My sister recently texted me when a recipe I made for her wedding shower went mysteriously missing from my old blog. The recipe was from eight years ago, before I turned twenty-nine. I eventually found the post, and it was painful to read.
I was navigating being an unmarried maid of honor to my little sister and hiding unwed fears in a butternut squash salad. I am still not married today and that is okay with me. I have seen enough to know that having a husband doesn’t really solve any problems.
I haven’t been writing much lately. Mostly because I have been busy doing things I don’t really want to be doing. Brett and I bought a condo that would rival the country house Walter and Anna purchase in The Money Pit.
Some days it feels like I have my footing, and other days I’ve lost it again. But memory is funny in the way it ruffles up parts of the past and smooths out others. Life is a constant battle of finding ground and displacing it. I wish I could tell my 20-something self not to worry.
I would tell her:
Diamonds aren’t everything. After you learn how to take care of yourself, a man will come along and your mother will say he is the kind of human she always envisioned for you. He will hang English wallpaper in your bedroom. He will come home when he says he will, and text when he’s running late. He will buy a new suit to stand by you when all of your grandparents pass away. He will remember your anniversary and love you even when you don’t feel like you deserve it.
Brett and I recently got back from a trip to Italy. We ate at the same restaurant in Rome three times and ordered the same amitriciana pasta, with the same side of deep emerald green chicory. We are creatures of habit, but we also have enough sense to stay put when something is good.
The meal reminded me of the pasta my uncle used to make at my grandma’s, back when she was alive and they were on speaking terms. Both the Roman dish and the one that follows feel deeply familiar, though I’m not exactly sure why. The sauce is bright and yet deeply flavored, thanks to the moderate cooking of the tomatoes and, of course, the pork. There were no onions or garlic visible with the final product at Ditta Trinchetti, our Italian restaurant, though I suspect they were still lurking behind the scenes.
Brett and I ate an obscene amount of pork jowl to get this recipe just right. Boston has criminally expensive real estate, but there are upsides to living in a city. Namely, finding the pig parts you need when you need them. Since guanciale isn’t always easy to locate, I’ve seen variants made with pancetta and others with bacon. I can’t assure either as a substitute, but they are worth a try. Just buy the fattiest version available and hope for the best.
Seven years ago, I posted my recipe for making homemade pasta, along with some things I had learned and titled it, “Oneness of Self and Pasta.” I thought I had it all together.
Turns out, oneness is a lifetime process. But pasta is a different matter. Sometimes with enough persistence, a superlative Roman meal can be recreated at home. And, if you’re lucky enough, you just might find someone who is willing to eat it with you, time and time again.
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon olive oil, divided
8 ounces guanciale, cut into ½-inch pieces
1 medium onion, cut into 1½ to 2-inch chunks
2 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed with the side of a knife
salt, to taste
2-28 ounce cans whole peeled tomatoes, hand squeezed to crush
(drain tomato liquid and reserve for another use)
1 pint cherry tomatoes
1 pound bucatini (or other dry pasta)
In a Dutch oven or large heavy-bottomed pot, heat one teaspoon olive oil over low heat. Add the guanciale and cook, stirring occasionally, until it starts to turn golden brown, about 10 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, remove the guanciale and place in a small bowl. Carefully pour most of the rendered fat into a small heatproof container, leaving about 2 to 3 tablespoons of fat in the pot, and set aside.
Turn the heat to medium-low and add the onion and garlic to the pot. Add a pinch of salt and stir. Continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions soften and turn a slightly darker shade, about 10 to 15 minutes. (If the garlic starts to darken too quickly, take it out.) Remove the onion and garlic from the pot (set aside for another use).
Add the hand-crushed tomatoes and another pinch of salt to the pot. Cook on medium to medium-low heat for about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the sauce reduces slightly and starts to taste less acidic. Add the reserved cooked guanciale and cook on medium-low for 15 to 20 more minutes, until the sauce further thickens. Add more salt, to taste.
Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water (a few pinches) to a boil on high heat. In a large skillet on medium to medium-high heat, add a tablespoon of olive oil and the cherry tomatoes. Cook, stirring occasionally, until they soften and blister in spots; set aside.
When the water is at a rolling boil, add the pasta and cook until al dente or slightly under if you have strong feelings about it being cooked to the tooth (it will continue to cook once tossed in the sauce).
Stir in half of the reserved guanciale fat to the tomato sauce. (Taste the sauce and add more fat, if desired.) When the pasta is ready, add it to the sauce using tongs. (Allow for some pasta water to drip into the sauce, which will help meld everything.) Toss in the cooked cherry tomatoes. Taste and season again with salt, if necessary.
Serves 4 to 6
1. Opt for quality canned tomatoes. We like Antonella and cook down the reserved juice, which is already nice and thick, to make a quick paste.
2. If you can’t find guanciale try pancetta or unsmoked bacon (opt for regular bacon if the unsmoked kind is not streaked with a decent amount of fat). (I found our guanciale at Eataly.)