instead of the finer guanciale (pork jowl). Or use rigatoni instead of bucatini. Or have chefs who are members of the deranged “Amatriciana sauce must contain onions” cult. You get the idea . . tweak any one of these variables and this dish is only standard good Italian food. Get them right though . . . ahhh!

Well, Simone and his family over at Trattoria Vecchia Roma near Piazza Vittorio in the Esquilino neighborhood is part of Rome’s class-A Amatriciana-making gotha, preparing it perfectly each time.

Then he lights it on fire.

“WHA . . ?!?!” I’ve bounced straight out of my chair 2′ into the air. “My bucatini!! YOU’RE KILLING THEM!!”

“Sta’ fermo e guarda,” (Cut it out, and look.) he says impassively, mischievous grin forming off one side of his face. He has just dropped a perfectly good plate of Amatriciana and some highly flammable liquid into the fire-stained and crusty hollowed-out crater of a 50 lb. form of pecorino romano cheese, lit it all on fire, and is now busy scraping the slowly melting cheese with a fork, “tossing” the pasta. (I count at least two dozen health and fire code regulations being broken in all of 10 seconds.)

Madman, messing with perfection like that! Until you taste it though . . . and thank the universe for the occasional maverick.

Trattoria Vecchia Roma, Via Ferruccio, 12 b/c. Tel.06-4467143. Closed Sundays (Near Piazza Vittorio Emmanuele)


by GB Bernardini

Editor, Italian Notebook

24 Responses to “Messing with Pasta Perfection”

  1. Brian & Dennis at Brigolante

    We ate there alfresco one charming night in 2010; found it while wandering. Now we’ll have to go back!

  2. Gale in CT

    WOW….that sounds like it’s fabulous….not only to eat, but to watch it being created right before your eyes. This gives a new meaning to the word ‘flamb√©’ — Italian-style, of course!!

  3. Lynda Higgs

    Thank you, GB, it sounds like the type of place we love. I will make a note to visit there when my husband gets back from his latest trip away. It’s so true that it’s hard to find authentically prepared dishes like amatriciana, caio e pepe, arrabiata, carbonara, etc, as too many places cheffy-fy them (yes, that’s a word, in my food loving, don’t-mess-with-perfection world). Would you happen to know what the flamable liquid might be – local grappa possibly?
    PS my husband’s amatriciana is pretty darn good and he does use guanciale and bucatini.

  4. Giuseppe Spano
    Giuseppe Spano

    Oh,GB mi scusi, devo essere pazzo! I start almost all my sauces with soffritto. (onions included)

  5. Sounds wonderful. How about giving us the REAL recipe. I know where I can buy pork jowl!!

  6. Linda Boccia

    It sounds fabulous….I’m a former potter and I love fire!!! Nice find I will try it when we are back in Roma this year. grazie!

  7. All your posts are interesting and well written, especially when you write about food. Have you ever thought of listing all the recipes in a separate file and all your restaurant suggestions on another? Keep up the excellent work.

  8. Salivating, GB. Not entirely kind of you to post this sort of thing for those of us who don’t live in Roma. I guess we can live, and eat, vicariously. Ciao

  9. Thanks for another reason for loving “Bucatini”…it is sometimes hard to find; but worth the effort.

    Hope to have the recipe also, please send, Ciao, Laura

  10. Gale in CT

    Great suggestion, Marie. Having a separate section in Italian/Notebook for the recipes they mention would be excellent.

  11. I can attest to this being a superlative version of Amatriciana. Actually on second thought, perhaps it would be a good idea to conduct several quality control tests to make sure it is still the best ;)

  12. Anne Robichaud

    GB..will have to try out that spot..and will let you know if it beats the amatriciana we had near AMATRICE…birthplace / or so they say/ of this dish.
    Yes, as you indicate, maybe not the healthiest but what a palate-pleaser,vero?

  13. trionfale

    Yikes! this reminds me of the time my husband and I stopped in Amatrice during a local festival many years ago now and, while indulging in many activities (mostly culinary…), bought a few raffles tickets for the great end-of-the-day drawing. Of course, believing we’d – as usual – not win a thing, we were just on the way to our car when we heard one of our numbers! Lo and behold, we won the ingredients for a healthy amatriciana in the following form: a hunk of pecorino, a package of bucatini (NO rigatoni, heaven forbid…), a hunk of guanciale, and a large can of pelati!!! So, as Anne Robichaud points out, that’s the pronouncement from the land of the originators.

  14. Gian Banchero

    Being that pancetta nor guanaciale aren’t always immediately available many times when making amatriciana I’ve used good ol’ Yankee salt pork that has been soaked in milk for an hour, the results are known to have fooled a Roman or two. Yes, bucatini is a must. Grazie GB!

  15. Dick Varone

    We had to be satisfied with #2 in October 2011 because we didn’t know about this one. We won’t miss it next time.

    • GB


      Trattoria Vecchia Roma, Via Ferruccio, 12 b/c. Tel.06-4467143. Closed Sundays (Near Piazza Vittorio Emmanuele)

  16. I have to remind myself to not read Italian Notebook when I’m hungry. I want some now!


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