I’d heard of Bucatini all’Amarticiana before. Marcella Hazan said, “The two are indivisible as Romeo and Juliet.”
Bucatini is a hollow, thicker, spaghtetti-like pasta. Almost like a thin drinking straw. Amatrice is a beautiful city in Central Italy.
And then I had the good fortune to savor this dish in a wonderful little Italian restaurant in Kansas City. And I was hooked.
The good news: it’s not hard to make!
You know me, start with the best ingredients you can afford. Traditionally, the meat used is guanciale, the cured cheek meat. That’s not so easy to lay my hands on and I’m sure it’d be expensive if I found a good source.
But, never fear.
Pancetta is the common substitute. I’ve seen recipes using bacon that has not been smoked — I just haven’t seen a lot of that kind of bacon.
In Marcella’s cookbook, one of my favorite go-to everyday books, she calls for pancetta. In fact, every recipe I have for this dish recommends pancetta when guanciale cannot be found.
And the grocery store down the street carries it from Boar’s Head Meats in their deli. From their web site, “…a traditional-style Italian bacon … hand-rubbed with salt, peppercorns and aromatic spices then tightly rolled and dry cured.”
For the pasta, I usually source it online. De Cecco is the day-to-day pasta I use, imported from Italy but still affordable.
And my go-to tomatoes are California’s organically-grown Bianco DiNapoli. I also get these from the local grocery store although, and I think I’ve told you this before, they’re not with the other organic foods section but rather on the bottom shelf of the tomatoes on one of the center aisles. Do I love true, imported, high-quality San Marzano tomatoes from Italy? You bet. Do I want to pay for those every day? Not when I can get tomatoes this good. Now, if tomatoes were in season year-round at the local farmers market, things would be different.
As usual, real, imported, affordable Parmesan cheese I get at Costco. I do so hope they never stop carrying it.
Dice the pancetta (about 1/2 inch squares) and cook it off like you would bacon but with a tablespoon of olive oil.
Once that has started to brown, add the finely-diced onion and continue to cook, stirring, until the onions start to get translucent but the pancetta is not crisp. We’re going for meat here, not bacon bits.
Add the thinly-sliced garlic and the crushed red pepper flakes and let it cook another couple of minutes.
Finally, add the tomatoes. Some people like to crush them with their hands in a separate bowl first, or use a potato masher or a pastry blender, but I just use my flat-edged wooden spoon and slowly crush them myself as if I was crumbling hamburger or sausage. By the way, that piece of basil in with the tomatoes, I discard that immediately — don’t want it here.
And let it simmer until it no longer tastes like raw tomatoes, about 15-20 minutes in my experience. Amatriciana sauce at its best.
Meanwhile, cook the bucatini until al dente, then drain and toss into the pan with the sauce and cook for a few more minutes.
Note #1: if your pasta is done early, it’s okay, drain it and set it aside. It will reheat in the sauce.
Note #2: if your pasta is done late (like mine too often is), it’s also okay, just reduce the heat on the sauce a bit. Then, if it still reduces down too far and gets a little too thick, stir in a bit of that lovely pasta water right before you drain your bucatini.
Stir in 1/2 cup of Parmesan cheese and then, please, and only then, adjust for salt and pepper. The cheese adds some saltiness as should any pasta water that rode over from the other pot.
Don’t be afraid to season — too little salt leaves food bland, after all — but too much salt is nearly impossible to fix.
Garnish with more grated Parmesan and/or some chopped Italian parsley.
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- glug olive oil About 1-2 tablespoons.
- 4 ounces pancetta, diced
- 1 small onion, finely-diced
- 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper Or a full teaspoon if you like spicy food.
- 1 garlic clove, good-sized, thinly-sliced A scant tablespoon's worth.
- 28 ounces whole peeled tomatoes
- 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, grated
- 1 pound bucatini (aka perciatelli) Or spaghetti, fettucine, etc.
- salt and pepper to taste
- extra Parmesan or chopped Italian parsley for garnish if desired
Dice the pancetta into 1/2 inch pieces, finely-chop the onion, and thinly-slice the garlic.
In a deep pan over medium-high heat, add 1-2 tablespoons of olive oil and the pancetta. Cook the pancetta for a few minutes until it just starts to turn brown.
Add the onion and continue to cook, stirring, until the onion begins to get translucent but the pancetta is not yet crispy.
Add the sliced garlic and crushed red pepper. Cook for another two minutes.
Add the tomatoes (remove any basil) and crush / crumble with the flat edge of your spoon. Simmer for about 15 minutes stirring somewhat frequently.
Meanwhile, bring salted water to boil in another pot for the bucatini and cook it until just al dente. Check package instructions for exact time.
Drain the pasta and add to the sauce, stir well, then add the Parmesan cheese and stir that in well too.
Adjust seasoning if needed. Serve with more cheese or chopped Italian parsley.