January 10, 2013

Italian table Talk #8: Salumi, Guanciale and Gricia

All through the ages, January has never been the month of diets and cleanses, at least not in Italy. There were no concerns about being fit or losing weight. Rather, the biggest concern was to keep the family fed, and warm --no one would have thought to deprive their body of energies in such a cold month, and in fact, January was about the exact opposite of dieting.

January was (and to some extent still is) the month of pork. And us ladies at Italian Table Talk couldn't miss such a great occasion to talk about such an important part of the Italian food culture --that is pork and, more in general, the art of curing meat. A tradition and an art which is centuries old and embraces the whole country, differing once again from region to region and gifting us with an extremely wide variety of types and styles of salumi. So, before we proceed any further, let me introduce the themes of today's episode: Emiko digs into the history of one of the most famous Tuscan salumi, lardo di Colonnata; Giulia discovers a(nother) traditional Tuscan salume, buristo, and makes some killer fried eggs with it; and Jasmine creates a fantastic kosher version of the famous Roman pasta dish, amatriciana --which we will talk a bit about later :)



Owning one pig or more was in use amongst peasant families of all regions. As an animal, pig was particularly convenient for the numerous family groups living in the country and working in the fields: it could be fed about anything; it didn't need much care; and it could be eaten and used from nose to tail. It was what we could call a good investment.

Pigs were traditionally slaughtered in the could months of the year, namely from December to mid February, with a peak in January, after Christmas time. The reason was mainly practical: all the operations to kill and handle the fresh meat needed to be done at low temperature. At a time when refrigeration wasn't available, this meant doing it in winter. In addition, the freshly cured meet would benefit from the cold for both drying and preserving.

Not all the cuts were turned into cured meat. In fact, some were eaten straight away --braised, fried, roasted etc. However, curing (and therefore preserving) most parts of the pig meant having enough of a supply of meat (fat, protein and energy) for the whole family for the rest of the year. A little at a time, it goes without saying, and wasting nothing, not even blood, with which a sausage (sanguinaccio) was made.

Most of cured meats in Italy were processed through salting and adding spices. Depending on the cut and quality of the meat (lean to fat meat ratio), different techniques were used. Some parts were ground and put into a casing to make salami or sausages. Others were handled as a whole, like the belly (pancetta), the leg (prosciutto), the gluteus (culatello), the neck (coppa or capocollo), the cheek (guanciale) etc. Throughout the centuries, some areas of Italy became famous for specific types of cured meat because of the particular set of skills in handling specific cuts, or because a particularly successful recipe was created to make salame. Some of these products are still made more or less in the same way they used to, and many of them have also earned the PDO certification.

Although the cured meat I am going to focus on next doesn't belong directly to my food heritage, it is a true gem of Italian norcineria which deserves to be brought to footlight and that I always wanted to share on these pages: guanciale. Typical of Central and Southern Italy, guanciale is made from the cheek of the pig, a cut that is mainly made of fat, with only one or two thin stripes of lean muscle in it. The composition of the fat is different from the fat found in the belly or in the back of the pig, as it is more tough and it has more intense, flavorsome characteristics. To make guanciale, the triangular cut of meat between the cheek and the throat is selected, dry-salted and hanged for up to five days. After that, spices and herbs such as black pepper, chili pepper, garlic and rosemary are rubbed externally. Guanciale is then partially smoked on wood fire and then cured up to two-three months in a cold and humid environment.




Among all the types of guanciale, particularly famous is guanciale di Amatrice, a little town on the border between Lazio and Abruzzo, which owe its fame to a pasta dish typical of Lazio: amatriciana. Amatriciana is a pasta dish born around the end of the 18th century and featuring tomato sauce, guanciale, pecorino and black pepper. It was the dish of the transhumant shepherds moving from the Apennines, specifically from the town of Amatrice, toward the capital (Rome) to sell their products on the local markets. Many of them eventually moved to the city to work in local osterie, being renowned for their cooking skills.

The origin of the dish, however, dates further back in time, with the sole difference that it didn't have tomato in it. First, tomatoes hadn't come from the other side of the ocean yet. Then, when they started to be cultivated, they were available only during summertime, as no preserving technique had been invented until the end of the 1700s. The original version of amatriciana only had guanciale, pecorino from the area, and a lot of black pepper, and it was called amatriciana in bianco or gricia (griscia in local dialect), from Griciano, another village not far from Amatrice.



Gricia is a dish that talks about a culture, a land and a lifestyle. Shepherding required energetic meals while the constant movements called for food that could keep for long periods of time without spoiling: aged cheese, dry pasta and cured meat. It became famous in Rome and in time, it started to be associated with the Eternal City as a "traditional roman dish", prepared the old way in many osterie. The recipe, however, is so simple that it can be easily made at home. Key to success is finding the right ingredients. Once you are set with that, be ready for moments of pure pleasure.

Spaghetti alla Gricia

serves 4

400 gr spaghetti or bucatini
1/2 tbs mild extra virgin olive oil or lard
4 thick slices (about 200 gr total) of guanciale (no pancetta, no bacon, please!)
200 gr grated pecorino romano
plenty of freshly ground black pepper
a handful of coarse sea salt, or to taste

Bring plenty of water to a boil. In the meantime, heat the oil in a large saucepan. Cut the guanciale in strips and add it to the hot oil, fry until crispy and translucent. Remove from the heat. When the water is boiling, add salt and the spaghetti and cook until very al dente (two-three minutes before the suggested cooking time). Drain with a slotted spoon and add to the guanciale, together with a spoonful of hot cooking water. Put the saucepan back on high heat. Saute the pasta a few times, then add the pecorino and incorporate it to the sauce. Grind plenty of black pepper on the pasta, saute once more until combined. Serve immediately with some more grated pecorino and black pepper to taste.

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26 comments:

  1. Adoro il tuo blog che non conoscevo!
    e ho anche lo stesso identico piatto della foto..
    fatto, piazzato tra i preferiti.
    a presto,
    barbara

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    1. Grazie mille Barbara! Ma pensa, quel piatto l'ho preso in un negozietto qui a Londra! :)

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  2. che cibo speciale, questo qui... :)

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  3. Io la gricia non l'ho mai mangiata e ogni volta che ne sento parlare drizzo le orecchie... vedere le tue foto mi ha dato il colpo di grazia!
    PS Sei bravissima e il blog meraviglioso.

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    1. DEVI PROVARLA! :)) è una delizia! grazie, un abbraccio

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  4. W O W !! Che foto...e che piatto!!!

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  5. What stunning pictures and what interesting (new to me) information on my long-time favourite pasta dish (Amatriciana) and my newly discovered pasta dish of Pasta alla Gricia (which I had never heard of until I moved to Rome for work a few months ago). I did not know these two dishes were so closely related but that would explain why I love both of them that much. How sad also to think of Italian food without tomatoes - almost unthinkable these days and just today I was reflecting on the perfect trifecta of beautiful pizza crust topped with sweet pomodori and fresh Buffalo mozzarella! I look forward to reading more posts from the Italian Table Talk!

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    1. if you think about carbonara, it is basically a gricia + eggs! I like to think of gricia as the basic recipe which gave origin to the other two (carbonara and amatriciana), and yet all three are so genius in their own way! it is hard for me to think of Italy without tomato, too, but researching for this post I actually had to stop and reflect on this big truth: no tomato up until just a few centuries ago --so much for the pasta al pomodoro and pizza margherita! Let say these are also important chapters in the history of Italian food, only they are more recent! :)

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  6. I could live off pasta alone, and simple dishes like this are my favorite! Beautiful post, Valeria!

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    1. thank you so much, couldn't agree more, pasta with cheese is the ultimate comfort food!

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  7. Informazioni preziose Valeria, alcune di queste storie non le conoscevo neanche io. Foto meravigliose... ma penso tu lo sappia gia' :-)
    ciao
    Giulia

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    1. Carinissima, Giulia! Mi fa piacere che Italian Table Talk sia utile anche a noi Italiani, così tante cose ci sono da scoprire (anche per la sottoscritta, che per scrivere i post ricerca e impara! :D). un abbraccio

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  8. My mouth is watering just looking at this post, Val. I love how essential and simple traditional dishes like this are - and you're right, there's no substitute for a good piece of guanciale!

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    1. Absolutely! Just browsing for some photo inspiration I have seen this recipe made with pancetta, with bacon (by Mark Bittman!!!), topped with sage, using onion in the sauce...Why do we have to complicate something so simple and yet so perfect? Less is more, once again! :)

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  9. Val'etta, oramai non te lo scrivo nemmeno più che qui ci vengo col sorriso un po' così, e so che come per magia il sorriso mi si distende e fo pace col mondo dentro e fuori.
    ps: oggi, sei stata la primissima persona alla quale avrei voluto raccontare una robina. Poi, per una sorta di scaramantica riservatezza, ho preferito differire. Ma il pensiero m'ha stupita. Ed ho fatto un sorriso ancora più grande.

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    1. ohibò :D adesso sono scuriosissimissima. ma farò la brava. mi basta e avanza un grande sorriso --sennò, cosa ci stiamo a fare noi qui? <3

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  10. son ouna grande estimatrice, di questo piatto che appartiene alla storia della mia regione e non posso non amarlo e amare tutto il post!
    Questo salame "buristo" è una riverazione invece... Devo provarlo!

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  11. sto salivando alle 10 di sera di fronte alla gricia... il guanciale è veramente inimitabile. E la gricia è forse la mia preferita delle paste del genere, semplice, ma si fa mangiare in enormi quantità. Quante cose che scopriamo ogni mese, eh?! :)

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  12. I've never gone in for dieting in January - surely it's the month when you need the most comfort in the form of delicious food?! The photos in this post are beautiful and remind me of my Dad's simple carbonara which he'd always make when we were on holiday at our house in Italy. Stripped back, simple and delicious.

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  13. Oh goodness! Those are some gorgeous and mouth-watering slices of meat! Hey, I think I should move to Italy! Or simply just follow the Italian's diet. Sounds like music to my ears. Yes, I need some fat and meat in my body to keep warm (despite the amount I already got in my own body)! :)

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  14. I grandi piatti classici non li batte nessuno... :-)

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