In the original version of this pasta from Amatrice, there's not much more than guanciale, tomatoes and cheese. For my Spaghetti Amatriciana, I've embellished a bit and added shallots for extra flavor, carrots for flavor and sweetness, and wine.... Well, do I really need a reason to add wine? It's still a wonderfully simple pasta that doesn't take all day to make, and yet the flavors are simply irresistible.
By irresistible, I mean it will having you casting other meat sauces aside like a worn out shoe. So what makes Sugo all'Amatriciana so seductive? Put simply, it's the Guanciale.
If Pancetta is the Italian cousin of bacon, Guanciale is like Pancetta's redneck half-brother conceived during a moment of passion in a cellar perched atop a hill in Lazio. Sure, it's not as pretty looking as a roll of neatly layered Pancetta, but what it lacks in polish, it more than compensates for with its wild marbling, intense meaty flavor, and dare-I-say hint of barnyard funk?
Whoever described bacon as meat-crack is just wrong. Guanciale makes bacon look like watered down over-the-counter cough syrup. And if you're wondering why I'm using drug analogies, I'll tell you why: guanciale is dangerous. This stuff should be regulated by the FDA with a big fat warning label: GUANCIALE IS EXTREMELY ADDICTIVE AND HAS BEEN KNOWN TO CAUSE PEOPLE TO COMMIT UNSEEMLY ACTS IN ORDER TO GET SOME. OH YEA... AND IT'S MOSTLY LARD, SO IT WILL MAKE YOU OBESE AND GIVE YOU HEART DISEASE (IF THE SALT DOESN'T KILL YOU FIRST)
Unfortunately (or fortunately), it's difficult to find in the US, so any cardiologists reading this can relax (for now). That's also probably why it's managed to fly under food safety groups' radar, thus avoiding any warning labels. Pancetta or unsmoked bacon could be used in a pinch, but it would be like The Beatles without Lennon or Van Halen sans Hagar. Still delicious, but not quite the same.
Update 12/21/2010: I just had some leftovers with satsuma mandarin zest and extra pecorino, and can I just say it was even better? There's an unexpected synergy between Guanciale and mandarin. I'm seeing some mandarin braised Guanciale in my near future.
- Drain off all but 2 tablespoons of the oil, and add the shallots, carrots and red peppers. Fry until the shallots are browned (about 3 minutes). Add the wine and continue cooking until it has completely evaporated.
- Puree 3/4 of the tomatoes with juices then hand crush the rest. Add the tomatoes into the pan, turn down the heat to medium low and simmer for 20 minutes.
- Boil your spaghetti slightly less than what the package directions say (my pasta said 12 minutes, I cooked it for 9) as it will continue to cook after it's added to the sauce.
- Meanwhile, add the guanciale into the sauce and simmer for another 10 minutes to allow the flavors to meld.
- When the pasta is done, reserve a bit of the pasta liquid in a bowl then drain the pasta. Add the cheese to the sauce, stirring to combine, then toss the pasta with the sauce, adding in pasta liquid as needed to evenly coat the pasta.