Anear the years of driving and remembering that “someday we should stop here for lunch”, we finally made it. We left Via Ternana, a few hundred meters before Poggio Mirteto station in Lazio, and entered a large informal parking lot where we immediately found a place near the wall with the sun and the words “Ecofattorie Sabine” painted on. above. Words on green awnings promised local produce, which in an area full of olive groves and busy with sheep, is welcome. Two women were setting tables outside, and the air smelled like barely lit charcoal.
Someone must have done experiments on the endorphins released when people walk to lunch; the reasons for the euphoria felt when approaching the door of a restaurant, cafe or pub, and how it differs depending on whether it is a familiar or a new place. Add hunger to the mix, along with the noise of the cutlery and the distant smell of mutton, signifying the promise of pecorino. And where there is pecorino, there is its sweet, white by-product, the result of reheating leftover whey to make it mutton ricotta (ricotta with sheep’s milk). There were more endorphins when we new inexperienced dog owners allowed our little creature to get too close to the beautiful reigning dog. In the end, she only wanted to clarify who was in charge before she returned to her place under the relentless sun. I needed a seat at one of the wooden tables, however, and a glass of wine after that.
If anyone has done research on endorphins near the door, they must also have looked at endorphins in sitting down and kneeling under the table. Also, what happens chemically when you first look at a menu, take the first sip of wine, and taste the bread, surely triggering something soothing. We ordered the local salami, accompanied by freshly baked pin-sized buns and flecked with cheese. Then, fatty potato gnocchi and tomato sauce for Luca and Vincenzo, fettuccine alla pecorara for me, then lamb cooked on the grill outside. But back to pasta, a simple recipe of great goodness.
“Alla pecorara” translates to “the style of the shepherd”. It is perhaps a most famous dish in the neighboring region of Abruzzo, and more particularly in the province of Pescara, where it means pasta – often homemade rings called anelli – with tomatoes, other vegetables and ricotta with sheep’s milk. However, in Lazio and especially in Sabina, pasta alla pecorara means ricotta, pecorino and guanciale – and, at Ecofattorie Sabine, hand-rolled fatty strings of pici or ribbons of fettuccine. What’s interesting about their version is that they use a meat slicer to slice the guanciale, which means it’s incredibly thin and makes almost crispy fries that shatter. Wonderful, but at home I prefer the bigger batons.
200g bacon, or pancetta or bacon
300g ricotta – sheep’s or cow’s milk
40g of pecorino cheese romano
400g of pasta (half sleeves, penne, pici, fettuccine)
Put a pot of water for the pasta. Cut the guanciale into short sticks, put them in a pan over medium-low heat and fry them gently until they are lightly browned and a little fat has melted. (If you are using pancetta or bacon, fry it in a little olive oil.) Remove the guanciale and set aside, then remove the fat and save it as well.
Once the water boils, add salt, stir, then add the pasta and set the timer.
In a large hot bowl, mash the ricotta with the pecorino, lots of black pepper and two tablespoons of guancial fat. Stir, taste to see if it needs any salt, then lift the cooked pasta directly into the ricotta and toss, carefully adding a little pasta cooking water if you think it needs to relax. Divide between bowls, garnish each serving with a little crispy guanciale and serve with red wine and bread to calm the bowls clean.