What is Bucatini all’Amatriciana
Created in the picturesque town of Amatrice in the mountainous Province of Reiti, Bucatini all’Amatriciana is a savory tomato sauce cooked with Guanciale and Pecorino Romano. Although tomato sauce may seem like the most fundamental of Italian pasta sauces, tomatoes are a New World food that was only introduced into Italy about 500 years ago. Its first recorded use in pasta was in 1790, which means that this dish came along sometime after that. It’s thought that the precursor to Sugo all’Amatriciana is a dish called Gricia which includes Guanciale and Pecorino Romano, but not tomatoes.
Ingredients for Sugo all’Amatriciana
Like most Italian pasta sauces, Sugo all’Amatriciana is quite simple and can be put together in just minutes. Here’s a list of what you’ll need, along with suitable alternatives.
Guanciale is a cured pork product made from the jowl of a pig, which has been rubbed with salt and spices and hung to partially dry. It has a more intense flavor than other cured Italian meats like Pancetta and has a wonderful texture that bursts into a pool of creamy flavor with each bite.
Guanciale is one ingredient that’s worth finding, but if you absolutely can’t get it, Pancetta or any other unsmoked cured pork product that has a high-fat content can be substituted. One substitution I strongly discourage is using bacon. It may look similar, but the smoked flavor will overpower all the other ingredients, and your finished dish won’t taste much like the original.
Red onions, or shallots, along with some chili flakes (or fresh chili peppers) are the only aromatics I add to my Bucatini all’Amatriciana. The onions provide a subtle sweetness, while the chili flakes bring some heat. It’s also worth noting that I don’t add garlic to my Amatriciana because it tends to overpower the other flavors in the sauce.
To speed things up, I like to add two forms of tomatoes to the sauce. The first is whole stewed tomatoes. In case you’re wondering why I chose the whole ones instead of the chopped ones, the tomatoes used for the chopped ones are picked before they are fully ripe so that they don’t turn to mush during the canning process. Because whole tomatoes hold their shape better, they tend to be picked riper, which makes them sweeter and more flavorful.
I also add tomato paste, which adds depth and sweetness, without having to cook the sauce for as long. If you don’t have tomato paste lying around, you can do without it, but I’d recommend taking some time to reduce the sauce more.
Adding cheese to the sauce when it’s almost done amps up the umami while rounding off the sharp edges of the tomatoes. I like to use Pecorino Romano, which is a hard sheep’s milk cheese that’s more creamy, salty and funky than Parmigiano Reggiano. It’s this rough, unrefined flavor that makes it the perfect compliment to the Guanciale. If you can’t find it, Parmigiano Reggiano will work in a pinch.
So now that you have a bangin good sugo that came together in just minutes, you probably wanna know what pasta to pair it with. The traditional choice (and my pick), is Bucatini. Buca literally means “hole” in Italian, and so the pasta gets its name from the small hole that runs through the center of each strand. This allows the noodle to be made quite thick, while still cooking in the same amount of time as spaghetti. The girth creates more surface area on each noodle, which allows them to hang onto thick chunky sauces like this Sugo All’Amatriciana without breaking a sweat. It’s not the easiest pasta to find though, so if you can’t get it, spaghetti will work fine.
How to make Bucatini all’Amatriciana
The first thing you want to do is to saute the guanciale in a bit of olive oil. Unlike some other cured pork products, guanciale won’t render out a ton of fat, which is why you need to start off with a bit of oil. You want a little browning at the edges, but don’t fry the guanciale until crisp.
To this, some red onions and chili flakes get added and sauteed. When the onions are tender and sweet, a splash of red wine goes in to deglaze the pan, and then the tomatoes, tomato paste, and salt get added and chopped up in the pan using a spatula.
You can chop the tomatoes on a cutting board, but I like to break them up in the pan because it’s faster. The Bucatini gets cooked while the sauce is cooking down, and if you’ve timed things right, the two should be done, right around the same time.
To finish off the sauce, add the cheese and pasta and toss it all together. I usually boil the pasta for a few minutes less than what the package directions say, so I’m able to finish cooking it in the sauce. This allows the flavor of the sauce to permeate each strand of pasta while thickening the sauce.
- 200 grams Bucatini
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 120 grams Guanciale (sliced into matchsticks)
- 60 grams red onion (sliced thinly)
- ½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
- ¼ cup red wine
- 400 grams whole stewed tomatoes
- 1 tablespoon tomato paste
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 30 grams Pecorino Romano (finely grated, plus more for serving)
- Fill a large pot with well-salted water and bring it to a boil.
- In a frying pan over medium heat, add the olive oil and Guanciale and saute until the fat in the guanciale goes from white to translucent.
- Add the onions and chili flakes and saute until the onions are tender and the guanciale is just starting to brown. You don't need to get it crisp.
- Turn up the heat, and add the wine. Let this boil until it no longer smells like alcohol.
- Add the Bucatini to the boiling water while you finish the sauce, and set the timer for 2 minutes less than what the package says.
- Add the stewed tomatoes to the sauce, along with the tomato paste and salt.
- Use a spatula to chop up the tomatoes. Turn down the heat and let the sauce simmer until the Bucatini is done.
- When the Bucatini is cooked, drain it, reserving a bit of the boiling liquid.
- Add the Pecorino Romano to the sauce and incorporate it into the sauce.
- Add the pasta to the sauce, and stir it together, continuing to cook until the Bucatini is cooked to your liking. If your sauce is too thick, you can add a bit of the reserved boiling liquid to thin it out.