Maccheroncini al fumè (“Smoky Macaroni”)

FrankMarche, pasta, primi piatti27 Comments

Maccheroncini al fumè (Smoky Macaroni)

Today’s recipe for “Smoky Macaroni” is a rare beast. Smoked foods in general are fairly unusual in Italian cookery outside of the northeast of the country, in regions like Alto Adige-Südtirol and Friuli Venezia Giulia once dominated by the Austrian Empire, where the influence of Mietteleuropa is still felt.

But this delightful pasta dish is the exception that proves the rule. It’s the invention of a certain Maciste, nom de cuisine of chef-bodybuilder Stefano Marzi. You can still enjoy his signature dish at its birthplace in Le Marche, but sadly this is no time to be traveling, to Le Marche or anywhere else.

The good news is this satisfying dish is quite easy to make at home, even if ours will only be an approximation of Marzi’s original recipe, since the inventor is keeping certain ingredients strictly under wraps. (See Notes below for the fascinating backstory behind this dish.)

Even so, I think you’ll you enjoy it. This dish is a real crowd pleaser, especially with kids. With its bacon, cream and mix of cheeses, Smoky Macaroni isn’t exactly dietetic, but in these troubling times heaven knows we can all use some comfort food, and that’s definitely what this is.

Ingredients

  • 500g (1 lb) sedanini or penne (or another short pasta)
  • 150 g (5 oz) pancetta affumicata or slab bacon, cut into cubes
  • 400 g (14 oz) tomato passata, or an equivalent amount of canned tomatoes passed through a sieve
  • A pinch each of hot pepper flakes, ground coriander and nutmeg (and other spices if you like, see Notes)
  • 150 ml (3/4 cup) heavy cream
  • 50g (1-1/2 oz) grated Emmenthal
  • 50g (1-1/2 oz) grated Parmesan cheese
  • Olive oil
  • Salt

Directions

Put the water on to boil.

In a large skillet or sauté pan, sauté the cubes of bacon in olive oil until lightly browned and crispy around the edges.

Sprinkle the bacon with the spices and give them a turn.

When the spices give off their fragrance, add the tomato and give everything another turn. Simmer over gentle heat until the tomato has reduced to a saucy consistency.

Add the heavy cream, stir it into the tomato and let that, too, reduce a bit. Add the grated cheeses and mix everything together until the cheese melts completely and have a creamy, velvety sauce. Taste and adjust for seasoning.

Meanwhile, salt the water well and throw in the pasta. Cook until al dente.

Transfer the pasta to the pan with the sauce and mix well over medium heat, adding a bit of pasta water if needed, until the pasta is well napped with the rich, perfectly velvety sauce.

Serve right away.

Maccheroncini al fumè

Notes on Maccheroncini al fumè

“Smoky Macaroni” was invented by chef cum bodybuilder Stefano Marzi, popularly known as “Maciste”, after the mythical strongman who features in the 1914 Italian film Cabiria and its various sequels. After working in hotels in Rome and Milan, Maciste opened his own pub-pizzeria called “MacIste’s” in the town of Castelplanio near Ancona, the capital of the region of Le Marche. The name is a kind of playful portmanteau of Maciste and McDonald’s. Fast food was just beginning to make inroads in Italy when the place opened in 1978, although McDonald’s itself didn’t open its first location until the mid 1980s—in Rome, infamously right next to the Spanish Steps.

It’s actually impossible to recreate precisely the maccheroncini al fumè that the maestro serves up at MacIste’s at home. While the general outlines of the recipe are known—and you can even watch the maestro himself make the dish in this video (in Italian)…

… Marzi is keeping some key ingredients under wraps. He uses a secret seven spice mix to season his sauce, as well as a mix of cheeses that includes at least one “secret” cheese. It is said that the spice mix includes the three spices included in the ingredients list above. And by the way, you get a glimpse of the spice mix in that video—might some of our more observant readers be able to make some educated guesses… ? Anyway, without any definite answers I say we’re free to follow our imagination and tastes. I added a pinch of garam masala because, why not?

As for the mix of cheeses, it is said to include two or three, depending on the source. Emmenthal is invariably one, for its meltability. To that I added Parmesan and called it a day. If you wanted a third cheese, I’d go for something that melts well and doesn’t have too strong a flavor, another Alpine cheese like Gruyère or Comté perhaps. Or maybe a smoked Gouda, to go with the overall smoky theme.

The original recipe for Smoky Macaroni calls for pancetta affumicata, or smoked pancetta, and Maciste says it must be Italian. You can find Italian smoked pancetta at specialty shops or online, but truth be told, smoked pancetta basically is bacon. Best quality slab bacon, which you will cut into largish cubes, will do fine. If all you can find is pre-packaged sliced bacon, go for the ‘thick cut’ variety and cut it into strips. Either way, fry the bacon until almost but not quite crisp. You want to render the fat and get some nice caramelization. But don’t treat it as if you were making bacon and eggs…

Maciste also insists on the thick cream of the kind sold as panna da cucina in Italy, which has a consistency rather like sour cream or Greek yogurt, rather than liquid heavy cream. As far as I am aware, you won’t find that product here in the US, except online. Personally, I think heavy cream does just fine, you’ll just need a few extra minutes to let it cook down.

The pasta that Maciste uses is a short, ribbed and slightly curved tubular pasta called sedanini. It’s not terribly common here in the US, either, although you can find it online—at a price. Otherwise, the easy to find penne (as pictured here!) make a suitable substitute.

And since the original recipe is a secret, the measurements are also up for grabs. Again, that video provides some clues for the observant. The measurements I’ve given in this post for Smoky Macaroni worked rather nicely for me, although you could add a bit more tomato and/or cream if you wanted a more abundant sauce.

Maccheroncini al fumè

"Smoky Macaroni"
Cook Time30 mins
Course: Primo
Cuisine: Italian, Le Marche

Ingredients

  • 500g 1 lb 500g (1 lb) sedanini or penne or another short pasta
  • 150g 5 oz pancetta affumicata or slab bacon cut into cubes
  • 400g 14 oz tomato passata or an equivalent amount of canned tomatoes passed through a sieve
  • A pinch each of hot pepper flakes, ground coriander and nutmeg And other spices if you like
  • 150ml 3/4 cup heavy cream
  • 50g 1-1/2 oz Emmenthal grated
  • 50g 1-1/2 oz Parmesan cheese grated
  • Olive oil
  • Salt

Instructions

  • Put the water on to boil.
  • In a large skillet or sauté pan, sauté the cubes of bacon in olive oil until lightly browned and crispy around the edges.
  • Sprinkle the bacon with the spices and give them a turn.
  • When the spices give off their fragrance, add the tomato and give everything another turn. Simmer over gentle heat until the tomato has reduced to a saucy consistency.
  • Add the heavy cream, stir it into the tomato and let that, too, reduce a bit. Add the grated cheeses and mix everything together until the cheese melts completely and have a creamy, velvety sauce. Taste and adjust for seasoning.
  • Meanwhile, salt the water well and throw in the pasta. Cook until al dente.
  • Transfer the pasta to the pan with the sauce and mix well over medium heat, adding a bit of pasta water if needed, until the pasta is well napped with the rich, perfectly velvety sauce.
  • Serve right away.

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27 Comments on “Maccheroncini al fumè (“Smoky Macaroni”)”

  1. Hi Frank,
    I am new to your blog and really love it already. I found you in a link from a post on Pensieri Meridionali about Minestra Maritata. Small world! My family is from Torre le Nocelle, in Avellino. (I am now in California)
    I hope you and your family are well. I noticed you added Emmenthal cheese to this recipe. I did not see much of that when I was in Italy. Is it common in the south?
    Thanks again!

  2. What a delicious pasta dish this is Frank! It sure is comforting and we definitely need this type of food these days! The story for this recipe is fascinating. And this chef… what a character!! 😀 We love smoky flavors and this smoky macaroni is certainly in our list now. We’d love to add some sun-dried tomatoes as well. What do you think? 🙂 Stay home and safe dear friend! xo Mirella & Panos

  3. I’d say you did a fantastic job of imitating Maciste’s recipe. Granted, I haven’t had his version, and I haven’t tasted yours (yet), but it’s clear you are on the right path. As far as his spice mix, I see something green. Oregano, perhaps? It is Italy, after all! No matter. This is definitely the kind of comfort food I’m craving in these crazy times. Hope you are staying safe and healthy, my friend!

  4. Frank, a good comforting dish is well received over this way just now and this one look to be full of comfort. I watched Stefano Marzi’s video a few times and I’m intrigued by what I think is his spice mix. To me, it almost looks like fine bread crumbs. Maybe he mixes his spices with fine bread crumbs which might act as a thickener. Who knows, but it sure makes me want to try this one. I’m thinking smoked Gouda might be in his mix as well. Thanks for the challenge, I need things to keep me busy just now.

    1. You’re right about that spice mix. The dominant ingredient looks like bread crumbs, but I have to imagine it’s not. Similar color to tumeric but not fine enough and in those quantities it’d be overwhelming. But who knows indeed!

  5. Glad to know I have all the ingredients at home. We are not allowed to go anywhere anyhow and strong earthquake woke as all today early morning, local time. We shall enjoy this beautiful dish. Also, please pray for us all.

  6. I made a smoke mac and cheese before by using a smoking gun to add flavor to the cheeses. I was using four different ones and I put them all, grated, into a tuperware and sealed it up after I’d added some smoke. Did that three or four times and then used the cheese as normal for a baked mac and cheese.

    It added a sweet smokiness that was just fantastic.

  7. I was born in a country in the Baltics where most of what appeared on the table was smoked, salted or pickled ! Short growing seasons to last the year. Along with others have not made anything ‘al fume’ Italian-style before. Can easily get smoky pancetta here . . . well, I did and I shall . . and then I’ll copy . . . stay well . . . living in the country ’tis easier for some of us . . . but, boy’oh’boy, food deliveries surely have disappeared . . .

  8. Interesting recipe! Kind of like an Amatriciana with panna, extra cheese and some mystery spices! Smoked mozzarella would be an interesting addition too. Our local italian deli here in Vancouver sells panna di cucina in the little cartons-I don’t use it a lot, but i do find it much better for cooking than actual cream. Funny how he came up with the name of the restaurant! We will all have to make comfort food for some time while we are at home! Stay safe! Ciao, Cristina

  9. Hi Frank, I follow your blog regularly & have made and loved many of your recipes over time. I just wanted to pop in to say hello…thank you…and praying for you and your family and loved ones to stay safe and healthy during these most difficult times.

  10. I just love a recipe with a story; the recipe looks wonderful, definitely on the list to try. Comfort food is definitely on our minds. We just got back from Spain (Andalucia not Catalonia) so we’ve decided to self-isolate for 14 days (we’re on day 8 with no symptoms). I‘m certain I’ll do a lot of cooking/blogging during this period. Thanks for making it easier by serving up such tasty treats.
    Hope you and your family stay healthy and safe. XO

    1. You guys stay healthy, too! Nice that you got a chance to travel before the you-know-what hit the fan. I’m not sure if our summer travel plans will materialize or not… Anyway, thanks for stopping by!

  11. Fascinating recipe. Very, very different — not like anything I’ve ever had. Well, I guess it sorta resembles making baked pasta (kinda;sorta), but of course in this case you eat the pasta before it’s baked! I really like the addition of the Emmenthal. A smoked mozzarella might be interesting (and if I were making a baked version of this, I’d definitely add it). I also really like the addition of cream to this. Just an unusual recipe that I need to make. Thanks!

    1. Hope you enjoy it, John! It definitely is different, but in a good way I think. Interesting idea to bake this. I think it sounds nice.

  12. It’s funny, Frank — I almost never have smoked bacon in the house! Seriously, I just have our home-cured pancetta. I will definitely need to buy some bacon soon to try this — new pasta dishes are going to get us through!

  13. Very interesting! I expected paprika to be in this recipe, although I’m sure it’s not used in Italian cooking. Definitely a smoked Gouda would work, although I’m not sure how well it melts. Great recipe! I tried to watch the video, and all I got out of it was the work smoke, cause it’s pronounced the same in French!

    1. Ha! Well, hopefully the visuals at least provided some insights into the dish. 😉 And I bet paprika would actually be a nice addition, although from the look of Marzi’s spice mix, it doesn’t look like it has any. And it’s in the spirit of the dish, which takes a lot from central European influences.

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