My heart went out to the town of Amatrice on Wednesday morning. The town, swollen to its peak summer population, was devastated in an evening whilst preparing for their annual celebration of their most famous dish, salsa all’ amatriciana. Heartbreaking stories of families torn apart while innocently sleeping in their own beds left an ache in my soul. This week all of Italy and the world wept for their despair.
This week I want to observe the town’s millennia of history by continuing their celebration of salsa all’amatriciana with the hope that the town will be rebuilt. The dish is composed of cured pork cheek (guanciale), pasta (typically bucatini), onion, tomatoes, Pecorino cheese and pepper or chilli. While the dish dates back to Roman times, the tomatoes were added in the 18th century. The tomato-less version is called “alla Gricia” or “all’Amatriciana Bianca” (the white Amatriciana).
BUCATINI ALL’AMATRICIANA (PASTA WITH TOMATO BACON SAUCE) – LAZIO
- 15 grams (1 tablespoon) butter
- 200 grams guanciale or pancetta or streaky bacon, rind removed and sliced into 2 cm strips no more than 3 mm thick (guanciale gives it a meatier flavour)
- 1 medium sized onion, finely chopped (optional)
- 3 tins each 400 grams tinned whole peeled tomatoes, preferably San Marzano, removed from the juice (discarded) and cut into 4 pieces with the seeds removed and discarded or 1 litre tomato passata
- 1 dried chili or a pinch of chili flakes
- 60 grams pecorino romano, finely grated
- 350 grams bucatini, maccheroni alla chitarra, vermicelli, or rigatoni
- Sea salt
- Black pepper, freshly ground
- In a large pot, add 5 litres of water and 50 grams of salt. Bring the water to a boil (this will be used to cook the pasta). Do not add oil to the water.
- Preferably in a cast iron pan (if not available then use a frying pan), heat the pan over medium heat until hot. Add the butter and the guanciale to the pan.
- Fry the guanciale until crisp, about 10 minutes.
- Remove the guanciale with a slotted spatula to some paper towels to drain.
- If you prefer less fat, then remove all the fat except 30 mls, add the onion and sauté until golden in colour (but not brown), 3 to 5 minutes.
- Squeeze the tomatoes by hand into the onion mixture, add 80 ml pasta water, the chili, and ⅓ of the pecorino cheese, salt, and pepper to taste.
- Reduce the flame to low and cook for 30 minutes, stirring every few minutes to ensure the sauce does not stick to the pan. If the mixture becomes too thick, then add more pasta water, water, or broth to loosen it.
- During the last ten minutes of cooking the sauce, cook your pasta for the amount of time indicated on the package.
- Add another ⅓ of the pecorino to the sauce.
- Add the reserved guanciale to the sauce.
- Add more pasta water to loosen the sauce if necessary.
- When the pasta is cooked, drain it, (do not rinse) add it to the sauce and guanciale, stirring until the pasta is coated with the sauce.
- Put the pasta into four pasta bowls and sprinkle with the remaining pecorino cheese and some freshly ground black pepper.