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Flying High (and a Pasta Dish)

August 7, 2010

I hope you don’t mind, but before I get to the food portion of this post I’d like to share with you something very exciting that happened to me yesterday.  After 10 years of flying in a small, single-engine plane as my husband’s unofficial co-pilot (assisting with the charts/GPS, watching for other traffic and taking the yoke occasionally), I finally flew from the Captain’s seat (left side)!  Of course, I was with an instructor but I can’t begin to tell you the thrill I felt to be airborne and to start something I’ve wanted to do since I was 18 years old.  Thanks to my husband for lighting a fire under my bum to get the licensing process rolling by hiring an instructor for me.

Equipped with my headset, we headed to the airport for my flying session.  I must admit that I was both excited and nervous on the way.  Never mind that I have almost 1000 hours as a passenger in a small Cessna; the idea that the upcoming session would require some responsibility on my part was daunting.  I hoped to simply fly with the instructor and observe, but he had other ideas.

I did so much more than I imagined.  I learned to taxi the plane and guess what, this was not easy.  Instead of following the straight yellow lines leading to the runway, I looked like I was following a switchback trail!  Left and right, left and right.  I kept wanting to use the yoke (pictured above) to direct the plane when I should have been using the rudder pedals!  Jeff, my instructor, finally told me to put my hands on my lap so I’d be forced to use my feet to control the direction of the plane.  Thankfully, this began to make sense after a while.

Next, takeoff!  I actually got the plane off the ground myself!  How completely exhilarating!  The sensation is markedly different sitting as a passenger versus pulling the yoke yourself.  Once airborne, Jeff, handled the radio communication with air traffic control and guided me in monitoring the panel, but I flew the plane to our destination (another airport).  At 3.500-ft altitude I practiced turns, ascents, descents and airport approaches.  We did three takeoffs and landings throughout the 2-hour session, enough time to feel sufficiently overwhelmed by all I had to learn.

When we returned, my ever thoughtful husband had a pilot log book waiting for me so that my instructor could record my first flight hours.  I beamed from ear-to-ear for the rest of the day.  Well, I still am.  I’m very grateful to see a dream begin to materialize after 20 years.

Now for even more good stuff.  I made one of my favorite pasta dishes, Bucatini All’Amatriciana.  It’s a popular tomato-based sauce that’s named after the town of Amatrice (central Italy).  The dish is a study of gastronomic balance.  The sweet tomatoes, spicy chili flakes, sharp/salty pecorino cheese and the full-flavored guanciale make eating this a truly satisfying experience.  In Rome last year, I ate this and spaghetti carbonara with abandon.  Cholesterol be, uh, darned.

Guanciale (guan-cha-leh) is a type of Italian bacon made from pork jowls (cheeks) and, in my opinion, is the star of this dish.  Without it, you would essentially be enjoying an arrabiata sauce.  Guanciale is a fatty piece of meat and imparts a wonderful porky goodness to a dish like this (and the carbonara I mentioned earlier).  Pork cheeks are seasoned (but not smoked) and hung to cure for a few weeks.  I’ve often fantasized about making my own guanciale at home (yes, I do fantasize about pork) but I’m not sure that I’d be able to pull it off.  Has anyone ever tried?

Typically, I get my guanciale from a local specialty store but between riding my bike, running errands and baking two desserts for a family barbecue tomorrow (Saturday), I didn’t have the time to make a special trip for just one item, as much as I would have liked to.

Instead, you’ll notice that I used bacon in place of guanciale.  If you have access to the latter, I would highly recommend you give it a try.  If not, our bacon is a decent substitute.  Pancetta would be better; alas, I didn’t have any of that either.

As for the rest of the ingredients, bucatini seems to be the pasta of choice (Pictured below.  See the hollow center?) and it’s something I always try to keep in stock.  Your local Safeway might not have it but a specialty store like A.G. Ferrari should.  Otherwise, thick spaghetti will work just fine.  The rest of the ingredients, onion, canned Italian tomatoes (or sweet fresh tomatoes) and pecorino cheese are easier to come by.

Bucatini all’Amatriciana

  • 1 lb bucatini pasta, or thick spaghetti
  • Half pound of guanciale, pancetta or bacon (unsmoked), chopped
  • 1/2 – 3/4 cup onion (I used half of a large red onion), chopped
  • 28 oz can of peeled Italian tomatoes
  • Olive Oil
  • Crushed chili flakes, a generous pinch
  • Salt and pepper
  • Pecorino Romano cheese, grated

1.  Bring a pot of salted water to a boil.

2.  In a saucepan large enough to accommodate the cooked pasta, add 1 tbsp of olive oil and cook the bacon over medium heat.  You want to cook the meat to render the fat but you don’t want it to be too crisp, so it’s best to watch it carefully.  It took about eight minutes for me.

3.  When the bacon is done, remove it from the pan and set aside.  At this point, you can remove some of the fat that has rendered and leave enough to cook the onions.  The fat is key to adding flavor to the sauce.  I suggest that you remove 2/3 of it to start and set it aside so you can add more later if find your sauce lacks flavor.  Cook the onions and chili flakes over medium heat in the remaining fat until they are translucent, about five minutes.

4.  Take the whole, peeled tomatoes from the can and crush each one by hand as you add to the pan.  Pour in the juice, as well.  Bring this to a boil and simmer to allow the tomato flavor to concentrate a bit.  The sauce will reduce a little.  A few minutes into the simmer time I add the pasta to the boiling water.  I like to time it so that the pasta cooks just as the sauce finishes simmering, which takes about 15 minutes, so I add the pasta at around the 7 minute mark.  You can also add the bacon back to the pan at this point.  Season with salt and pepper to taste but be mindful that if you use pecorino, this will add additional saltiness to the dish.

5.  When the pasta’s ready, drain it and add to the sauce.  Toss to coat the pasta well.  Plate and sprinkle with pecorino cheese.

61 Comments leave one →
  1. August 7, 2010 9:20 AM

    CONGRATULATIONS!!! I am so proud of you! Realizing a dream is such a rewarding experience. Paralleling your experience for the the last 13 years being the co-pilot with my husband, I need to get through the pinch hitter course. I can totally relate to the spotting other planes or as they say in pilot speak – “searching for targets”. The pasta dish looks and sounds amazing – this is a must try for sure!! Have a great weekend!!! 🙂

    • August 9, 2010 8:48 AM

      Thanks, Lisa. As you well know, this will be a long process. I’m still nervous about it. It was great to finally get over the first hurdle, though. Hey, wouldn’t it be fun if we could study together? 🙂

  2. August 7, 2010 2:02 PM

    Wow. Congratulations. I’ve always wanted to fly a plane but the sheer terror of being X miles from solid ground and being responsible if things went wrong scares the life out of me. Unlike this pasta dish which looks very accomplishable and leaves no butterflies in my tummy. Well done

    • August 9, 2010 8:50 AM

      Thanks! You know, once you get over the initial fear, it really is quite fun! What gets your attention is flying at 13,500 ft with nothing but jagged peaks below you. 🙂

  3. August 7, 2010 5:28 PM

    Congratulations! How exciting. I’m terrified of heights, and I always get a bit queasy when I fly, so I greatly admire your skill and courage! And what a delicious plate of pasta to end your post. Yum!

  4. August 7, 2010 9:06 PM

    Oh I’m so envious! When I was in high school I also got to fly a small plane after a few days of lessons…but a tiny one not a big one like you did! It must have been an amazing feeling. As for the dish: I agree, bucatini (and I would add fettuccine) should always be in the pantry…you absolutely need them with certain sauces

    • August 9, 2010 8:52 AM

      Sara, you’re way ahead of me! 🙂 I flew a small plane, too, a Cessna 172.

      Yes, my pantry is stocked with pasta essentials. It’s a must, right? 🙂

  5. August 7, 2010 9:22 PM

    I am SO excited for you!!! Congratulations! I have a couple of take offs under my belt, but never got the landing down, I got “My airplane” from my husband a couple of times and that was it. Can’t wait to hear about your first solo! What airports are you flying out of? We did Nut Tree in Vacaville and up to Grass Valley a few times. I can’t wait to hear about more of your lessons!!!
    Your photos are beautiful.

    • August 9, 2010 8:55 AM

      Kim, the landing is definitely more challenging, right? You should have seen my sweaty palms! Thankfully, landing wasn’t a part of this lesson. Takeoffs were a huge thrill! 🙂

      Our “home” airport is San Carlos but for this lesson I flew out of Palo Alto. We’ve flown into the Vacaville airport a few times, so I’m familiar with it. Small world! 🙂

  6. August 8, 2010 7:51 AM

    I’m in awe that you actually flew a plane! And yes, the bucatini pasta dish looks very enticing too. In fact, it’s made me very hungry!

    • August 9, 2010 8:56 AM

      Thanks, Maya! Believe it or not, there is a growing crop of female pilots. I’m one of many who are still learning. I’m a long way off from getting my license. 🙂

  7. August 8, 2010 8:15 AM

    Congratulations on your accomplishment! I enjoyed reading your story and how nice to finish with a delicious plate of pasta:-)

  8. August 8, 2010 8:37 AM

    Congrats on your flying experience, what an amazing thing to have your dream realized and be such a talented lady!!! 😀

    And also, thanks for this awesome recipe, my boyfriend and I are obsessed with carbonara and this is a nice change of pace but still the same sort of concept. I also have been looking for guanciale but I have yet to find it. 😛 I think I need to try a few more local butchers that I have been meaning to check out. Oh, and that top-down photo of the pasta, love it.

    • August 9, 2010 8:59 AM

      I love carbonara, too. It’s too bad it’s not something we can enjoy everyday, right, because I definitely would! I know, too bad guanciale is not widely available. I will really look into making it myself.

      Thanks! I’m glad you like that photo. Playing with different settings around the house. Still working on the late afternoon-early evening lighting, though.

  9. August 8, 2010 9:11 AM

    Congrats! That must have been such a thrill! Thanks for sharing your post and our delicious pasta dish.

  10. August 8, 2010 11:22 AM

    congrats again! flying seems like it would be amazing, so consider me jealous! and this dish looks amazing–I didn’t realize people ate pigs cheeks, but uh, i can ignore the specificity of the meat if it tastes as good as it looks.

    • August 9, 2010 9:01 AM

      I know flying a small plane is not for everyone, but I happen to find it fun. You strike me as the adventurous type, so I do think you’d really enjoy it! 🙂

      And yes, pig cheeks are awesome!

  11. August 8, 2010 4:35 PM

    Yumm. I am so making this the next pasta night. And whoa, you can fly a plane???? wow, I would love to do that. When do you get your license? How exciting. And I love your photos, So crisp and vibrant!

    • August 9, 2010 9:03 AM

      Lisa, I definitely CAN’T fly a plane yet. Just started to learn and it will be a long time before I get my license. I still have to study for the written and oral exams, fly solo, and get checked off by an instructor for the actual flight exam. Long way off!

      Thanks! 🙂

  12. August 8, 2010 5:03 PM

    wow!! congratulations on the flight! i remember how happy and excited my father was when he first flew solo. and the pasta looks super tasty also!!!!

    • August 9, 2010 9:04 AM

      Thanks, Norah! I understand about your father for my husband is the same way. I think you never quite get over the thrill. 🙂

  13. August 8, 2010 5:04 PM

    Wowowow, how exciting to learn how to fly a plane! I don’t know if I would ever have the guts. Your pictures are outstanding. I love seeing Guanciale in your recipe, it is such a hard ingredient to find on menus. Did you happen go to last year’s foodbuzz dinner where there was brussels sprouts and guanciale?

    I’ll have to try your recipe soon!

    • August 9, 2010 9:06 AM

      I actually used bacon since I didn’t have guanciale, but the latter is the best option for this dish. I would have loved to taste the guanciale with brussels sprouts, yum!

  14. August 8, 2010 11:17 PM

    Congratulations! i admire you for living your dreams… it may have taken you 20 years but what matters is you still fulfilled it. Not everyone could fly a plane, I could never imagine myself doing that… but whooa you’re one of a kind!

  15. August 9, 2010 4:52 AM

    A delicious rendition–and one of my favorite sauces, too!

  16. August 9, 2010 6:12 AM

    Congrats, thats great news, super exciting!
    Beautiful pasta dish daaaaaaahling. Looks so hearty and delicious.
    Have a wonderful day ahead.
    *kisses* HH

  17. August 9, 2010 10:28 AM

    I have always been afraid of flying even today, flying long-distance several times a year; the only time I was not afraid was when i took a piloting lesson in a Cessna! I congratulate you and wish you to continue and get a commercial pilot license if that is your dream!
    On to that pasta, it looks scrumptious and now I decided that is what we need to be eating tomorrow~

    • August 9, 2010 10:37 AM

      Hi, Joumana! Thanks so much! I’ll only be trying for the private pilot license. I think the commercial license will be beyond me and won’t be of much use for us. I think I’ll have my hands full with this goal of mine already. Thanks again! 🙂

  18. August 9, 2010 1:35 PM

    I admire your courage and tenacity in following your dreams, and am in awe of your flying skills – I am terrified of small planes – although I’m sure its exhilarating! I’ll stick to the kitchen – love pancetta and your pasta dish is as beautiful as it is delicious, I’m sure!

    • August 10, 2010 5:24 PM

      Thanks, Priscilla. I’m definitely in the beginning stage still. A lot could happen from here. It was fun, though! 🙂

  19. August 9, 2010 1:47 PM

    Congratulations! My, are you ever a Renaissance woman–flying planes, making desserts, blogging about delicious pasta…

    I just saw Guanciale on the menu at a pizza place this weekend–had no idea what it was (or how to pronounce it!) so I’m very pleased to find out!

    • August 10, 2010 5:25 PM

      Thanks! We’ll see how far I get. If I get too scared, I may never get licensed but I have to try!

      Guanciale is great–I wish I had to use for this dish. Next time. 🙂

  20. August 9, 2010 6:09 PM

    This is one of my “go to” dishes. I generally prefer the very inauthentic half rigatoni but I have always been a rebel. The only “must” have is of course the pig jowl! Judy Rodgers has a recipe that replaces the guanciale with poached slab bacon. I understand her thinking on that one, but can abide the result. And yes. Yes, red onion please. GREG

    • August 10, 2010 5:26 PM

      Nothing wrong with rigatoni–my husband loves it, too. Oh, how I wish I actually had guanciale for this post!

      I’ll have to check out Judy Rodgers’ recipe. Thanks, Greg!

  21. August 9, 2010 7:34 PM

    What a phenomenal experience! I envy your courage and applaud your husband for supporting and pushing you when you need it. Keep up the fun work and keep the recipes coming too!

    • August 10, 2010 5:27 PM

      Thanks, Andra. 🙂 Yes, my husband was great about helping me along on this one. He must have gotten tired of me saying I wanted to do it and not following through. 🙂

  22. Liren permalink
    August 9, 2010 10:49 PM

    Oh congratulations!!! I will live vicariously through you! My dad has a background in flying, his first solo flight was on a Cessna, and he met my mom through his best friend in flight school who was dating my aunt. Each couple married (is that confusing?). Anyway, my rambling aside, I’m proud of you for realizing this dream, it’s something I have always wanted to do.

    As for the pasta, oh delicious!!!

    • August 10, 2010 5:30 PM

      How sweet about your parents (and yes, I understood what you meant)! 🙂

      Thanks, Liren. I hope I wasn’t too premature about announcing my first lesson–I was just so excited. I’m sure the challenges will grow from here but I’ll look to my husband for guidance, too.

      It sounds like we’ve found yet another thing in common with flying. 🙂

  23. August 10, 2010 1:23 AM

    Oh my goodness…you are officially a fly girl:) Congratulations, I am sure it was beyond words. As for you dish, also beyond words…I do love bucatini and chili flakes are a must 🙂

    • August 10, 2010 5:31 PM

      Haha, fly girl, I like that! Too bad I can’t shake it like J. Lo! 🙂

      I agree with you on both the bucatini and chili flakes–they’re great!

  24. August 10, 2010 5:09 AM

    Wow…it’s a great experience of flying a plane and the food looks amazing. Great post !!! 😉

  25. August 10, 2010 9:15 AM

    congratulation on your first step at becoming a pilot!!! now if your ever in a plane and the pilot gets sick when they come on the intercom asking if there are any pilots on board you can raise your hand!!! how cool will that be! Your pasta dish looks delicious too!

    • August 10, 2010 5:35 PM

      Chef Dennis, you’re funny! 🙂 I’m only going for the private pilot license but I suppose if there was no one else qualified on the plane, I’d have to raise my hand! Haha!

  26. August 10, 2010 9:27 AM

    wow these pictures are gorgeous. i really love the raw pasta pictures. and congrats on the piloting. As a kid i always wanted to be a fighter jet pilot!

  27. August 10, 2010 11:08 AM

    What an amazing experience- How exciting to fly a plane! I got to go up in a helicopter for the first time a couple weeks ago and I thought that was cool.. you got to fly something! And this pasta looks amazing.. I just sent the post to my boyfriend who I hope gets the hint and makes this sometime soon 🙂

    • August 10, 2010 5:36 PM

      Thanks, Evan. My husband has always enjoyed helicopters, too. I think he really wants to learn how to fly one.

      I hope your boyfriend makes this pasta dish for you–it’s one of my favorites. 🙂

  28. August 10, 2010 12:53 PM

    Congratulations, Jean!! I am so excited for you… this is HUGE!!! So proud of you for finally taking the bold step to making your dream come true!! I hope you continue to log more hours on your new pilot flight logbook!!

    So exciting!!


    • August 10, 2010 5:37 PM

      Thanks, Jun. I hope to log in more hours, too, but I have to admit it’s a little nerve wracking!

  29. August 11, 2010 3:50 AM

    Wow, sounds like a great adventure! The last photograph is absolutely gorgeous. Can’t stop looking at it. Such a pretty dish!

  30. August 11, 2010 8:28 AM

    Wow…you go girl! What a rush that must’ve been and so exhilarating. You have gumption, that’s for sure and I’m envious that you’re learning to fly!

    This pasta looks and sounds fantastic. I probably would have challenges finding the guanciale, but I’d use pancetta. This is so my kinda dish. Your photography is lovely and fresh. 😉

  31. August 11, 2010 8:54 AM

    Congratulations !!!! What an awesome feeling that must be, realizing your dreams is a treasured gift these days and bravo to your hubby for the extra encouragement. Oh and the pasta dish sounds yummy 🙂

  32. August 11, 2010 6:01 PM

    Congrats on your flight!!! It must have been so very exhilarating!

    Dishes like this make me really wonder about the taste of bacon (I don’t eat pork).

    Looks lovely!

  33. Carla permalink
    August 12, 2010 10:02 AM

    Oh, that’s a good-looking pasta right there. Mmm, bacon…

  34. trissalicious permalink
    August 13, 2010 10:43 PM

    Wow – can I just say Congratulations for finally getting into the pilot’s seat!! Well done and so very inspiring… I don’t think I am going to fly a plane anytime soon but I might try to be a bit more daring from now on… Lovely pasta dish too – the addition of chili flakes is making my mouth water already.

  35. August 8, 2011 3:24 PM

    Wow! I’m very impressed Jean!! Congratulations!!! It must be a cool experience flying on your own. Now about the pasta – so easy and look super delicious. Guarantee this will be on my dinner table very, very soon! Thanks for the recipe!


  1. Simple and Easy Cooking With Pasta « shiyan

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