Bucatini all’amatriciana

Bucatini all'amatriciana (Close up)

It could be said that bucatini all’amatricana and spaghetti alla carbonara are the ‘Romulus and Remus‘ of Roman cooking. No two dishes typify the local cuisine better than these two yet, like the two founding brothers of the Eternal City, neither actually comes from the city of Rome itself. L’amatriciana, as the name suggests, comes from a little town called Amatrice, in the province of Rieti, in what is now north-eastern Lazio. If you look on a map, you’ll see that Amatrice is located in a little ‘tongue’ of Lazio territory that sticks into a mountainous area in the center of the country known as the Gran Sasso (the ‘Big Rock’). And, in the old days—before Mussolini changed the borders and most definitely before this dish was invented—it was part of the region of Abruzzo. So, in fact, despite its renown as a Roman dish par excellence, the abruzzesi have a strong claim to this dish.

Bucatini, a kind of thick, hollow spaghetti also known in Naples and environs as perciatelli, are the classic pasta to use with this dish in Rome, although, truth be told, the sauce lends itself well to all sorts of dried pastas. In fact, the original dish was apparently spaghetti all’amatriciana, and this is the pasta recommended by the Amatrice tourist board. Rigatoni all’amatriciana are also quite popular. Fresh egg pastas, on the other hand, don’t go particularly well with this rustic sauce.

In any event, the dish is simplicity itself:

Ingredients

Serves 4-6

  • 500g (1 lb) bucatini
  • 150-300g (5-10 oz) guanciale or pancetta, cut into strips or cubes
  • 1/2 onion, peeled and chopped, or 1 garlic clove, peeled and slightly crushed (optional)
  • 1 peperoncino (dried red pepper) (optional)
  • 250-500g (8-16 oz) fresh or canned tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped
  • Olive oil (or lard)
  • Salt, q.b.
  • 100g (4 oz) grated pecorino romano cheese

Directions

Throw the bucatini into abundant, well salted, vigorously boiling water and cook until still very al dente.

While the bucatini are cooking, sauté the guanciale or pancetta, in a bit of olive oil (or lard) until the fat is translucent and just beginning to brown slightly. (You are not looking to crisp the pancetta, just to draw the flavor and fat from it and add just a bit of caramelization for added flavor.) If you like, you can add the onion or garlic along with the pancetta; if using garlic, remove it as soon as it begins to color. I also like to add a peperoncino for a little heat, but don’t overdo it—this is not meant to be a spicy dish.

Bucatini all'amatriciana-1

Then add very ripe, peeled, seeded and chopped tomatoes, or if you don’t good ripe tomatoes on hand, just add good quality canned tomatoes or passata. Simmer the tomatoes until they have reduced and separated from the fat. Then add a tablespoon or two of grated pecorino cheese, and let it melt into the sauce.

When the bucatini are done, drain them (but not too well) and add them to tomato sauce along with another good sprinkling of pecorino cheese and mix well over low heat, allowing the bucatini to absorb the flavors of the cheese and sauce. If the sauce is too thick—the bucatini should slither around the pan easily—add a bit more pasta water.

Serve the bucatini with yet a third sprinkling of pecorino.

 Notes

Like many traditional dishes, l’amatriciana has with many variations. The original bucatini all’amatriciana was made entirely in bianco, which is to say it did not contain tomatoes, which became a standard part of the dish only in the 18th century, as tomatoes were becoming a more common part of the central and southern Italian diet. These days it is so common to include tomatoes in the dish that another name is given to the tomato-less version: bucatini alla gricia, after the village of Griscia, not too far from Amatrice. The amount of tomato varies from recipe to recipe; in some versions, amatriciana is a veritable pork-flavored tomato sauce; in other versions, only a bit of tomato—perhaps just a few pomodorini (cherry tomatoes)—are added. So, in short, try adding different amounts of tomato (or none at all) and let your own taste be your guide.

Guanciale, cured pig’s cheek, is the original and most authentic ingredient to use. But, of course, guanciale is not so easily found, especially outside Italy. If you can find, by all means use it. Since guanciale is rather fatty, you may not need as much (or any) olive oil. Lard lends more porky flavor to the sauce, of course.

Another variable is whether or not to add garlic or onion to sauté along with the pork. Although not original to the dish, many versions, including the one you’ll find in the authoritative Talismano della felicità by the romanissima Ada Boni, call for thinly sliced or chopped onion. Some will have you add a half onion to sauté and simmer, only to be removed before you mix the sauce with the pasta. To my mind at least, the sweetness of the onion does not marry all that well with the rest of the flavors in the dish, so I prefer to add just a hint of garlic by sautéing a clove along with the pancetta and removing it as soon as it begins to color. Once again, let your own taste be your guide.

As mentioned, if you use peperoncino, go easy. This is not meant to be a spicy dish. You can substitute a pinch of dried pepper flakes if you don’t have a whole dried red pepper, but make sure to add the flakes just before the tomato, as they easily turn bitter if burned. Some people like ground black pepper instead, or in addition to, the red pepper.

 The type and amount of pecorino cheese is also a matter of some variation. They say that for a truly authentic amatriciana, one should use the local pecorino from the Sabine hills, but that is obviously not an option for anyone outside of Italy (or many in Italy) so pecorino romano is much more commonly used. The technique of adding pecorino three times—first to melt into the sauce, a second time while mixing the pasta with the sauce and a third time on top of the finished dish—comes from the advice in the excellent La cucina romana e del Lazio (Newton & Compton, 1998). Personally, I’d never make amatriciana any other way, but other recipes only call for mixing the pecorino with the pasta, others only using it as a ‘topping’.

Some recipes, including the recipe promoted by the ‘pro loco’ (tourist board) of the town of Amatrice, which can also be found in La cucina romana e del Lazio, call for pouring a bit of white wine to the guanciale or pancetta after they have browned, allowing the wine to evaporate completely. And some recipes also call for removing the pork from the sauce after it has brown, to keep it a bit crispy, and adding back in along the pasta. I’ve tried these options and personally don’t care much for them. I found the former added too much acidity, the latter was just too fussy. But don’t let that stop you from giving them a try!

One last tip: resist the temptation to salt the sauce too much or at all, especially if you go with the ‘thrice-sprinkled’ with pecorino method. The salt in the pork, and in the pasta water and in the pecorino should suffice to make the dish quite savory.

By the way, you will sometimes find this dish misspelled as bucatini alla matriciana. This misspelling is said to have been due to the tendency to clip initial vowels in Roman dialect.

Bucatini all'amatriciana (Pinterest)

 

Bucatini all’amatriciana

Rating: 51

Total Time: 30 minutes

Yield: Serves 4-6

Bucatini all’amatriciana

Ingredients

  • 500g (1 lb) bucatini
  • 150-300g (5-10 oz) guanciale or pancetta, cut into strips or cubes
  • 1/2 onion, peeled and chopped, or 1 garlic clove, peeled and slightly crushed (optional)
  • 1 peperoncino (dried red pepper) (optional)
  • 250-500g (8-16 oz) fresh or canned tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped
  • Olive oil (or lard)
  • Salt, q.b.
  • 100g (4 oz) grated pecorino romano cheese

Directions

  1. Throw the bucatini into abundant, well salted, vigorously boiling water and cook until still very al dente.
  2. While the bucatini are cooking, sauté the guanciale or pancetta, in a bit of olive oil (or lard) until the fat is translucent and just beginning to brown slightly. (You are not looking to crisp the pancetta, just to draw the flavor and fat from it and add just a bit of caramelization for added flavor.) If you like, you can add the onion or garlic along with the pancetta; if using garlic, remove it as soon as it begins to color. I also like to add a peperoncino for a little heat, but don't overdo it—this is not meant to be a spicy dish.
  3. Then add very ripe, peeled, seeded and chopped tomatoes, or if you don't good ripe tomatoes on hand, just add good quality canned tomatoes or passata. Simmer the tomatoes until they have reduced and separated from the fat. Then add a tablespoon or two of grated pecorino cheese, and let it melt into the sauce.
  4. When the bucatini are done, drain them (but not too well) and add them to tomato sauce along with another good sprinkling of pecorino cheese and mix well over low heat, allowing the bucatini to absorb the flavors of the cheese and sauce. If the sauce is too thick—the bucatini should slither around the pan easily—add a bit more pasta water.
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32 Responses to “Bucatini all’amatriciana”

  1. 1 May 2014 at 13:06 #

    Another classic. I don’t do the onions but I understand their appeal. I think I could live on this forever and a day.

    • 2 May 2014 at 12:18 #

      Hard to beat… :=)

  2. Romi
    7 April 2014 at 11:49 #

    My favourite pasta dish. You really need to go to Amatrice to taste it. My late Zio was chef at Hotel Roma in Amatrice and I was lucky enough to be shown how it’s made. The recipe is pretty spot on, I won’t give away my Zios tips though. Amatrice is worth the visit and Hotel Roma has splendid panoramic views of the mountains and country side. You must try the Bianco version.

    • 7 April 2014 at 12:30 #

      Now, Romi, you really must share your Zio’s secrets with us…

  3. 3 March 2014 at 04:19 #

    One of my favorite pastas! And the pecorino has to be added in the sauce, adding it (only) later deprives the pasta of much of its flavor and creaminess!

  4. 28 February 2014 at 20:43 #

    Che buona questa pasta Frank, mi hai fatto venire fame.

    • 7 April 2014 at 12:31 #

      Grazie, Francesca! È un piatto che piace proprio a tutti.

  5. Iain
    26 February 2014 at 20:45 #

    While I appreciate that it’s usually recommended for amatriciana I find bucatini one of the most difficult of pastas. Difficult to cook exactly al dente, extremely difficult to eat if you under cook it. I recall being served a few years ago somewhere in Trastevere (when you could still find a decent Roman meal there) an amatriciana in which the bucatini was, shall we say, agressively al dente. By the time I’d finished, the table and, indeed, my partner sitting opposite me looked like they’d been assaulted by Jackson Pollock in his Red Period.

    • 7 April 2014 at 12:32 #

      Love that image, Iain!

  6. Maggi Hristova
    26 February 2014 at 20:10 #

    Fantastic result – I followed precisely the instructions and in very short time I got simple, but delicious meal. Thanks!

    • 26 February 2014 at 22:27 #

      Thanks great to hear, Maggi!

  7. 25 February 2014 at 14:47 #

    Frank, as you know I am a child of Abruzzo…but my paternal grandfather was from Lazio, so I guess I’m ok with either provenance. This dish so beautifully typifies Italian cuisine ~ so many variations, all of them claiming to be ‘the original.’ Years ago my family went to Amatrice and everywhere you looked, restaurants had signs claiming to be THE place where “la vera Amatriciana” was invented. I’m with FH Perkins on the addition of wine to the pancetta, which is how I did it in Glorious Pasta. I can’t honestly remember when I learned this, but it must be the way my mom did it. It’s a lovely touch. I must say, though, yours looks perfect…and perfectly dressed. Cheers, D

    • 25 February 2014 at 16:06 #

      I’ve gotten so much feedback on the wine thing, I’m going to have to give it another go. As mentioned in the post, when I’ve tried it before I found it added a bit more acidity than I like—and I’m not generally fond of sour tastes—but perhaps I was just adding too much wine…

      • 25 February 2014 at 21:38 #

        You know what? I misspoke. I was thinking of my carbonara. In that recipe I brown the pancetta and deglaze with a little white wine. But I don’t do it when I make Amatriciana, I think for the very reason you state–too much acidity. At any rate, you made me crave bucatini all’Amatriciana so that’s what I’m making for dinner tonight. The big question I have to wrestle with now: onion or no onion? ;-)

      • Iain
        26 February 2014 at 20:39 #

        Marcella Hazan says exactly the same about not using wine in amatriciana but she does say to use it in carbonara.

  8. 25 February 2014 at 00:11 #

    Frank – There is so much “lore” connected to so many dishes and you have once again, elucidated them well. As much as I like the tomato version of Amatriciana, I prefer the gricia variation. I never knew why it was named that, but now you have enlightened me. I really like the composition of your photos too, with the pasta box.

    • 25 February 2014 at 16:06 #

      Thanks, Linda! The tomato-less version is really fine, too. I should make it more often.

  9. 24 February 2014 at 17:09 #

    il guanciale non sempre riesco a trovarlo e mi sono adattata alla pancetta comunque resta uno dei miei primi preferiti a pari merito con la carbonara, la cucina romana per quanto riguarda i primi è imbattibile ! Buona settimana Frank !

    • 25 February 2014 at 16:07 #

      Guarda un po’, anche a Roma non era facile trovare il guanciale, chi sa perché? Buona settimana, Chiara!

  10. Iain
    24 February 2014 at 11:55 #

    Frank

    As ever, a recipe that epitomises the principle that less is more. The only variation I have (and I picked this up from a backstreet restaurant in Rome many years ago) is to include a small sprig of rosemary in the sauce. Always best with ripe fresh tomatoes, I buy them in bulk in the summer, halve them and give them a few minutes on high in a pressure cooker (or 10 minutes on high in a microwave), then put them through a mouli (coarse disk) and then slowly reduce the passata on the top of the stove until it’s a tomato paste like consistency. Two kilos of tomatoes will give you about 400ml paste, you can keep this in a jar in the fridge, but I freeze it in ice cube trays and keep it in a bag in the freezer. Two or three cubes and a half litre or so of water will give you excellent tomato sauce with the zing of the fresh or you can just add a cube to your tinned tomatoes as they’re cooking for a vastly improved sauce.

    • 25 February 2014 at 16:08 #

      Great tips, Iain! Thanks much. Cheers, Frank

  11. 24 February 2014 at 00:55 #

    simply adore meals like this simple and perfect

    • 25 February 2014 at 16:10 #

      Thanks, Rebecca!

  12. 23 February 2014 at 21:05 #

    Hi Frank! You are a mind reader…..a few weeks ago a posted the same recipe in the Italian magazine I am collaborating with (www.unaDonna.it). Your recipe is delicious, very well written and complete. I tuoi bucatini sono molto appetitosi! BRAVO!

    • 23 February 2014 at 23:19 #

      Thanks, Paola! Checked out your recipe and it looks wonderful as well. But then, you really can’t go wrong with something so delicious…

  13. 23 February 2014 at 16:19 #

    Your recipes are the best! I love this recipe. It looks so delicious, and it’s my husband’s favorite dish to order when we go out. Now I can make it myself for him. Thank you!

    • 23 February 2014 at 23:17 #

      You’re welcome, Jodee! Hope you and your husband enjoy the dish. It always tastes better when you make it at home, I think.

  14. FHPerkins
    23 February 2014 at 15:34 #

    Thanks Frank…as always you insights are in depth and well considered and so reliable.
    Armida, a woman from Abruzzo who helped me run a house for three decades in Rome always insisted that Amatriciana was Abruzzese in origin but few of my friends would agree. Especially the Romans. After WWII many Abruzzese made their way to Rome and being an industrious people they became successful merchants and restauranteurs. There was bus from Abruzzo to Rome and the end of the line stop was the Pantheon and in fact the entire area around the Campo die Fiore became populated with Abruzzese.

    Armida taught me to not add onion nor garlic. She taught me how half a glass of white wine into the rendered pork fat and reduced to a syrup not only helps make this dish more easy to digest but also mellows the flavor beautifully. I often apply this trick when using guanciale or pancetta. in other dishes as well. This step, if used, is done just before adding the tomato.

    She told also that some people she knows will add half an onion, uncut, into the tomato sauce and let cook until the sauce is finished. The onion is then removed. I have tired it and it is very good.

    She also told me that she cooks this sauce for a longer time that her regular tomato sauce which is cooked and finished more briskly.

    Thank You Frank and congrats for the recognition you recently received. It is well deserved.

    • 23 February 2014 at 23:14 #

      And thank you for your support! Romans can be a bit touchy about the origins of this dish, as I was reminded again today by a few rather fiery responses from some readers…

      And thanks so much for sharing Armida’s great tips with us.

  15. MarthaO
    23 February 2014 at 14:27 #

    Hi Frank I was wondering………….I’ve been making this for years with a slight difference, How “sacrilegious” is it to have onions in it? (that was in the original recipe I used)

    • 23 February 2014 at 16:14 #

      Not sacrilegious at all, Martha. It’s really a matter of personal taste. As I mentioned, it’s recommended by Ada Boni, and you can’t find a more authoritative source than that!

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