If you’ve never been to the small towns of Italy you would not understand the deep, profound sadness I have for the people of Amatrice, Saletta, Accumoli, Arquata del Tronto in the wake of this devastating earthquake.  My family has spent year after year crisscrossing the Italian countrysides, mountains, and beaches.  We are diehard fans of the little towns, the hamlets, the villages.  We plan our trips not around what big cities we would like to see, but which tiny ones we have to experience.

For people from a country that always bemoans the disappearance of the “social tribe”, being in these places is just magical.  The sense of community among the residents is jaw dropping.  Everyone knows everyone and their families going back hundreds of years, if not more.  But what is even more astounding is how freely these very special people share their love of one another and their towns with outsiders.  You are immediately welcomed into their social tribe and you feel their love.  Yes, their love.   They don’t welcome you because they’ve decided they like you, they welcome you because their hearts embraced yours as soon as you said ciao.  This is how my kids have come to have “aunties” and “cousins” and even an Honorary Gramps sprinkled throughout Italy and how we’ve been invited home for lunch by complete strangers.  It’s the love.

So as I sit here tonight, still trying to process how so many of these magical, special towns with the best people humankind has to offer have been destroyed, all I can think to do is share the love of Amatrice with one of our favorite family recipes.  We sat down to share it tonight as we keep Lazio in our prayers, and I hope that you will do the same.  And please consider donating to the disaster relief funds of La Stampa (specify your gift is for “Fund 597 Earthquake in Central Italy” or “Fondo 597 Terremoto Centro Italia”) or The Italian Red Cross.

Amatriciana / Sugo / all’Amatriciana

This is the namesake dish of Amatrice.  Traditionally made with guanciale (pork jowel) I sub a thick, high-quality applewood smoked bacon.  And I omit the red pepper flakes since the Hunt’s Sauce (I use for ease) has had a bit of a kick to it lately and my kids don’t like spicy food.

Olive oil

1 small onion, diced

1 carrot, very finely shredded (optional, but I prefer my sauce with it)

1 package thick bacon cut into short strips or guanciale

1 Tetra pack (33.5oz) of Hunt’s Sauce (you can make your own using San Marzano tomatoes, but this is easiest)

Pinch of red pepper flakes (if you like heat)

1 lb Spaghetti (this is the traditional way but Bucatini is used in Rome and Renne Rigate stands up nicely to this sauce and doesn’t require cutting for littles)

Pecorino Romano, freshly grated


In a heavy bottomed pan, add olive oil, onions, and carrot (if using) and cook until softened.

In a skillet, brown the bacon (not until crispy) and then transfer the bacon and a good portion of the grease to your big pan.

Add the entire package of Hunt’s Sauce to the pan (and red pepper if using) and give everything a good stir.  Put the lid on and set your stove to simmer.  Leave the sauce as long as you can (but it is still delicious after only waiting for the pasta to cook).

Cook your pasta until it is a bit more firm than al dente, then drain it and add the pasta into the sauce’s pan.  Give it a good stir, put the lid back on, and check for doneness after 2 minutes or so.

Serve piping hot with a generous helping of Pecorino.


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Dinner: Beef Bourguignon

What's for dinner?

It never fails: my family expects to eat every night…  And since I’m not the most proficient cook, coming up with ideas for yet another meal that has a prayer of going over well with everyone in the family can be a true challenge.  Especially considering that my kids have opposing taste profiles, yet both share equally high bars for the quality of their meals.  Talk about Mom Stress!  I’ve managed to find a few recipes that have been universal hits and aren’t too challenging for my lack of skills, so I want to pass them along.

The first is the French classic found in Ina Garten’s Beef Bourguinon.  Fear not!  This dish sounds much more elaborate than it actually is, but it is still downright delicious.  It’s also one of those blissful meals that can be prepped and put in the oven during afternoon nap, then magically comes out at dinner time as a pot full of deliciousness.

First, you’ll need to gather your ingredients and a good French/Dutch oven. I originally bought the Kirkland enameled version as I was afraid I wouldn’t use it often enough to justify the Le Creuset price, but it turns out it is my very favorite piece of cooking ware and I should have sprung for the real deal from the getgo! Now that you have an expensive pot, you can start saving some money with your gourmet meals made at home! (For this recipe, I buy the cubed steak/stew meat at Costco, then pare it down to roughly 1″ cubes and have a $10 bottle of brandy from Trader Joe’s in lieu of cognac)

Next, you toss your cut ingredients into your hot pan of oil, one by one, to brown/sear/soften them. You also get to throw in 1/2c of cognac or brandy and light it on fire to make the carrots heavenly (PLEASE do not burn yourself or your house – use a stick lighter and bring the flame only *near* the top edge of your pot – that is enough to ignite the alcohol). Once all of that is taken care of, you add them back to the pot and you in a bottle of Pinot Noir and some beef stock.  Tuck that big pot of delicious smells into your oven for an hour and fifteen minutes and, voila!, dinner!  Oh, and don’t worry about omitting things if they’re not favorites in your house.  My kids refuse to eat anything that has mushrooms or visible onions, so I just make it without mushrooms or the pearl onions (the sliced ones aren’t noticeable).  It’s still excellent.

I know you’re now telling yourself that you can just skip that whole sourdough bread part… But I’ve tried this dinner with and without serving it over the piece of lightly toasted sourdough and let me just say RUN TO THE MARKET NOW AND BUY THE BREAD!  It takes a dinner that is really very good into “How many servings can I take before I explode?” territory.

So there you have it, a delicious dinner that looks like you slaved away when, in actuality, it’s totally manageable!  I’ll be back with more crowd-pleasing dinners and would love to know what’s always a hit in your house!

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