Non buttare la pasta prima di fare il sugo...

Bucatini, guanciale, tomatoes and some love, that’s all it takes to make amatriciana, but forget the last ingredient and you’ve got a recipe for disaster.

Cooking brings people together and for me when I cook with someone that means something. You are special to me. I want to share something intimate with you. That’s why an amatriciana date night sounded like a good idea to showcase my skills and my devotion...until everything went wayward, which I can only attribute to the fact that I added onions to my amatriciana.

Italians like to stick to tradition. Though there can be creativity and fusion, more often than not, Italians will often argue that there is only one definitive way of cooking something like a pasta alla carbonara or amatriciana. And I think this is why no man in Italy believes I am a good cook!

I’ll admit that sometimes my experiments in the kitchen don’t always go as planned, but they’re still usually pretty tasty. However, when time isn’t on your side and you have a sous chef that is equally as naive as you on how to make a good amatriciana, this complicates matters a bit.

Though I came armed with bucatini, guanciale, pecorino and peeled whole Roma tomatoes, my date had some qualms with my bag of goodies.

The first issue was the pasta. Deciding that Barilla just wouldn’t do, we used an “artisanal” spaghetti in a packaging that was not so different from that of my beloved blue brand.

The next issue was the can of pomodori pelati. His family has a quaint little home outside of the city, where his father makes wine and his mother makes sauce. As soon as I understood that he was harbouring a jar of mamma’s famous gravy, what choice did I have but to graciously accept the substitution? And while I’ll admit it was a very lovely sauce, it changed the texture and flavour of the dish.

Once our substitutions were made, came the next big challenge. Onions or onion-free? Another point of debate, I was surprised that my date said he was in favour. Excited, I began peeling an onion as my companion uncorked a bottle of Chianti Classico.

While I tend to skim recipes and sort of invent my own versions, at times it pays to play it by the book—at least while you’re still learning. I say this because, adding both my onions and guanciale to the pan at the same time, the onions were burning but the guanciale was still mezzo crudo.

Oh and of course, this was all while my date had thrown in the pasta, millennia before the sauce was even close to being ready!

Naturally, the rest of the recipe was a mad rush to try and render fat and not burn the onions and somehow make sure the sauce would thicken. To my surprise, the end result was pretty decent given that every possible aspect of this amatriciana had totally backfired.

In a way, this terrible pasta experience spoke volumes. I’ve cooked with lots of people before—friends, roommates, parents, past lovers and even my own Italian nonna—but, the air in the kitchen was different that night.

Maybe I was trying to be something I’m not, compensating or trying to prove my italianità to feel worthy of an Italian’s company. Whatever deep subliminal message was unfolding in the pasta pot, I did learn one thing about dating: don’t rush things. Let them be and even if you make a mess, it’s okay. Pasta is still pasta even if it doesn’t taste like it was served at a Michelin-star restaurant.

I didn’t see my date again after the big pasta ordeal, but I did have the opportunity for a pasta re-do with a friend. And it was amazing. The kitchen atmosphere was easy and free and the result was an amatriciana made for the gods.

Nothing fancy to make a killer amatriciana. All you need to do is bring a pot of lightly salted water to a boil. As the pasta cooks, add strips of guanciale to a pan and cook completely before adding a touch of wine to deglaze and finally your tomatoes, cooking until thick. Add a splash of pasta water and your drained pasta and sprinkle with some pecorino. Effortless no?

In short, non buttare la pasta prima di fare il sugo—don’t get ahead of yourself and force something that’s not meant to be.

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