Bucatini all”Amatricianais an ode to simplicity – rich smoked pork, sweet tomatoes, heat from chili peppers, and the sharp, salty kick of pecorino cheese. Because amatriciana is a classic dish it has a long history and because it is Italian, this history is controversial and hotly disputed. Most but not all agree that “amatriciana” comes from Amatrice, a tiny town in the mountains bordering Abruzzo about 100 miles from Rome. (Some Romans claim that the dish is truly alla matriciana, developed by Romans and that Amatrice has nothing to do with such culinary bliss). Most agree that the dish descends from gricia, a pasta dish made with pepper, cheese, and smoked pork jowl, also known as guanciale.
Bucatini all’amatriciana has a different flavor profile than most Italian pasta. In its purest, most classic form the sauce has only four ingredients: cured pork, tomatoes, cheese, and hot peppers. Because of the recipe’s poor origins (this was the dish of shepherds, not statesmen), there is traditionally no onion, no garlic, no herbs. Because of this it tastes wildly different from the familiar Italian-American tomato sauce served with spaghetti and meatballs. The modern Roman version often adds onions, garlic, or a splash of dry white wine.
¾ pound guanciale, or pancetta, thinly sliced **
3 garlic cloves
1 red onion, halved and sliced ½-inch thick
1 ½ teaspoons hot red pepper flakes
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1 ½ cups 825 MAIN Marinara Sauce
1 pound bucatini *
1 bunch of flat-leaf parsley, leaves only
Pecorino Romano, for grating
- Being 6 quarts of water to a boil and add 2 tablespoons of salt.
- Place the guanciale slices in a 12- to 14-inch sauté pan in a single layer and cook over medium-low heat until most of the fat has been rendered from the meat, turning occasionally. Remove the meat to a plate lined with paper towels and discard half the fat, leaving enough to coat the garlic, onion and red pepper flakes. Return the guanciale to the pan with the vegetables, and cook over medium-high heat for 5 minutes, or until the onions, garlic and guanciale are light golden brown. Season with salt and pepper, add the tomato sauce, reduce the heat, and simmer for 10 minutes.
- Cook the bucatini in the boiling water according to the package directions, until al dente. Drain the pasta and add it to the simmering sauce. Add the parsley leaves, increase the heat to high and toss to coat. Divide the pasta among four warmed pasta bowls. Top with freshly grated Pecorino cheese and serve immediately.
*What is Bucatini pasta?
Bucatini pasta is a long, hollow Italian pasta. While at first glance it might look like thick spaghetti, bucatini pasta is a very unique noodle, and it plays an important role in the cuisine of some Italian regions. Pasta specialty stores may carry it, and it is also possible to find bucatini pasta in some grocery stores, especially in areas with a large Italian population. The name for the pasta is derived from the Italian buco, which means “hole,” a reference to the hollow shape of bucatini pasta. It is believed that the pasta originated in central Italy. It is closely related to maccheroncelli, another long, tubular pasta. Bucatini pasta may also be found labeled as perciatelli. I grew up calling them perciatelli and it wasn’t until I looked for them in a specialty food store that I found that they are called bucatini . All of these pastas are slightly different, but closely related enough that they can frequently be substituted for each other. Because the pasta is dense and strong, bucatini pairs well with robust, hearty sauces, especially those which contain meat. One of the classic dishes containing bucatini pasta, Bucatini all’Amatriciana, is made with bucatini and a hearty tomato sauce with large chunks of pancetta or bacon. This sauce pairs very well with the pasta, which is ideally suited to holding up heavy sauces.
**What is Guanciale?
What really makes this dish is the guanciale. It’s all about the ingredients, and with a little effort, you can find them here in the US. Guanciale is cured pork jowl. You cannot substitute it, and it can’t be smoked—only cured. Some people, not Romans, use pancetta as a substitute, but the guanciale is sweeter, fatter, and has a more delicate and less salty taste than pancetta (cured pork belly). It melts as you heat it in the pan, and the rendered fat transports the jowl’s unique flavor throughout the dish. Touching each piece of pasta and spoonful of sauce with it’s sweet and salty magic. Substituting it, changes the dish altogether, and should be considered a mortal sin. If you are substituting bacon or salt pork, you want the streakiest (i.e. fattiest) cut you can find. If guanciale is unavailable, pancetta is a fine substitute. However as you guanciale has a significantly higher fat content than pancetta. If neither guanciale nor pancetta is available in your neighborhood, you can always use a top-quality lean bacon. One can blanch bacon for one minute in boiling water to remove some of its smoky flavor. If substituting either pancetta or bacon, I would recommend adding an extra tablespoon of olive oil before sauteeing the onion to compensate for the lower fat content.