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After Italy Quakes, Food World Delivers Support To Home Of Famous Pasta Dish


Today, a town in Italy was set to hold the 50th celebration of its namesake dish, but a deadly earthquake this past week has devastated the town that put pasta all'Amatriciana on the culinary map. Jeremy Cherfas, who's host of "Eat This Podcast," wrote about the classic dish for NPR's The Salt. And he joins us from Rome. Mr. Cherfas, thanks very much for being with us.

JEREMY CHERFAS: Thank you for having me.

SIMON: And could you please describe the dish for us?

CHERFAS: Yeah, without getting into all the controversy surrounding the dish, basically it consists of guanciale, which is the cured, salted cheek of a pig, tomatoes, usually tinned or jarred, not fresh tomatoes, pecorino, which is sheep's milk cheese, and a little bit of dried hot chili pepper, which the Italians called peperoncino.

SIMON: And it was, at one point, distinct to this area of Italy.

CHERFAS: It's hard to be absolutely hard and fast about these things. But, yes, I mean, there was a version which is currently called pasta Gricia, which is without the tomatoes, and that's definitely from this region. And it's probable that the version with tomatoes, which is called Amatriciana now, is from the region. But some people think that the tomatoes happened in Rome. Rome has certainly taken the dish to its heart, and you'll often find it described as a Roman pasta.

SIMON: And what's the controversy that you were trying to avoid?

CHERFAS: Well, some people put onion in. Others say no. Some people put a dash of white wine in. Others say you couldn't possibly do that.

SIMON: Oh, this is a foodie controversy, not a controversy controversy.

CHERFAS: Oh, yeah, it's a foodie controversy, and it truly, in this case, it's not that important.

SIMON: (Laughter) I understand there's a social media campaign going on now in the food world to support relief following the earthquake.

CHERFAS: Yeah. A chap called Paolo Campana seems to have been the first with the idea that you should eat a dish of pasta all'Amatriciana and donate some money to relief efforts - a euro, two euros, a couple of dollars. That was taken up fairly quickly by the Red Cross here in Italy. They've got a very clever campaign based on the fact that the ama in Amatriciana is love, so, you know, kind of playing on that and asking people to donate money when they eat a dish of pasta. A lot of restaurants here in Italy got on board very quickly. Paolo Campana said that he had 700 within a day of putting the idea up and lots of restaurants outside Italy.

SIMON: Do you have a favorite version of the dish?

CHERFAS: The simple one, the purest one, yeah. I don't particularly want it with onion or garlic. I think they overpower it. And I prefer just a little bit of hot pepper rather than black pepper, which is what some people put in. Interesting, you know, there's an idea to have a virtual sagre. I mean, these food festivals, they're called sagre, and they take place in every little town in Italy. And some people have put forward the idea that over the weekend, you cook a dish of Amatriciana, have some friends, post a photo, use a hashtag and donate some money to the relief efforts. That's a fun idea. You can, of course, just donate money to the relief efforts without having to cook.

SIMON: Jeremy Cherfas wrote about pasta all'Amatriciana for NPR's The Salt, and he spoke to us from Rome. Thanks so much for being with us.

CHERFAS: Thank you.

SIMON: And tomorrow on Weekend Edition Sunday, we bring you another culinary debate over a rice dish from West Africa. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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