I have lived in Rome for almost fifteen years now (I can’t believe it!), and from time to time, I like to prepare Roman dishes at home, like today’s recipe for bucatini all’amatriciana. My first memory of this dish was eons ago, and I remember being told by the elderly man who was sharing Italian culinary insights with me that serving bucatini to Americans is a big mistake because we can’t deal with the hole in the middle of the pasta and end up getting sauce all over ourselves and everyone else at the table. I have carefully avoided eating bucatini since then, opting for l’amatriciana when served with other shapes of pasta, like rigatoni, gnocchi or spaghetti.
As with almost every Italian recipe we’ve posted on the column, this one sparks lively discussion among Italians – mostly Romans – about what the most authentic recipe really is, starting with its origins. Rome food blogger Katie Parla offered me the following explanation about the dish when I was talking to her about it earlier this year: Its name implies that its origins are in Amatrice, near the town of Rieti. There is, however, no documented evidence of this. It is more likely that a simple cacio and guanciale (hog jowl) pasta condiment was made all over the Lazio region. Then as pepper became more affordable, that was introduced and later, tomato was introduced, as well.
If you talk to Romans or research Italian recipe sites, you will find recipes which include some or all of the following: basil, onion, garlic, black pepper, hot red pepper, olive oil, canned tomatoes, fresh tomatoes, pancetta or guanciale, and pecorino romano cheese! I have found the easiest way to remember the perfect amatriciana sauce is with the “Five Ps” proposed by cookbook author Livio Jannattoni: pasta, pancetta, peperoncino, pomodoro, pecorino. How you dose it is up to you, whether you like a lot of sauce or a little, very spicy, or barely spicy, lots of cheese, or a sprinkle, soft pancetta or crunchy, and maybe you use guanciale (hog jowl) instead of pancetta as I’ve done today because I had no pancetta! Of course I am sure there is someone somewhere who will tell us that however we prefer it is in fact not the correct way. But I hope my recipe below will be a great starting point from which you can choose your own adventure…should you dare! Just remember, you will taste every ingredient in this recipe, so you should choose each one very carefully, especially the pancetta/guanciale and the pecorino. -Kristina
About Me, Kristina: I am a freelance photographer and the editor of In the Kitchen With and Behind the Bar at DesignSponge. My portfolio can be found here.
See my recipe for Bucatini all’Amatriciana after the jump!
- 400g (a little less than one pound) of bucatini pasta
- 100g (a little less than a quarter of a pound) hog jowl or pancetta
sliced into 1/2″ wide strips, about 1.5-2 inches long
- 1 chili pepper, thinly sliced
- 450g (one pound/one can) whole peeled tomatoes
- 80g (6 tablespoons) grated pecorino cheese, and more if you like
- salt to taste
Place the water for the pasta to boil, putting the pasta in once it has come to a rolling boil. Cook for the time indicated on the package. In the meantime, in a large heavy skillet, fry the pancetta/guanciale at medium heat until the fat turns translucent and the meat begins to color. Remove the pancetta from the pan and add the thinly sliced red pepper (or crushed red pepper), and stir to distribute around the pan. After no more than thirty seconds (careful not to burn the pepper), add the tomatoes, breaking them up with the back of a spoon or a fork. Cook the tomatoes at medium heat for about ten minutes, until the sauce has started to thicken. Add the pancetta back to the sauce and cook a few minutes longer, stirring occasionally, until the pancetta has cooked through. Drain the pasta and add to the skillet with the sauce and toss to coat. Divide among four plates, and sprinkle each portion with a heaping tablespoon of cheese. A note about salt: I always wait until the sauce has cooked to add salt as necessary because the tomatoes and pancetta together could be salty enough. The pecorino is also quite salty and I don’t want to overdo it.
Why I love this recipe
While shooting the November Bon Appetit Navigator feature on the Prati neighborhood of Rome late last summer, I had the chance to taste what Katie considers to be the best amatriciana in Rome, at Ristorante Arcangelo. Arcangelo’s amatricana is served with gnocchi, but no black pepper, as he believes that black pepper was prohibitive for the peasants that made the dish. He uses both tomato sauce, as well as fresh cherry tomatoes, and a very salty Lazio-made pecorino romano. I like pasta all’amatriciana precisely because of the combination of the very salty Pecorino Romano cheese, pancetta/guanciale, and tomato. Like other Roman pasta dishes using pancetta, I eat this one as a treat, a few times a year.