Can a bowl of pasta and a catchy hashtag make any difference in helping victims of large-scale tragedy? If this week’s #amatriciana and #virtualsagra campaigns are any indication, the answer is a resounding “si.”
What was poised to be a convivial food festival or sagra, celebrating the 50th anniversary of sugo all’Amatriciana—the famed namesake pasta sauce featuring tomatoes, white wine and guanciale that was invented in the tiny central Italian town of Amatrice—turned into a wake when a 4.9-magnitude earthquake hit on August 24th, leaving more than 300 dead and destroying most of the historic, gastronomically famous town.
Almost as immediately as emergency rescue crews began to pull survivors from the rubble, restaurants and food writers around the world kicked into gear to help in the way that they know best—by feeding people. After all, what better way to help and honor the town that was known for supplying the papacy with chefs, and that gave Italy one of its most lauded sauces, than to whip up a big-hearted batch of spaghetti all’Amatriciana?
Photo courtesy of Facebook/AMAtriciana.
Within hours of the tragedy, Italian graphic artist and blogger Paolo Campana sprung into action in Italy, launching an #amatriciana campaign to raise to raise awareness and money for the victims of Amatrice and neighboring towns. "We need to move quickly," he posted on his Facebook page, encouraging people to donate one or two euros for each plate of pasta all'Amatriciana they ordered.
The #amatriciana campaign quickly went viral, replete with an interactive map directing diners to all the restaurants as farflung as Scotland that decided to host earthquake fundraisers for Amatrice (there are over 600 in Italy alone). By nightfall, similar efforts followed suit here in the States, as scores of restaurants throughout the U.S, including New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Philadelphia and Miami, announced initiatives to donate a portion of sales of pasta all’Amatriciana to an array of organizations involved with the relief and rebuilding efforts.
But restaurateurs aren’t the only ones who rallied. Less than 24 hours after the earthquake struck, a small posse of Italian food and wine professionals created their own online campaign, #virtualsagra. The conceit, dreamt up by blogger Mike Madaio of UndiscoveredItaly.Us, was simple: Encourage ordinary folks to cook up a pot of pasta all’ Amatriciana at home for their friends and family, share a photo of it, and then donate to relief efforts directly online.
Danielle Oteri, a New York-based art historian and food tour operator, shared Madaio’s post; within 36 hours (and with the help of such heavy hitters as Gabriele Corcos of the Cooking Channel, Kathy McCabe from PBS's Dream of Italy, and respected cookbook author Domenica Marchetti, who provided a list of suggested aid organizations to donate to), hundreds of people in the U.S., Canada and Italy had shared photos of the dish with the #virtualsagra hashtag.
Sounds impressive, but can a hashtag really have a sizable impact? “It’s like The Ice Bucket Challenge,” points out Danielle Oteri. It might sound frivolous at first, but that viral phenomenon raised over $100 million for ALS. “It’s not like we are going to quit our jobs and move to Italy to help pull people out of the rubble," she said. "I can open a bottle of wine, cook up some pasta and donate some money, or I can do nothing.” She and some friends chose the latter: She posted a photo of her meal on her Facebook page and then donated money to the animal rescue efforts in the area because that’s what resonated to her. Others who saw the #virtualsagra post took it one step further. Michelle Capobianco, an Italian-American private chef and caterer on Long Island who spends summers in a town not far from Amatrice, saw Oteri’s post and ran with it.
Over the weekend, Capobianco and her three young sons (pictured below) hosted a makeshift pasta stand on her front porch, dishing out 24 pounds of homemade penne all’Amatriciana from aluminum trays to neighbors who stopped by, and raised nearly $1700, which they will be donating to the National Italian American Foundation's efforts.
While the hashtag is slowing down, the relief and rebuilding efforts in Amatrice and neighboring towns are far from over. Want to get into action? Gather your tribe (big or small) and whip up your own batch of pasta all’Amatriciana. Michelle Minori, executive chef of Barzotto, a newly opened pasta bar in San Francisco (which is running its own #amatriciana fundraiser) was kind enough to share with us her coveted recipe for pasta all’Amatriciana.
Photo credit above and top: Kassie Borreson.
Barzotto's Cavatelli all’ Amatriciana
Serves about 4
8 ounces pancetta, diced
1 red onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, shaved
1 tablespoon dried pepperoncini
1 cup white wine
One 16-oz can San Marzano tomatoes, chopped
Salt (sea salt or kosher), to taste
Red wine vinegar, to taste
1 pound of semolina cavatelli (or any dried pasta with a hole to trap the sauce, such as spaghetti or bucatini)
Freshly grated Pecorino Romano (for garnish)
Handful of crunchy breadcrumbs (for garnish)
In a medium skillet over medium to low heat, slowly cook the pancetta until some of the fat is rendered and the pancetta becomes slightly caramelized.
Remove the meat from the pan and leave the fat in the skillet. Use the fat to saute the red onion until translucent but not browned. Add in the garlic and cook carefully so as not to burn. Add in the dried pepperoncini and toast for about 20 seconds to release the oils in the spice. Carefully pour in the white wine and cook until it is evaporated. Add in the chopped tomatoes and their juice.
Add the pancetta back in and stir together. Slowly cook over low heat until the pancetta is tender and the sauce no longer has the flavor of raw tomato. Adjust the seasoning with salt and red wine vinegar. Set aside while the pasta is cooking.
Bring a large pot of water to a boil and add enough sea salt or kosher salt until the water is salty like the ocean. Drop in pasta and cook until al dente, about 8 minutes. You want the noodle to have a bite, but no pasta stuck in your teeth.
While the pasta is cooking, reheat your sauce. Add the cooked pasta to heated sauce and then let the pasta cook for one more minute in the sauce to soak up all of the flavor. Transfer the pasta into a bowl, and top with some freshly grated Pecorino Romano and breadcrumbs.
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