Bucatini All’Amatriciana, like most authentic Italian pastas is a simple dish from Amatrice, where tomatoes are fried in the rendered fat from guanciale and tossed together with some cheese and Bucatini. But for me, cooking is about more than just following a rigid set of rules. It’s about working with what you have and making a dish that suits your palate.
For my Spaghetti Amatriciana, I’ve embellished a bit and added shallots for extra flavor and wine for…. Well… do I really need a reason to add wine? I also didn’t have any Bucatini on hand, so I went with Spaghetti.
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. 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 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. That’s also probably why it’s managed to fly under food safety groups’ radar for now. Pancetta or unsmoked bacon could be used in a pinch, but it would be like The Beatles without Lennon or Apple sans Jobs. Still delicious, but not quite the same.
- 150 grams Guanciale (cut into 1/4-inch batons)
- 1 chili pepper (smashed)
- 1 medium shallot (finely minced)
- 1/4 cup red wine
- 375 grams whole stewed tomatoes (preferably from San Marzano)
- 1 tablespoon tomato paste
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 30 grams Pecorino Romano (finely grated)
- 250 grams spaghetti
- Bring a large pot of well salted water to a boil.
- Add the Guanciale to a frying pan in a single layer and put the pan over medium high heat and let it brown on one side until some fat has rendered out.
- Add the chili pepper and shallots and stir-fry until the shallots are cooked and fragrant. Be careful not to overcook the guanciale or all the fat will render out making it tough.
- Add the wine and let it boil until most of the alcohol has burned off.
- Add the pasta to the boiling water. Boil the pasta for 1 minute less than what the directions say.
- Add the stewed tomatoes, tomato paste and salt. Use a spatula to crush the tomatoes and simmer over medium low heat until the pasta is done.
- Drain the pasta reserving some of the boiling water water (the tomato can is a good place to put it).
- Add 3/4 of the Pecorino Romano to the sauce and stir to incorporate.
- Add the pasta and toss to coat evenly, add some of the reserved pasta water if the noodles start sticking together.
- Plate the pasta and serve with the remaining cheese for sprinkling.