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Take a trip to Rome in your own kitchen with this quick and easy recipe for traditional Italian bucatini all’amatriciana, a robust pasta dish made with canned tomatoes, cubed pancetta, dry white wine and pecorino Romano cheese.
Say it with me: Ama-Tree-Chee-Ana! Not only is the Italian word “amatriciana” fun to pronounce, but this authentic Italian pasta dish is one of the most delicious foods you could ever put in your mouth.
About Amatriciana sauce
Pasta amatriciana is one of many rustic, classic pasta dinners with humble origins, familiar on restaurant menus all over the world. Like other traditional pasta sauces from Rome — a creamy pasta carbonara recipe and cacio e pepe come to mind — bucatini all’amatriciana is a dish made with simple pantry ingredients.
Amatriciana sauce is thought to be named for the town of Amatrice, located in the region of Lazio on the outskirts of Rome.
Italian purists say it’s a MUST to pair this hearty tomato sauce with spaghetti or even better, bucatini. Bucatini is a type of long pasta shaped like thick spaghetti. The noodles have a hollow center, which provides more surface area (inside and out) for the sauce to permeate.
But there are no rules here — eat what you like! Amatriciana sauce is also perfect with sturdy ridged short pasta shapes, like rigatoni or penne. Those ridges help the sauce cling to the pasta with pancetta.
About the ingredients
- Canned tomatoes: Use a 28-ounce can of good quality whole tomatoes or crushed tomatoes. If you feel like splurging on DOP grade San Marzano tomatoes, they make an amazing tomato sauce. Feel free to mash or lightly puree them if you prefer a smoother-textured sauce. Keep in mind that amatriciana is a gutsy sauce, and it’s meant to have some texture from coarsely chopped tomatoes and bits of pork.
- Guanciale: A truly authentic amatriciana sauce recipe is made with guanciale, a type of bacon made with uncured pig jowl. Sourcing guanciale in United States supermarkets isn’t always easy, although you’ll have a better chance at Italian markets or small meat markets. If you can’t track it down, I recommend using an equal weight of pancetta or even thick-sliced unsmoked bacon.
- Pancetta: This is an Italian dry-cured and fully-aged pork belly that’s rolled and tied into a fat sausage shape. I use it to make amatriciana sauce in place of guanciale because it’s readily available in most grocery stores. Pancetta is a meaty, porky-tasting delicacy you can use in place of unsmoked bacon in any recipe. If possible, ask the deli counter to slice a 1/2-inch slab (rather than the packages with thin slices) so you can cut it into plump cubes.
- Black pepper: The sauce is warmed with plenty of spice from black pepper, like other Roman dishes cacio e pepe and pasta alla gricia. For the best flavor, use freshly ground peppercorns.
- Red pepper flakes: Amatriciana sauce has a balance of heat and meaty seasonings, with most of the subtle warmth coming from black pepper. You need about 1/2 teaspoon crushed red chili to add a touch of heat. Of course, go ahead and add more or less to suit your personal taste buds.
- Olive oil: You don’t need to be lavish with olive oil when making this sauce because the guanciale or pancetta already has plenty of fat.
- Garlic: Use about 3 fat gloves of fresh garlic.
- Onion: Some traditionalists omit onion in amatriciana sauce, but it adds a layer of sweetness and flavor.
- White wine: Use a small amount (1/4 cup) of dry white wine such as pinot grigio or sauvignon blanc. The wine adds a bright flavor balance for the meaty pork.
- Pecorino cheese: Pecorino romano is a sharp, salty aged sheep’s milk cheese. It’s an essential backbone of the dish (again, like cacio e pepe). Buy a chunk and grate it into fluffy pile with a rasp grater or buy it freshly grated.
- Bucatini pasta: Think of bucatini as a very long, super-slender ziti noodle, which means it’s pleasingly chewy. Bucatini goes with all kinds of sauces, especially amatriciana and arrabbiata.
Amatriciana versus Arrabbiata sauce
Both sauces are bold tomato-based sauces. The major difference between the two is that authentic amatriciana sauce is enriched with pork, in the form of guanciale (pork cheek) or pancetta (pork belly). Arrabbiata sauce is spiced with plenty of red chili and doesn’t contain meat, making it vegetarian-friendly.
Bucatini all’Amatriciana sauce cooking steps:
- Choose a 10-12 inch saute pan or skillet (I love my Everyday Pan for this and so many other meals). The wider surface area compared to a saucepan or Dutch oven means the sauce with thicken and reduce more quickly.
25-Minute Bucatini all’Amatriciana
- 3 ounces (85 g) thick-sliced pancetta, guanciale or unsmoked bacon, cut into cubes
- 2 tablespoons (30 ml) extra virgin olive oil
- ½ cup finely chopped onion
- 3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
- ½ teaspoon kosher salt, plus more for cooking the pasta
- ½ teaspoon crushed red chili flakes
- ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- ¼ cup (60 ml) dry white wine, such as pinot grigio or sauvignon blanc
- 1 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes
- 1 pound (450 g) dried bucatini pasta
- ½ cup grated pecorino Romano cheese
- Put the pancetta and 1 tablespoon of the oil in a 10-12 inch skillet or saute pan. Place over medium heat. Cook about 5 minutes, until the pancetta is crisp and brown, stirring occasionally. Don't be tempted to turn up the heat — the goal is to render the fat gently without burning.
- Stir in the onion and cook until softened, 2-3 minutes. Add the garlic, salt, chili flakes and black pepper. Stir and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds.
- Turn up the heat to medium-high. Pour in the wine and cook until most of the liquid boils away, stirring to scrape up the browned bits on the bottom of the pan. Stir in the tomatoes. Bring to a simmer and cook 15-20 minutes, until the sauce has reduced and thickened.
- While the sauce is cooking, bring 4-5 quarts of water to a boil in a large pot. Add 1 tablespoon salt per quart of water, then add the bucatini. Cook according to package directions, until al dente. Drain, then add the pasta back to the pot. Add the sauce and toss well to coat with the sauce.
- Transfer the pasta to a serving bowl and serve with the cheese sprinkled on top.
Karen’s Notes and Tips
- Pancetta is a meaty, porky-tasting delicacy you can use in place of guanciale or bacon in any recipe. If possible, ask the deli counter to slice a 1/2-inch slab (rather than the packages with thin slices) so you can cut it into plump cubes.
- The sauce will keep 3-5 days refrigerated and 1 month frozen. Keep it separate from the pasta for the best results.
Nutrition facts are calculated by third-party software. If you have specific dietary needs, please refer to your favorite calculator.