The Fifth of the Four Roman Pasta Sauces

Just as Roman cuisine is famous for using the “quinto quarto” (fifth quarter) of the animal, Rome famous for four pasta sauces — with one that is made from the part of the animal that no one wants to mention — the fifth quarter. Or is it the opposite?

In most restaurants, you order your pasta dish by the sauce as there are traditionally certain pastas for certain sauces. In a few, by the shape of the pasta, although most places will have already decided which pasta they are cooking that day. I find that many restaurants use the large tubular pasta as it fills the plate better. There are officially 350 shapes of pasta but many have different regional names and new shapes are being invented constantly. Italians will tell you that the pasta should fit the sauce so that the sauce sticks to the pasta. Some Romans will tell you that only certain sauces go with certain types of pasta.

A basic thing about Roman cooking. It’s simple with few ingredients and use the best quality that you can afford. Also, almost no garlic or chili. The Italians are sensitive to regional names so even describing something as “like bacon” can be controversial.

Cacio e pepe spaghetti

Cacio e Pepe (catch-ee-oh-eh-peh-pa): Basically it’s called “cheese and black pepper” and that’s what it is. Usually a long string-like pasta like spaghetti although traditionally, tonnarelli (a rougher hand cut “square” long pasta) is used. Spaghetti means “strings.” The cheese used is Roman Pecorino, the sheep’s milk version similar in hardness and age to Parmesan (which comes from Parma), and pepper. One makes the sauce by using hot water that the pasta has been cooked in. There is no cream added. It’s a very simple sauce.

Spaghetti alla carbonara (although the pasta may have been a slightly thicker kind).

Carbonara (cARR-boh-nar-ah): This is the one with the famous story about how the American GIs missed eggs and bacon and so this pasta sauce was made to cater to them. Not true but a nice story. This sauce involves pork jowl, guanciale, fried to bacon bits (they will tell you not to use bacon — but if that’s all you have…), grated pecorino, and an egg yolk. The result is a thick golden sauce.

Tonnarelli in gricia sauce (you can see how the pasta is square).

Gricia (gree-CH-ah): Is basically carbonara without the raw egg yolk. If you like bacon bits but don’t want the cloying creaminess of the carbonara, this is the one for you. It’s often used with tubular pasta like rigatoni.

Tonnarelli amatriciana.

Amatriciana (ah-mah-TREE-chee-ah-na): If you like the pork jowl bacon, you like the Pecorino, but you don’t like the egg yolk, and you wish they’d add some tomato sauce, then get the amatriciana. It’s called that because the pork comes from Amatrice, a town in northern Lazio (the region where Rome is located, south of the famous Tuscany).

And the fifth… is hard to find these days and never on the English language version of the menu (some traditional Roman restaurants will have a printed menu in English for the foreigners and a hand written on for the locals). It’s a dish called “rigatoni alla pajata” and is rigatoni with veal’s intestines (or bowel, as they will say here). It’s that particular part of the intestine from newborn calves who have only had milk. When the calf is slaughtered, the undigested milk is still in the intestine and it looks a bit like a creamy sausage.

None of these are my favorite pasta sauces. I like spaghetti alle vongole/spaghetti con le vongole (spaghetti with clams) and aglio e olio (garlic and oil) with chili flakes, a dish so simple that it’s almost never on the menu in restaurants. Apparently, it’s a drunk food that people make when they come back from being out on the town. Both of these dishes are from Naples. Many of the Italian immigrants to the United States were from Naples so the American idea of Italian food is often shaped by that. This is evident in the New York style pizza which is most like a Neopolitan pizza.

Oh, I also like penne with canned/preserved tuna or salmon. It’s one of the most common things to get in a Roman cafeteria. It’s easy to make and all the ingredients are already in the pantry.

Canadian Caesar Cocktail

Down “south of the border” as the Canadians say about the USA, the Bloody Mary is a brunch standard. Up “north” it’s the Caesar or “Bloody Caesar” a drink created in 1969 which is similar to a Bloody Mary but is spicier and includes clam juice. It’s sort of a homage to “pasta a la vongole” or spaghetti with clams (which is one of my favorite dishes).  Supposedly the cocktail is similar to a caesar salad… whatever, it’s delicious. The best so far has been at Edible Canada where they add maple covered bacon — it’s not just decoration because the bacon adds extra contrast to the Caesar. Other places add pickles, cheese, etc.

According to Wikipedia, Canadians consume 350 million annually. Make that 350,000,006… and counting.

Koller – My Butcher in Bogota

The Koller butchery in Bogota.
The Koller butchery in Bogota.

As an expat, it can take a while to venture out and find all the “bare necessities” like bacon. My go-to place for meat is a butcher shop called “Koller” and it’s located near the corner of Carrera 15 and Calle 95 (not sure what the exact address is but it’s easier to remember 15 and 95). The building’s facade is blue so it’s easy to find once you know where it is. Also, usually there’s a avocado cart outside, but this doesn’t distinguish it from other street corners.

I use Koller's beef when I serve bulgogi at home.
I use Koller’s beef when I make bulgogi although the meat doesn’t really need marinating.

When you go inside, it’s so sort of like shopping in Ye Olde Europe. Shopping is a three stage process. There are chairs in the center of the shop for those who are not actively shopping. Right inside the door is a red number dispenser (just like in Europe) and once your number is called or is visible on the flashing sign, you go round the butcher shop’s meat counters from right to left. First is the counter with cuts of beef. Then, as you move to your left, with the butcher lady mirroring your move on the other side of the counter, you reach the pork, deli meats, sausages, hotdogs, bacon, pates, and so on. All the meats are prepared by Koller and other grocery stores and restaurants advertise that they carry Koller brand hotdogs or ham. The butcher lady puts all your meat in a plastic basin. When you move to the sandwich stand and checkout, another person will ring you up. Then you take the chit from that person over to the cashier which completes the circle around the room. Once you’ve paid (you can pay by credit card), you go back to the checkout and get your (now) bagged meat. The security guard offered to help carry my bag to my car.

I find the prices at Koller to be slightly less than in the U.S. as I’ve bought three pound filet for about $30. The shop is very clean and the only part that is a big strange is that you can’t buy just a part of the tenderloin. All or nothing. They do have pre-cut pieces so I guess one could buy those. I just buy the whole thing and cut them myself. The bacon is almost without fat so it cooks up really fast. It’s more like Danish bacon or pancetta.

This is where I get my chiles.

How Did the Chicken Get on the Scale?

I have never considered how one weighs an egg. At the Lincoln restaurant in Washington, DC, they serve the deviled eggs on an egg scale. The deviled eggs were not delicious so it made the gimmick of the egg scale seem all show; and no substance. I was excited when I ordered the deviled eggs with “duck crackling” but was disappointed. The duck skin was served as miniscule frigid speck (yup, a pork fat pun) on top of the deviled egg. But, it was the yolk mix itself which did not taste great. I think there was too much mustard and not enough pickle flavor. It would have been better with a sweeter flavor. But, at least it looked good?

Deviled eggs with duck crackling and lox.
Deviled eggs with duck crackling and lox.

The kale salad, on the other hand, was magical.

Thank You for Loving Bacon

Danish bacon frying up in a pan.

I was wrong. In recalling Danish bacon, I simply remembered that it was my favorite kind of bacon. When I got to Denmark this time around, I set out to fry some up. When I cooked the pack of bacon, all 250 grams of it,  and realized that no fat came sputtering out of it because the bacon is much more  akin to pancetta, thin and not woodsy in smell… (the Danes have their own breed of pigs called the Antonius). When I ate the first crinkly mahogany strip, I realized that I had been utterly wrong. The Danish bacon was much better than the bacon of my memory.

The sticker says “thank you for loving bacon”.