Why you should care
Because there’s a new excuse for overeating.
I’m on my third dish of Amatriciana spaghetti, licking my lips and clearing the bits of greasy, crispy pork cheek that cling to my chin.
My belly is bloated, but the pull is so strong. I look around, then order yet another dish. A second later — whoosh! — it’s gone down my gullet.
Bet you’re all thinking, “Shame on you!”
Well, you’re wrong; this pasta-eating marathon is for a good cause. My country has just been rocked by a violent earthquake that has claimed nearly 300 victims. The natural next step: eat, devour, stuff myself with the iconic dish of the devastated region. The more platefuls I buy, the more money will go toward supporting relief efforts and reconstruction.
It’s the end of August and it’s burning hot. People sitting in the piazza are almost fainting from all the pasta they’ve consumed. Like me, they’ve found a way to help from a distance. Disclaimer: The quake wasn’t that far from my home in Rome. I wasn’t there when it happened, so my praetorian rottweiler, Jezz, stood guard all alone that night.
The village where I live, Capena, is hosting a pasta-eating fair to raise funds for the survivors, commemorate the victims and honor Amatriciana spaghetti. Hundreds of villages across Italy are doing the same these days in a show of solidarity. Because mourning and remembrance also entail stuffing yourself like a pig. Screw the diet! The festival is right around the corner from my place and gulping down fattening pasta sounds like a great way to lend a hand in dealing with the tragedy.… Exercising jaws, teeth, taste buds and stomach (the chili is strong) for charity.
The bacon sticks in your teeth, while fast fork-curling of the spaghetti sends droplets of sauce flying through the air.
Chances are you know what Amatriciana is, and have eaten it, and love it. As the Latin motto repetita iuvant goes, it’s always better to stress something unique and lifesaving, as in this case. Amatriciana is Rome’s iconic dish, a symbol of the city, like the Pantheon. Only it was invented in quake-stricken Amatrice, which had been gearing up for its massive annual pasta festival but is now a ghost town.
The plate comes with a heap of spaghetti in a dressing of fresh tomato sauce, cubes of fried guanciale (pork cheek) and chili pepper, topped with grated pecorino cheese. No onions, no garlic, just a final sprinkle of pepper. A humble shepherd’s recipe dating back centuries, it was served originally “in white” until America was discovered and tomatoes imported, at which point it turned “red.”
The plain, watered-down version is called “Gricia,” born in Grisciano, another town battered by the earthquake. It’s the ancestor of hot Amatriciana and much more savory. The bacon sticks in your teeth, while fast fork-curling of the spaghetti sends droplets of sauce flying through the air. And it gets even trickier if you substitute spaghetti with bucatini, a thicker, hollow version that showers your face with tomato when you slurp it up. (Oops, one drop just fell on the white shirt of my nearby eating competitor, but he’s too busy sharpening his fork skills to notice.) “Food is Italy’s national identity, and Amatriciana is our main personality trait. It’s a culinary monument,” says chef Antonello Colonna, who created a twist with ravioli Amatriciana, which pop in the mouth.
As I start to leave the fair, I have a second thought. I decide to buy plate No. 7 for Jezz (yep, I had two more in the meantime). Even canines can contribute to the pasta rally! I wanted to take him with me to the festival, but he would have dived straight into the steaming pots. Jezz is ravenous by nature — able to swallow and digest everything, even bits of steel. Imagine what he would have done to Amatriciana. By the time I lower the plastic plate to the floor, the pasta’s already gone, like bits of nothing sucked up by an industrial-strength vacuum cleaner.
Jezz looks up at me, lipstick-red tomato smeared all over his muzzle.
Jezz may not be a sniffer dog searching for survivors under the rubble, but this rottweiler has had his fair share of quake pasta. I’m proud of him. He lent a paw — or jaw? — in tackling the emergency. Good dog.