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Behind the Craft — 1:33

Making Amatriciana and Carbonara With Chef Sarah Cicolini

June 6, 2024

When most people think of Rome, they’ll probably mention the long lines to see the Colosseum, walking down the Spanish Steps, or tossing a few coins into the Trevi Fountain. For Life & Thyme, our mind goes straight to one thing only: Pasta all’Amatriciana, the king of red sauce pastas.

Pasta all’Amatriciana originated in the town of Amatrice in Northern Lazio a millennium ago. Shepherds would take cheese and guanciale to cook in an iron pan when they would be away from home. They added fresh pasta using flour and water and allora(!), the first version of amatriciana was born. But the original became known as white amatriciana, amatriciana bianca, because of the lack of tomatoes and chili. The “modern” version—which in Italian time is late 1700s—was later created when the humble tomato started to gain popularity. One theory of the famed red sauced amatriciana mentions a 19th century Roman chef by the name of Francesco Leonard riffing on the pasta dish by adding tomatoes (gasp!) and serving it to the court of Pope Pius VII.

The fables that make up the history of pasta is part of the fun of enjoying pasta. Italy is a stickler for preserving origin stories and traditions but food will naturally evolve no matter how much we try to contain it into a box of authenticity. The tomato was never indigenous to Italy and now it is ingrained into the culinary DNA of Italian cuisine.

When we last visited the Eternal City, we met Sarah Cicolini at her famed restaurant, Santo Palato, on the outskirts of Rome. Hailing from a family of farmers in Abruzzo, Cicolini is more punk rock than traditional. Let’s be honest, preserving culinary traditions often means keeping the same voices in control of the narrative, mostly perpetuated by male chefs. Sarah Cicolini is trailblazing a different path by merely being herself.

Chef Sarah’s Santo Palato is an homage to Rome through a modern lens. Like the history of amatriciana, Sarah’s culinary identity is one that fuses a lineage of family farming and her adopted city of Rome. The carbonara and amatriciana are among the best in the city because of her ability to source extraordinary ingredients like her guanciale. “Pay attention to the ingredients—that is the most important thing,” is what she tells us. Most of her dishes only use three or four ingredients but the way she makes them sing on a plate is as if a new classic is born.

Our latest film goes inside the mind of Chef Sarah Cicolini and the making of her carbonara and amatriciana.

       

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