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Italian town known for its pasta dish ‘is no more’ after earthquake

Firemen and rescuers inspect damaged buildings in Amatrice on Wednesday after a powerful earthquake rocked central Italy. (Filipo Monteforte/AFP via Getty Images)

The town of Amatrice — one of the areas hit by a strong earthquake early Wednesday that killed at least 73 people across Italy — is known for more than the picturesque tranquility of the Italian countryside.

The town also happens to be the place where one of Italy’s most famous and recognizable dishes originated: pasta all’amatriciana, a simple blend of tomato and pork jowl — known as guanciale — sauteed with white wine and poured over noodles. This coming weekend, the 50th annual spaghetti amatriciana festival was scheduled for Amatrice’s town square, which is now little more than a pile of rubble.

Spaghetti all’amatriciana is a local staple and a fixture on the menus of many a Roman trattoria, a dish as hearty as it is classic. But in Amatrice, the pasta is more than just a comfort food: It is the town’s heritage, its small but lasting contribution to the rustic splendor of Italian cuisine, arguably the most popular in the world. In Amatrice, this pasta is nothing short of a legacy.

It is also a legacy that denizens of Amatrice waste no time in defending when under siege. The town is so protective of its edible namesake that local officials called out Carlo Cracco, one of Italy’s most famous chefs, in February 2015 for daring to suggest that the secret to good amatriciana was sauteed garlic. As the town quickly pointed out on its Facebook page, the dish has six ingredients, and six ingredients only: guanciale, pecorino cheese, chili, pepper, white wine and tomatoes from San Marzano.

“We are confident that this was a slip of the tongue by the celebrity chef, given his professional history,” the Facebook post read.

In the throes of last year's garlic-gate, the Guardian newspaper interviewed Piergiuseppe Monteforte, Amatrice’s deputy mayor. “If you use ingredients like garlic or onion in an amatriciana,” Monteforte said, “it means you are ignoring a pastoral tradition that is almost 1,000 years old, passed down from generation to generation.”

Wednesday morning undoubtedly marked the most tragic day in Amatrice, with its mayor, Sergio Pirozzi, telling local media: “The town is no more.” The little that remained included a 13th-century clock tower, frozen at 3:36 a.m., the exact moment when the earthquake destroyed the town.

In addition to the rescue efforts, Italians have already begun honoring the town in a way that Amatrice is sure to appreciate: donating 1 euro to the Red Cross for each dish of amatriciana sold in restaurants. Even if most of the town is no more, the tradition lives on — hopefully without the garlic.