Every so often I’m slapped with a dose of reality in the kitchen. For as much cooking as I/we do there remains an incredible gap in my culinary knowledge. I’m drawn to classic recipes and the history that surrounds them. Bucatini all’Amatriciana is one of those recipes.
As with so many classic recipes, the origin and precise ingredients are often debated. For example, does the classic Amatriciana sauce have onion? Would white wine have been included as Bucatini all’Amatriciana? Like many of the classic Italian dishes, Amatriciana was thought to be created by shepherds or even peasants from ingredients on hand or readily available. Wouldn’t wine have been considered a luxury? So while the ingredients pictured above are for my interpretation of Amatriciana sauce, there is much debate regarding the authentic version. If you love the history of food as I do you will enjoy this article: The Origins of Rome’s Pasta Classics.
The ingredients are not complicated but there are two key elements in Bucatini all’Amatriciana, actually three if you count the bucatini pasta. First is the guanciale, which is salt-cured pork cheek. I found this difficult to source from even an international market but if you have an Italian deli nearby you may have better luck. You can substitute a good quality pancetta if needed.
The second key ingredient are the canned San Marzano tomatoes, not at all difficult to find but should not be replaced by regular diced tomatoes. San Marzano are whole plum tomatoes with very few seeds that are renowned for their balanced flavor – rich tomato taste that is slightly sweet and less acidic. Simply crush the tomatoes by hand to break them down to bite-sized or smaller pieces.
The pork is cooked down until it’s golden brown and crispy. Remove from the pan and add in the diced onion, garlic and red pepper flakes, sauté until translucent. Return the crispy guanciale to the pan, reserving about 1/3 of the pork pieces to sprinkle on top of the pasta when serving, then add the crushed tomatoes.
What’s not shown in pictures is cooking the pasta. Pretty straight forward except you’ll want to pull the bucatini out of the pasta water a couple of minutes before it’s done (very al dente) and transfer it to the Amatriciana sauce to finish cooking. Toss the pasta in the sauce along with 1/4 cup of the pasta cooking liquid to coat each piece. This step alone is what gives this dish deep unctuous flavors throughout every bite.
Sprinkle grated Pecorino Romano cheese into the pasta and stir quickly to incorporate. Bucatini all’Amatriciana is a beautiful dish served family style. Garnish with fresh basil, remaining crispy guanciale and a handful of grated Pecorino Romano cheese. Buon Appetito!
- 4 ounces guanciale or pancetta cut into 1/4" strips
- 1 28 ounce can whole San Marzano tomatoes hand crush
- 1 small sweet onion fine diced
- 2 cloves garlic minced
- 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
- 1/4 cup grated Pecornio Romano cheese plus more for garnish
- fresh basil leaves to garnish
- 1 pound bucatini pasta
- 1 teaspoon salt for pasta water
- Bring large pot of salted water to boil.
- In large skillet, saute guanciale until browned and crispy. Remove from pan and reserve. Add diced onion to pan and saute for 3-5 minutes until translucent. Add in garlic and red pepper flakes and cook for 1 minute. Add hand crushed tomatoes and about 2/3 of the crispy guaciale; simmer for 10 mimnutes.
- Meanwhile, cook bucatini until very al dente, about 2-3 minutes less than recommended cooking time. Drain, reserving 1/4 cup of pasta cooking liquid. Add cooked pasta to sauce along with reserved water. Toss to coat bucatini well. Sprinkle with pecorino romano cheese and stir quickly to incorporate.
- Transfer to serving platter. Sprinkle with fresh basil, remaining crispy guanciale and a handful of pecorino romano.
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