Garlic or no garlic? A squabble in the kitchen over how to make traditional amatriciana pasta sauce

Player utilities

Listen to the story.

Marco Werman: I’m Marco Werman and it’s The World. For me, when I’m cooking, the recipe--it’s just a starting point. I’ll add a little more of one ingredient, maybe swap out another one, but sometimes I do not stray. Like my favorite pasta sauce, amatriciana, I follow one recipe. Not Michelin-starred chef Carlo Cracco, however. On TV, the Milan-based chef decided to go off the book, putting garlic in his amatriciana. Now, the sauce comes from a town not far from Rome called Amatrice, and the fine people of Amatrice let Cracco know that garlic is not okay. Lidia Bastianich from “Lidia’s Kitchen” joins me now. So, lay it out for us. What are the basic ingredients of amatriciana Lidia?


Lidia Bastianich: Well, amatriciana is a classical recipe from the town just outside of Rome, Amatrice. The original amatriciana, even before tomatoes came from the new world, was a pasta dish made out of fresh pasta. The sauce was basically guanciale, which is the cured cheek of the pork, pecorino cheese; which these herders would go up in the hills with their sheeps and this is what they would do, is they would take a little fire, put a little bit of the guanciale from the pig that they had in a little sack, put the water to cook for the pasta, throw in the pasta, a little bit of wine and the guanciale just to make the sauce, and then add the pecorino cheese again from the sheep. So, that was the tradition. Then in the 1500s I gather, the tomatoes came and that still is the original.


Werman: So, it has evolved though over the years, is what you’re saying. What is the problem with adding a little garlic to the recipe?


Bastianich: I think that everybody, since the world is becoming ever so more homogenized in flavors, and everything is so accessible, that they want to protect their flavor. And they’re right in a sense. But as chefs, adding a little bit of your own flavor, of your own color--what’s wrong with that? That’s what food is all about. For example, to throw more gas on the fire, I like my amatriciana with a little bit of onions, and I like the onions kind of nice and crunchy so that when I bite into it I hear the crunch of the onion in the amatriciana. Now, they might have me crucified for that, but I like it.


Werman: Well, the mayor of Amatrice reprimanded the chef over the use of garlic. Is that too much? Do you think the mayor is out of bounds?


Bastianich: I think the mayor is just proclaiming his turf, he’s protecting it. I think what’s so beautiful about the Italian cuisine is its regionality. It’s twenty regions and every region has a specialty. Still, you go into today’s homes of grandmas and mothers, those original recipes still reign, still reflect the regions that you come from, and I think that’s beautiful. So, maintaining that, I am all for it and the mayor. Again, having said that, I will feel free to alter it now and then if I wish to.


Werman: You know well that Italy has this DOC designation for certain ingredients, like parmigiana cheese has to come from this specific region. Is it possible that Italy would ever entertain the idea of giving a recipe, a DOC designation?


Bastianich: That’s a bit more difficult. Yes, you can identify a recipe and say “This is an authentic recipe from Amatrice” and give the exact amounts, and yes, you could do that. Can you pressure the rest of the world, the chef world to do that exactly? I’m sure that some of them will and some of them will use that as a springboard to do more creative things. That’s the world today.


Werman: Speaking of authenticity, have you ever been to Amatrice and eaten pasta alla amatriciana there?


Bastianich: I have and it’s one of my favorites. I love it when it’s like a carbonara.


Werman: So, without the tomatoes?


Bastianich: Without the tomatoes. But in Rome, more often than not, you find it now as a traditional red sauce, and it’s only the jowl and the tomatoes and I guess they put a little bit of wine in there and the pasta, and it’s delicious and I enjoy it every time I pass through Rome.


Werman: Where’s the best place to go in the US for pasta alla amatriciana?


Bastianich: I would say if you come to Felidia, certainly I’ll make you a great plate.


Werman: I was kind of expecting that. Most unexpected place to find it?


Bastianich: I think that if you go in the Italian neighborhood restaurants, we’ll have a fair rendition of the amatriciana. But don’t be surprised if you find in there onions or garlic.


Werman: Chef Lidia Bastianich. Her latest cookbook is called “Lidia’s Commonsense Italian Cooking.” Lidia, thank you for your common sense.


Bastianich: My pleasure Marco. Ciao.