By now, the whole world knows about the devastating earthquake in central Italy last week, centered, but not limited to the town of Amatrice, famous for its eponymous dish of pasta all'Amatriciana.
Relief efforts have been ongoing in Italy around the clock since the tragedy struck. So far, the death toll has climbed to 291, but is expected to rise further as more bodies are retrieved from the rubble. Thousands of people are left homeless as entire towns have been nearly completely flattened.
What can those of us, who live far away and feel helpless, do for those in need?
There are plenty of organizations accepting donations for the victims, including NIAF and the Italian Red Cross. Cookbook author and friend Domenica Marchetti has written a post here listing more organizations involved in the relief effort, as well as a lovely memory of a visit there and a recipe for the dish.
Additionally, many restaurants across the country, including Philadelphia's Le Virtù and Brigantessa, are holding fund raising dinners featuring the dish, donating part of the proceeds to the cause.
But you don't even have to leave your home to help. People around the world are making pasta all'amatriciana as a tribute to the victims, and donating funds to help those affected, then posting photos on social media of their "virtual sagra." (A sagra, for those who don't know, is a town-wide feast celebrating a particular food - from chestnuts to cherries - and they are held all over Italy.)
Frank Fariello, who writes the excellent blog, Memorie di Angelina, has written a thorough post on pasta all'Amatriciana and I recommend you read that here to learn even more about the dish.
Yesterday, I made a bowl of it using Domenica's recipe, and also made a financial contribution to the cause. Although the most common pasta used for the dish is bucatini, a fat spaghetti with a hole down the center (a buco), I used these curly fusilli pictured below. You can use rigatoni or any kind of sturdy pasta. Something as light as angel hair pasta wouldn't be appropriate though, since the robust sauce needs something equally assertive.
The dish requires very few ingredients and can be put together in practically the same time you boil the pasta. With so few ingredients, it's important that they be of the highest quality, so don't scrimp and buy bargain brand tomatoes, pasta, pecorino cheese or guanciale, made from the pork jowl. If you can't find guanciale, use pancetta, made from the belly of the pig.
With so many tomatoes ripening right now in my garden, I put some of them to good use in this recipe.
Cut the guanciale into small bits and fry it until it starts to release some of its fat. Don't let it get too crispy though, and don't drain that fat off. It adds a lot of flavor to the sauce.
Add some white wine, red pepper flakes and the tomatoes and let it simmer while the pasta cooks.
About 10-15 minutes is all that's needed.
Drain the pasta, mix with the sauce and add a good handful of pecorino cheese.
It amazes me how easy it is to put together, and with so few ingredients how delicious this dish can be. There's no basil, no salt, no black pepper, but it's one of the best dishes ever to come from the region.
If I closed my eyes, it was almost like being in Italy.