When in Italy don’t ask for a plate of ‘spaghetti bolognaise’ (don’t even dare to say ‘spag bol’). The dish simply doesn’t exist in this country but is a concoction made abroad (and, I believe, actually sold in tins in the UK!). Ask instead for ‘tagliatelle al ragù’. The ragù is a sauce generally made up of the following ingredients (quantities are given for serving four persons):
55 g (1 ¾ oz) butter
55 g (1 ¾ oz) minced prosciutto far or pancetta
1 large carrot, finely chopped
1 celery stalk, finely chopped
1 onion, finely chopped
100 g (3 ½ oz) minced lean veal or beef
100 g (3 ½ oz) minced lean pork
1 glass of dry red wine
A little beef or chicken stock
3 tbsp. tomato paste
Salt and pepper
A short while back at Bagni di Lucca’s super-excellent Circolo dei Forestieri restaurant I had a pasta plate which delights me more than any other. It’s called ‘bucatini all’Amatriciana’. Bucatini is that type of spaghetti which has a hollow centre and amatriciana is a delicious sauce made up of the following ingredients:
2 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
4 oz. thinly sliced guanciale (cheek of pork) pancetta, or chopped unsmoked bacon
1/2 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
3/4 cup minced onion
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 28-oz. can peeled tomatoes with juices
1/4 cup finely grated Pecorino (about 1 oz.)
Amatriciana sauce originates from Amatrice and I shall surely weep next time I order it for Amatrice is now half destroyed, so many of its inhabitants lie dead or just alive waiting to be rescued under rubble, its lovely buildings, which made the town part of Italy’s ‘più belli borghi’ (most beautiful towns), wrecked or destroyed by a devastating seismic shock which I even felt during the night where I live in a hill village near Bagni di Lucca.
Italy, we all know is earthquake country, but this is cruelty indeed! For an earthquake to happen with such a force just four kilometres below ground, at the height of the tourist season on which so many these central Italian towns survive, in the middle of the night, with ever more explosive aftershocks and so, so ironically, days before the town’s great sagra (feast) of ‘gli spaghetti all’amatriciana’ is just too horrible to even imagine.
Italy weeps and will continue to weep as more bodies of men, women and children are extracted from the perilous rubble. We know that Italy, so disorganised in some other ways, pulls itself together heroically in human tragedies such as this one. The army, volunteers, sniffer dogs, everyone is together in this great tragedy.
I’ve lived long enough in Italy to witness the horrors of the L’Aquila earthquake of 2009 which killed over 300 people, to see the aftermath of the Emilia Romagna earthquake of 2012 and to feel our own ‘little’ earthquakes. (For just a few of the earthquakes we’ve had in our area alone (seismic zone level 2) since 2005 see my posts at
Why should the most beautiful country in the world have the worst record for earthquakes? Why should the most wonderful buildings and towns one could possibly visit on this planet be destroyed by nature’s grimacing forces? Why should some of the earth’s most creative and special people have to continually suffer from the unseen clash of seismic plates by night?
God only knows!
Eating spaghetti with Amatriciana sauce will for me from now on have a deeper and so much sadder significance that even its delicious taste can barely allay….