Amatriciana in the Blender

APTN Cameraman Gianfranco Stara Digging into a plate of Spaghetti all'Amatriciana. Photo by Paolo Santalucia

One of the most popular Italian pasta dishes is Bucatini all’Amatriciana.  Bucatini is a sort of fat spaghetti and the Amatriciana sauce is made with tomatoes, pieces of guanciale (a type of  bacon) and onion.  I learned how to make this sauce but then I decided that I didn’t like chunks of tomatoes, bacon and onion floating around in my pasta sauce.  Maybe it is an American hang-up, but I wanted the sauce to be smooth.  So I cooked the sauce, then put it in the blender to make it nice and smooth before serving it.  I served my pasta Amatriciana at a dinner party and several Italians commented on it saying, “But what sauce is this? It can’t be Amatriciana, but it tastes like it.”  I proudly and naively told them of my blender technique.  They were all very diplomatic about it.

Several years later, we went on vacation in Sardinia, with one of the families that had been at that dinner party.  There were ten of us altogether and Paola, the other mother, threw herself into cooking nice meals for all of us at lunch and dinner, always refusing my help.  After the third day of this I said, “Basta, Paola, I am not going to let you cook two meals a day for ten people. I am cooking the next meal.”  She looked across the table, gave me a huge smile and said, “I cannot trust anyone who would put an Amatriciana sauce in a blender to cook anything.”  I was floored.  It could not be so.  How could she remember two years later?

A few weeks later, in the office, I presented my tale of woe to three Italian male colleagues, Pietro, Paolo and Gianfranco.  They very calmly listened to my story until I got to the point about putting the sauce in the blender, and then there was a loud uproar. “YOU DID WHAT??!!!” they all yelled. “YOU PUT THE AMATRICIANA IN THE BLENDER!!  NO!!!!  IT’S A SIN, A CRIME!”  I think ‘shock and awe’ would probably be the best description of their response. They continued:  Pietro: “Well, at that point, why didn’t you just put the pasta in the blender too and make an Amatriciana Frappe?”  Paolo: “I think you would probably make a great chef for NASA.”  Gianfranco: “There is just no hope for you Americans.”

Ok, there may be no hope for us Americans, but, dammit, Italians are willing to risk even their jobs to maintain their food rules.  Gianfranco is the perfect example.  In Italy, everyone knows you cannot, absolutely cannot, drink a cappuccino after lunch.  Cappuccinos are a morning drink.  For breakfast, or mid-morning, a cappuccino is what you order.  After lunch, you drink a caffe, an espresso.  If you want to push the rules a little bit, you can make it a caffe macchiato with just a touch of milk after lunch, but that is it. Tourists are known for ordering cappuccinos after lunch which Italians find unbearable.

So when Sandy Macintyre, APTN’s Head of News, came to visit, we were all on our best behavior.  We tried to do what in Italian they call bella figura, that is, look good, say the right things, and basically be cool.  Our whole office took Sandy out to lunch and recounted to him tales of all the important stories we were covering.  Sandy was able to enjoy a delicious Italian plate of pasta surrounded by his admiring underlings.

Cappuccino at Bar Sant'Eustachio near AP Office. Photo by Trisha Thomas.

But then came the end of lunch and Sandy ordered a cappuccino.  Our cameraman, Gianfranco, just couldn’t take it.  “Ah no, Sandy, non si fa, this you cannot do, it is too much.”  We were all giving Gianfranco dirty looks, kicking him under the table, hoping he would remember that we wanted new equipment and salary raises, but there was no stopping him.  “I’m very sorry, Sandy, but it is not possible, a cappuccino, after you eat your lunch,” Gianfranco continued digging himself deeper into the hole.  Now this is the cameraman who had covered the war in Bosnia and, according to colleagues, didn’t even flinch when he was approaching Sarajevo in a car and a sniper sent a bullet through the front window passing right over his shoulder.

Gianfranco gained a reputation for calmly dozing off to sleep while flying on terrifying military jets that land on aircraft carriers.   Gianfranco never let a little gunfire or turbulent flights wrinkle his perfectly starched Brooks Brothers button-down shirts and a silk scarf on his neck.  Let’s say Gianfranco can make a bella figura (a good impression, fundamental for Italians) when the bullets are flying and planes are swooping, but not if a cappuccino is being served after lunch! Thank goodness, Sandy has a lovely Scottish sense of humor and took the Italian food rule fixation all in good fun.

10 thoughts on “Amatriciana in the Blender”

  1. Such funny stories! So engaging. I am reminded of preparing my first tea for Turks – with – wait for it – gasp – a teabag – and they could tell the difference! Horrors. I am still trying to make up for that one!

  2. Massimo Pagliaroli

    Dear Mozzarella Mamma – unluckily there’s no shortcut to good taste.
    There is a way other than the blender to make a smoother tomato-based sauce. After having made “soffritto”, put plum tomatoes and some water in the pan on a mild fire, after few minutes roughly crush tomatoes with a wooden spoon, stir now and again, add some extra hot water during cooking if it dries up too much (otherwise sauce will stick and burn). Keep cooking for more than 10 or 15 minutes as you suggest in another post. At the end tomatoes and onions will melt in a thick and tasty sauce where “guanciale” chops will be at ease, waiting for your guests to chase them in the dish.

    1. Thank you Massimo! I am such a bad cook (partly because I am always in a hurry an terribly impatient) it would never have occurred to me to let it simmer longer to become smoother. Thanks for the tip and please keep on reading the blog– there will be more food fiascos coming up that you might be able to help me out of.

  3. Touché, touché, and touché again!!! This is just too funny! And I confess to having cringed when I read you put the amatriciana sauce in the blender, and started wringing my hands when you talked about the possibility of ordering cappuccino after lunch!
    Keep it up, I want to read more of these!

  4. Amatriciana in a blender- definitely caught my attention with that title. You are probably breaking around 19 “Italian Rules” with that one. Still very interesting nonetheless. Many of my visiting friends have the same problem with the guanciale.

    I like the slower alternative you suggested Massimo. Do you ever peal the skin off the tomatoes first or do you prefer it with the skin on? With plum tomatoes it can be a little tedious to do so.

    Fun Post!

  5. Catherine Thomas

    Well I have very few things that I do not like to eat or drink butI do NOT do coffee in any way shape or form. I do hot tea. I thought my Italian male friend was going to flip. Seems Like I need to find a way to make Espresso taste like tea…Any suggestions??? Love the blog … Always makes me smile!!! Thanks, Cathy

    1. Catherine — You are right, Italians are big coffee drinkers. But it is not just all the coffee they drink, but how they drink it. Throwing back a quick espresso at the coffee bar standing up is the norm. Not just the espresso, but also cappuccino. I go every morning to get a cappuccino standing at a coffee bar near my office with my colleagues. I always ask for my cappuccino to be “caldo caldo” (extra hot) because I think the barista makes tepid cappucinos so that people can drink them faster. I like to linger over mine, I would rather sit down too, but that is not done here. So my colleagues are always standing around twiddling their thumbs waiting for me to finish my hot cappuccino. But if I dare to ask for it to take-away, everybody gets all flustered. My colleagues roll their eye-balls and mutter “americana” and the barista gives me a tiny, flimsy plastic cup, puts the cappuccino in it and folds a tiny napkin over the top. By the time we get back up to the office the napkin is soggy and dipping into the cappuccino, and the cappuccino is tepid. Take-out is not worth it in Italy! I also have a story about my first coffee with my mother-in-law. Perhaps coffee is worth a post of its own. Thanks for the comment and the good idea! Trisha

    2. Ahah, very funny, i am italian, i quit drinking coffee, and i drink tea sometimes, or hot water !!

      and most of the italians i know can`t understand the hot water thing… the other part of italians do not know i drink just hot water !!
      eli in cork

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