Thursday, April 26, 2012

How to Make Pasta all'Amatriciana

When I was about to come home from my first stay in Italy it dawned on me that when I come home, everyone is going to want to know if I can cook Italian. Since I didn't, and since I am not a very good cook in general, I decided to focus all my energy on learning just one dish. That way, when I got home I could show off and ideally fool people into being impressed that I was a good cook. I needed a typical Roman dish that was not too difficult but delicious. Ladies and gentlemen, pasta all'amatriciana.

Okay let's start off with some ingredients:

  • If you want to be fancy, the pasta should be bucatini (above), but spaghetti or linguine will work fine
  • Tomato puree - it is important that you do not get tomato sauce, in which they add basil and about a hundred preservatives. It comes in a can and has 1 ingredient: tomatoes. We Americans seem to have difficulty keeping things simple sometimes; in Italy, remember all the glass bottles of passata di pomodoro? Yeah, that's what you're looking for.  My personal go-to is a brand called TuttoRosso in a green can, but any will work as long as they don't add too much stuff that's not tomato.
  • Cubed Pancetta - this is the toughest one to find in the USA. It will look like this and can be found in the larger supermarkets or Italian grocers.
  • Grated pecorino cheese
  • Basil
  • Red pepper (the spicy kind)
  • Salt
  • Olive Oil
  • Onion
  • Optional (but better): red or white wine
1. Ok start off with a frying pan deep enough to hold all the sauce, coated with olive oil, cut up 1/4-1/2 of the onion very small and fry it for maybe a minute. 
2. Add the pancetta (half a package for 2-3 people, the whole package for 4-6), a splash of wine if you have it, and a little basil and red pepper to taste (be conservative, you can always add more later). 
3. Let all this simmer for a couple minutes - you should have a good aroma going here that will make your neighbors really jealous. Let the wine evaporate a little.
4. Now it's time to add the tomato puree. One normal-sized can should be enough for 2-3 people and a large can for 4-6. Add a spoonful or so of grated pecorino cheese. Stir it all together, adding salt until it tastes good (the pecorino will help with salt). 
5. Let this cook on a low flame for about 30-45 minutes.
6. Make the pasta, combine and add a little grated pecorino on top! 

(Just a note, the picture above is made differently, don't worry about making yours like it; it was just the best-looking picture I found).

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Fiat Struggles to Sell the 500 in North America

So Fiat has finally arrived in North America and it's doing... well... not as well as they wanted. There seems to be a couple of problems. First, it's smaller than most SUV-loving Americans would like. However, with gas prices through the roof Americans are increasingly opting for smaller, more efficient vehicles; the days of highways that look more like monster truck rallies have all but passed. Second, they are expensive; the average price hovers around $20K, which is pretty hefty considering its size and the fact that (third) they are not that well made. Fiats have never done very well outside of Italy, mainly because they couldn't compare to other solid European car makers. Italians love them because they are a point of pride, being typically Italian, and the service is much easier to find and cheaper within Italy.

It seems like they are trying to bounce back, introducing some different models and variations, not to mention an advertising blitz. But they can't even really get that right either. The first (in)famous commercial blew up in their face when Jenny from the Block was driving pretty far from the block. The second (above) is surely a fan-favorite among men, yet those diligent Italian students among us will surely notice her not-so-Italian accent. Her name is Catrinel Menghia and she is Romanian, which doesn't matter at all except for the fact that she is portrayed as being an Italian representative of this typically Italian car. It's actually kind of weird considering that Italy has no shortage of belle donne.

Honestly I hope these are just some minor hiccups for Fiat; it would be nice to see an Italian company doing well. The price needs to come down, but the trend seems to be heading towards the smaller, more efficient type of cars that dominate the European market. Plus, it seems like the "cool" factor is there (despite their advertising controversies), so people might actually want it. At the very least, they will always have a loyal market on the Jersey Shore.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Italian Book and Film Worth Checking Out

This is kind of old news, but for those interested in Italian current events, a powerful book was published a few years ago, which was subsequently made into a movie. Gomorrah is an incredible look into the Naples mafia (the Camorra) and the vast empire it controls. The author, Roberto Saviano, is from the city himself and witnessed most of what he writes about first-hand - this takes palle. In fact, after becoming famous for the book, he has spent his time in hiding, moving constantly to avoid being assassinated by the Camorra.

The film that they made is good (and on Netflix!), but I would highly recommend reading the book first. Yes, it is cliche to say that, but it's because the movie does not do a lot of explaining, whereas the book does, so it's kind of hard to follow if you don't know what they are talking about. It's still an awesome movie though and takes a pretty hard look into the ugly underbelly of the bel paese.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Italians Are Increasingly Suicidal because of Crisis

The New York Times ran an article last week highlighting something that Italians have been freaking out about for a while: suicides. As the economic crisis takes its full toll, small business owners are deciding that they can't take it. The article mentions the heart-breaking story of Giovanni Schiavon, a business owner who couldn't bear the thought of laying off workers at Christmas time, and so shot himself instead.

As most of us know, this is just the tip of the iceberg of Italian economic problems. In particular, unemployment is out of control. University graduates are not finding work and are increasingly forced to work as tirocinanti (interns) for no pay for a period of 3-6 months, with the possibility of a full-time contract that seldom arrives. Instead, companies will just rotate through interns, since they know there are so many unemployed young people, hiring new free labor every 6 months or so. And I'm not just talking about the big companies here; even shops do this sort of thing -- an internship to sell clothes? Yes. In fact, that's the norm.

So, what's a young Italian to do? There are really two choices: stay or go. Even though Italians generally hate leaving the motherland (they just can't cook like home anywhere else!), many of the most educated, ambitious men and women are doing just that and finding opportunities abroad. This, of course, contributes to a huge brain-drain that sucks out the larger mart of the most intelligent young graduates. Second, they can stay. This means living with la mamma, either simply not working, or working a job that is either unpaid or paid very little (Italian shop assistants usually make 5 euros an hour).

Italy has only just begun to confront its economic problems. Any actual improvement would require a systematic restructuring of the way the economy is run, which by all accounts seems quite a long way off.