Lucky Me! A Chance Meeting with Janet Fletcher (+ a Great Recipe for Bucatini All'Amatriciana)

Spaghetti all'Amatriciana. Something you can make in 20 minutes, with items you likely have on hand.

Spaghetti all’Amatriciana. Something you can make in 20 minutes, with items you likely have on hand. Photo by Katherine Martinelli via Flickr.

Recently, I had the great pleasure of meeting Janet Fletcher, a renown cookbook author,  food writer, cooking teacher, and bloggiste at Planet Cheese. Here, I tell you about our dinner together, and share my riff on her recipe for Spaghetti all’Amatriciana, which has a secret weapon that makes it better than any other Spaghetti all’Amatriciana I’ve ever had.

Last month, thousands of cheesemakers, cheese lovers, cheese buyers, and all-out cheese enthusiasts descended on Des Moines for the American Cheese Society’s annual conference. As part of this festival, my friends at Comté USA invited me to a private dinner that celebrated this marvelous French mountain cheese.

One of my favorite cheeses, Comté, was featured at a dinner where I met one of my favorite food writers, Janet Fletcher.

One of my favorite cheeses, Comté, was featured at a dinner where I met one of my favorite food writers, Janet Fletcher.

As the group of invitees were sipping cocktails before being seated, a woman introduced herself to me.

“Hello. I’m Janet Fletcher,” she said.

I couldn’t believe it. This woman’s recipes have been on my table literally hundreds of times. I do not exaggerate. During the winter, I make her Spaghetti All’Amatriciana about once a week—it’s a standby when I don’t have a lot of energy to make something complicated, but still want to eat something great.

I’ve been cooking from Michael Chiarello’s Casual Cooking, which Janet co-authored with Michael Chiarello, since I bought the book on a trip to Napa Valley in 2003.

Check out the notes I’ve made over the years on her recipes–you’ll see how much I love them:

Forget over-tomatoey versions you've had in the past. The Fletcher/Chiarello Chicken Cacciatore is the best. And just six ingredients (not including olive oil and salt).

Forget over-tomatoey versions you’ve had in the past. The Fletcher/Chiarello Chicken Cacciatore Pronto is the best. And just six ingredients (not including olive oil and salt).

 

Here, I rave about the Roast Chicken with Rosemary and Lemon Salt. Yes--something this simple can be this great.

Above, I rave about the Roast Chicken with Rosemary and Lemon Salt. Yes–something this simple can be this great.

 

Notes on the Bolognese recipe. If you, like me, find the most pleasure in cooking something that's loved by someone you love, you'll appreciate this note. (Mr. Sportcoat adores this recipe.)

Notes on the Bolognese recipe. If you, like me, find great pleasure in cooking something that someone you love loves, you’ll appreciate this note. (Mr. Sportcoat adores this recipe.)

I could go on, as there are other notes in this book lauding the recipes. What I love most about them is that none are complicated at all; in most cases, I’m always amazed at how just a handful of ingredients turn out such great results. Anybody can cook these recipes, because Janet tells you exactly what you need to know.

Janet Fletcher (left) and me at the Comté USA dinner. Can you tell how how happy I am to meet her?

Janet Fletcher (left) and me at the Comté USA dinner. Can you tell how how happy I am to meet her?

Back to my dinner with Janet: Of course, I snagged a seat beside her, and I’m so glad I did. Believe me, I’ve been to a lot of dinners put on for the press by wineries, food producers, etc. Many of them are fraught with small chit-chat and false camaraderie that’s rarely very satisfying. This dinner proved a great exception; alongside our tablemates (including Mr. Sportcoat and Comté PR pro Nicole Sizemore), we all fell easily into meaningful conversations about food, food politics, politics, and the world beyond. It was a thrilling evening.

In addition to being an expert cookbook author (check out her books, here), Janet is a blogger that specializes in cheese. If you love cheese as much as I do (and I assume you do, if you follow this French food blog!), then you really should sign up for her Planet Cheese E-Cheeseletter that explores the world of cheese.

Yes! I use La Quercia Pancetta when I have it around. But I'll also use bacon, which I always have around.

Yes! I use La Quercia Pancetta when I have it around. But I’ll also use bacon, which I always have around.

Meanwhile, I post, below, my riff on her Spaghetti all’Amatriciana. I’ve fiddled with this recipe not because the original isn’t perfect, but because I’m more likely to have bacon around my house than pancetta, which the original recipe calls for. I also adjusted just a few other things, but the simple-but-life-enhancing spirit of the dish remains the same.

PS: Why is this Bucatini is better than any other recipe out there? Most don’t call for that little touch of vinegar, and it adds so much—a counterpoint of brightness amidst the richness of the bacon. Trust me.

Try it once, and I bet it will become a staple in your house for those busy weeknights when you don’t have a lot of energy, but want to eat something inspired all the same.

5.0 from 3 reviews
Bucatini All'Amatriciana
Prep time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 4
 
This recipe was adapted from Michael Chiarello's Casual Cooking, by Michael Chiarello and Janet Fletcher. Their recipe calls for spaghetti, which you can also use.
Ingredients
  • ½ 14.5-ounce can (about 1 cup) canned chopped tomatoes, undrained
  • ½ pound bucatini, cooked according to package directions
  • 4 strips bacon, cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 large onion, halved and thinly sliced
  • ¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 2 tablespoons snipped fresh parsley
  • 1½ tablespoons wine vinegar (Janet calls for red wine vinegar, but I've used any wine vinegar I have on hand, such as sherry, white-wine or Champagne)
  • ¼ cup freshly grated cheese (the original recipe calls for Pecorino Romano, but I use any high-quality cheese any I have around, such as Parmagiano-Reggiano, Asiago, Comté...I've even used a good-quality white cheddar, in a pinch!
Instructions
  1. Place the tomatoes in a blender or food processor; puree until nearly smooth. Set aside.
  2. Start cooking the pasta according to package directions; drain, reserving ¼ cup of the pasta cooking water. Set pasta aside and keep warm.
  3. While the pasta cooks, cook the bacon in a large skillet over medium heat until cooked through, but do not allow it to brown or crisp. Transfer the bacon to paper-towel-lined plate and drain off most of the fat from the skillet (a teaspoon or two left in the skillet is OK--but you want more flavor from the olive oil than bacon fat).
  4. Heat the olive oil in the same skillet over medium heat; add the onion and cook, stirring, until tender but not brown, about 7 minutes. Add the red pepper flakes and parsley to the skillet; cook and stir for 30 seconds. Add the wine vinegar; cook and stir until it evaporates. Add the pureed tomatoes and the pasta cooking water, and return the bacon to the skillet. Simmer gently for 2 to 3 minutes to allow flavors to meld.
  5. Toss the pasta with the sauce; divide among 4 dinner plates. Top with grated cheese.

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Please note that anytime you buy something from Amazon.com through one of the links I provide, it will help support this site. Thanks for your consideration.

And don’t forget to sign up for Janet Fletcher’s e-Newsletter, Planet Cheese.

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4 comments to Lucky Me! A Chance Meeting with Janet Fletcher (+ a Great Recipe for Bucatini All’Amatriciana)

  • Call Me Guillaume

    I love the way you add notes to your recipe pages. It’s one of the joys of having real cookbooks (versus online recipes). They’re a tactile testament to great meals. Kind of like a food diary.

  • Westy

    I like pasta all’amatariciana. I’m not sure about using bacon rather than pancetta, though.

    • Wini

      It’s true. Purists will use pancetta (or, if you’re really true to Italy, guanciale (cured pork from the jowl or cheeks). Those products are air-cured and not smoked. I use a good old American smoked bacon, and I really kind of like that smoky-sweet-porky flavor in the dish.

      You can, of course, use pancetta or guanciale. Just dice it really into small bits.

  • Lynn B.

    Cool–I found that Michael Chiarello/Janet Fletcher “Casual Cooking” book on Amazon for about $3. Thanks for this.

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