There has been quite a lot of hype in recent years (websites, newspaper articles, blogs and facebook debates abound) over the making of a quintessentially Roman pasta sauce called “alla Amatriciana” or “alla Matriciana”. Having done some research on my own, the conclusion I can temporarily draw is that there is only ‘so much’ that can be said about the ‘real’ origins of this sauce. Well, yes, it definitely gets its name from a town called Amatrice and if you click on the following website, you will see that the town has gone so far as to codify the recipe: www.matriciana.com .
However, the Romans think of it as their own and though the codified recipe calls for the use of spaghetti, the Roman standard employs ‘bucatini’ for its choice of pasta. “Bucatini alla matriciana” is the norm in Rome.
All agree that first came the pasta sauce known as “la gricia”, which is still eaten today and which would have been the mainstay of shepherds (the ingredients are very portable and affordable). All agree that the gricia, by having tomatoes added to it, metamorphosized into the Matriciana we eat today.
Some think it very likely that as more and more people left their small towns and villages to seek work in Rome after the unification of Italy, those who hailed from the area of northern Lazio bordering with the Abbruzzi brought the Gricia recipe along with them and it didn’t take long for the Romans to discover it and ‘somehow’ add tomatoes to it and produce the Matriciana. This is the only way to explain how both Rome and the town of Amatrice can both lay claim to being the ‘real’ origin of the dish.
Do we really care? After a point, I, personally, don’t. I think it’s very interesting and all that … but I also think that as long as the various types of Matriciana all taste delicious, the proof is always going to be in the eating of this tasty ‘pudding’. One trait that I find particularly endearing about the Matriciana sauce is that it is good to eat all year long … including during hot weather … which is suprising given how rich it is.
A matriciana will always include:
a) guanciale: cheek jowl and always to be preferred over pancetta (better than nothing)
b) tomatoes, fresh or tinnned or as a passata
c) freshly grated pecorino cheese
d) some chilli, as little or as much as you like.
These are the firm foundations. For the rest, some will add a sliver of onions, others will splash a little bit of wine or even vinegar (!), some will use spaghetti others bucatini and others still (myself included) will use short pasta. Others will cook the guanciale first and then remove it, adding it at the end of the dish … and others will leave it to cook in the sauce. Some will prefer pepper to chilli flakes too.
But that’s it … please! No cream (God forbid!), no herbs even. Otherwise it’s not Matriciana.
I have written four blogs on the Matriciana which I am going to post in quick succession … four variations. I went on a matriciana experimental trail you might say. They were all pretty good and eminently edible, of course, but I would say that my preference is for variation number 4.