What’s Cooking in… Ostia Antica

By Sandra Scott
This item appears on page 51 of the November 2018 issue.
Chef Giovanni Ciaravola's finished dish.

Ostia, several miles southwest of present-day Rome, was once an important port for Rome. Following the fall of the Roman Empire, Ostia was abandoned. Today, the archaeological site of Ostia Antica can be visited near the modern town of Ostia (Ostia Lido).

In October 2016, my husband, John, and I stayed in Ostia, now a beach resort, so we could visit the nearby archaeological site, easily accessed from Ostia by a short train ride.

Admission to Ostia Antica costs about $9, but entry is free on the first Sunday of the month. There are many interesting sights, including the mosaic floors, the baths and the theater, which still puts on productions.

It was the end of the beach season in Ostia, so many restaurants were closed, but near our hotel we found a small, family-owned restaurant called Officina Culinaria (Via degli Acilii, 15, 00122 Ostia Lido, Italy; phone +39 06 562 2945, www.officinaculinaria.it [Italian only]).

Adding tomatoes for the Spaghetti Amatriciana. Photos by Sandra Scott

While we were eating, the owner, Giovanni Ciaravola, said he knew we were Americans because we each twirled spaghetti with our fork pressed against our spoon. The correct way, he said, was to just twirl the fork in the spaghetti or to put the tines on the plate and twirl it.

I said Americans also probably don't make the sauce the Italian way. He agreed and said he would be making sauce the next day about noon and, if we wanted, we could return and learn the "right way" to make traditional Italian Amatriciana sauce. We did.

Sandra Scott can be reached by email at sanscott@gmail.com.

Spaghetti Amatriciana

3 to 5 quarter-inch slices of guanciale (salt-cured pork jowl) or uncooked fatty bacon
1 can of plum tomatoes in sauce
a pinch of salt
a pinch of pepper
a couple drops of olive oil,
one-half of a 12 oz. box of spaghetti
2 ounces pecorino cheese

Cook the guanciale (or bacon) over medium heat until the fat cooks out and the pork is slightly crispy. Add the tomatoes and cover, stirring occasionally until the sauce thickens, about 15 minutes. Mix in salt and pepper to taste. Stir in a couple drops of oil to make it shiny. In a separate pot, boil water and cook pasta until al dente. (If your sauce is too thick, add some of the pasta water before draining the pasta.) Add drained spaghetti to sauce and toss. Top with grated cheese and serve.

Chef Giovanni Ciaravola with the finished dish.
Cutting the pork jowl.
The beach in Ostia, Italy, in the off-season.
The amphitheater in Ostia Antica, near Rome, Italy.