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Don’t miss Rome’s classic pasta dishes

In Rome, pasta is sacred. There’s a long history and tradition here of the dishes we all associate with Italy. Come with us and discover the secrets behind the capital’s two most famous pasta dishes: La carbonara and L'amatriciana.

These classic pasta recipes are simple and require only a few ingredients to make: pork cheek (or guanciale in Italian), black pepper, tomato or egg and the sheep cheese pecorino romano.

A freshly made carbonara at I Roscioli in Rome. Photo: Chiara Magi

In every restaurant in Rome, though, you’ll find a chef with their own style and their own opinion on how the dishes should be made. Each will defend their own preferred method to the hilt.

Two restaurants with two different carbonara

Carbonara comes from the word carbone, which is Italian for coal. 
“Probably because the dish had so much black pepper in it that it looked the color of coal,” Tommaso Fratini says. He’s the chef at the restaurant I Roscioli, a popular trattoria, which also has a bakery and a café at other locations in Rome.
“I use only the yolk of the egg, which gives a prettier color. The eggs have to be super fresh. They’ll be eaten raw so this is very important. You shouldn’t use bacon either, but pork cheek, guanciale,” he says emphatically.

He says that pork cheek is less fatty because the animals have used the jaw muscles so much, unlike bacon, which comes from the belly and is therefore fattier. 
“Ideally, the pasta, i bucatini, should be boiled in water with just a pinch of salt,” Fratini says. “All the ingredients are so salty that it doesn’t need more.” 

In the Testaccio neighborhood, which in Roman times was a dumping ground for used terracotta jars, Elio Checchino runs the restaurant Checchino1887 together with his brother and sister. 
“Rome’s famous pasta dishes are actually the food of the poor,” Checchino says. “Over the centuries, even those who had little to eat always had unto – fat and eggs – at home. This is the basis of la carbonara and l’amatriciana.”

Elio Checchino runs Checchino1887 in Testaccio with his brother and sister. Photo: Chiara Magi

The restaurant Checchino1887 has been in the family since the end of the 19th century. Diners flock here to enjoy traditional Italian dishes. 
“We make carbonara using the whole of the egg. Some chefs today use only the yolk, but do you think poor people would throw away something as nutritious as egg white?” Checchino asks rhetorically.

The l'Arcangelo restaurant is genuine and pleasant. Photo: Chiara Magi

Amatriciana – a thoroughly sophisticated tomato sauce

Amatriciana is another dish associated with Rome, even though it was probably invented in Amatrice, a town 150km northeast of Rome. Hence the name. 

“I think it’s more fun to make amatriciana,” says Arcangelo Dandini from the restaurant l’Arcangelo, which is just a stone’s throw from the Vatican. “There are only three ingredients. Guanciale, tomato sauce and pecorino romano.” 

He says that although it may sound simple, it’s the proportions and ingredients that are important, as well as finding the right balance.
“I cook the pasta al chiodo, which means I strain off the water thirty seconds before the pasta becomes al dente. Then the pasta is crisp and you need to chew more and produce more saliva. This helps you taste the flavor more. Then I add a few chili peppers, which give the dish a bit of a kick,” he says with a big grin. 

The pasta dish amatriciana at l'Arcangelo consists of fourteen different sorts of tomato. Photo: Chiara Magi

He says that what makes Italy so wonderful is all the ingredients. 
“You see pasta with tomato sauce on the menu, but you perhaps don’t know that we use fourteen different varieties of tomato in our tomato sauce,” he says. “That’s why it’s so good.”

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