As many of you know, I moved to Texas from the Boston area two years ago. Next to the weather, I’d say the food choices are the most different in the two areas. Don’t get me wrong- I love me some BBQ and Tex Mex food. But where Texas thrives in Mexican food, it lacks in good, authentic Italian food- one of the things I miss the most about New England. So I decided I needed to learn to make some excellent authentic Italian fare (like Authentic Bucatini all’Amatriciana) at home, since I have yet to find it at a restaurant here!
I’m starting with my all time FAVORITE Italian meal. It’s a simple yet deeply flavored pasta recipe that only takes 30 minutes to make!
As the name suggests, this pasta dish comes from the city of Amatrice in the Lazio region of Italy. The quality of this recipe is largely dependent on the quality of ingredients you buy. Now is NOT the time to get the store-brand canned tomatoes or the 99 cent pasta. Here’s a rundown on the main ingredients in this recipe, why they are important, and how to find them.
Guanciale (or Pancetta, or, in a pinch, bacon)
Guanciale, or cured pork jowl/cheeks, is the traditional ingredient for authentic Bucatini all’Amatriciana and from which the dish gets its deep, rich flavor. I thought I’d get lucky and find some at Central Market here in Austin, but alas, there was none to be found. It’s difficult to find in the US. Pancetta is very similar in taste and texture, and it’s what I used in this recipe. Pancetta is basically the Italian equivalent of bacon, but it’s cured, NOT smoked, like most bacons in the US. If you can’t find either, you can use unsmoked bacon for this recipe.
Whichever of the three meats you use, be sure to chop it up finely. Pancetta and Guanciale comes in a thick piece, so you can chop it up into approximately 1/4 inch cube pieces. Bacon can be sliced into pieces 1/4 inch thick. The small size will ensure that every bite you eat has a little bit of the salty, deeply flavored meat.
Canned whole San Marzano tomatoes, crushed by hand
This is important. In order to get the best taste, make sure you use whole peeled San Marzano tomatoes, imported from Italy, and make sure there is no citric acid (or anything but tomatoes and tomato puree) in the ingredients. Diced tomatoes often have added ingredients like citric acid in order to help keep the shape of the tomatoes, which can affect the texture of any sauce you make from them. Already crushed tomatoes can be more like a puree, and won’t have as good of a texture.
I used an immersion blender to crush the can of tomatoes. Just a few pulses directly in the can was an easy way get the perfect texture- make sure you don’t overdo it. You can also use a food processor or blender (just a few pulses!), or remove the tomatoes, chop them finely, and add them back to the puree, or use kitchen scissors to snip the tomatoes directly in the can.
Bronze Cut Bucatini (or other) Pasta
Bucatini is similar to spaghetti, with a hole in the center of each noodle. It can also be used in carbonara recipes. While bucatini is the traditional pasta shape for this recipe, the taste won’t be affected by what kind you use. You can use spaghetti, or another kind (like penne or rigatoni) and the recipe will be just as delicious. It is, however, important to buy bronze cut pasta made with duram wheat semolina flour for this recipe.
It can be easy to get overwhelmed by the plethora of pasta choices at the grocery store. While it may be tempting to go with the cheapest thing possible, I encourage you to spend the few extra dollars to get the “fancy” kind (I used this one). The package will say if the pasta is bronze cut, but it’s also easy to identify visually- bronze cut pasta will have a slightly grooved texture on each noodle. If you touch it, it will feel rough, rather than smooth. This texture helps the sauce stick to the noodles.
I also do NOT recommend using whole grain pasta for this recipe. The starch of the noodles is important, and whole grain pasta doesn’t have as high of a starch content. You will be reserving some of the starchy pasta water to use in the sauce, which helps thicken it and helps it stick to the noodles. I love whole grain pastas in pasta salads and other recipes, but if you want an authentic taste, go ahead and treat yourself to regular pasta.
Finally, make sure you use a block of pecorino Romano cheese and grate it yourself. This is NOT the time for the green canister of parmesan from the aisle.
Once you have the highest quality ingredients, it’s so easy to make this authentic bucatini all’Amatriciana. First, sauté the guanciale or pancetta in olive oil until it’s crispy. Then, add some crushed red pepper and onions. Deglaze with wine, add the tomatoes, and finally, after simmering for 15 minutes, add the pasta with some pasta water to thicken the sauce. It’s SO easy!
You may notice that the ingredients list below does not include garlic. This is not a mistake- in traditional Amatriciana sauce, garlic is not used. It’s one of the few Italian dishes without it! The result is a much simpler tasting sauce that lets the flavor of the cured meat shine through. I used onions in my recipe- some Amatriciana recipes use them, and some don’t. You can feel free to omit them if you want. If you do use them, make sure they are finely minced so they incorporate into the sauce without being too chunky.
I recommend using a deep, large skillet for the sauce. Since you will be adding the pasta to it, you definitely don’t want something too small! I have this Calphalon 3 quart sauté pan and its deep rimmed sides make it perfect for dishes like this. If you don’t have a skillet that you think is large enough, just use a large saucepan or even a dutch oven. It’s better to have something too big than too small.
Here’s how to make authentic Bucatini all’Amatriciana from the comfort of your home. Buon Appetito!
Authentic Bucatini all'Amatriciana
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 6 oz. guanciale or pancetta chopped into 1/4 inch pieces (see notes)
- 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper
- 1 small yellow onion minced (about 1/2 cup)
- 1/4 cup red wine or dry white- see notes
- 28 oz. canned crushed tomatoes (see notes)
- 16 oz. bucatini or other pasta shape, preferably bronze-cut
- kosher salt to taste
- black pepper to taste
- 2 oz. pecorino Romano cheese finely grated
- Heat the olive oil (2 tablespoons) in a large, deep skillet over medium-high heat.
- Add guanciale/pancetta (6 oz.)- sauté until crispy and golden (about 5 minutes).
- Stir in crushed red pepper (1/2 teaspoon) and sauté for 10 seconds. Add onions and sauté until golden and softened, about 3 minutes.
- Add red wine (1/4 cup)- stir until mostly evaporated, scraping up any browned bits from the bottom of the pan (about 2 minutes).
- Stir in crushed tomatoes (28 oz.), season with salt and pepper to taste, and bring to a low simmer. Cook uncovered for 15 minutes.
- Meanwhile, bring a large pot of heavily salted water to a boil. Cook pasta according to directions, stopping cooking one minute before it's al dente.
- Reserve 1 cup of pasta water. Drain pasta and add to tomato sauce, or use tongs to add it to the sauce directly from the pan.
- Toss pasta with tomato sauce and add 1/4 cup of the pasta water. Turn heat to high and continue to toss pasta with sauce, adding more pasta water as needed until sauce thickens and coats every noodle (I used about 1/2 cup total).
- Turn off heat. Add half (1 oz.) of the cheese to the pasta and stir until it's incorporated into the sauce.
- Serve immediately topped with remaining cheese and more pepper to taste.
- In traditional recipes, white wine is often used. I like using red because I think it enhances the flavor of the tomatoes. Use whichever you prefer.
- I used an immersion blender to crush whole peeled tomatoes in the can. Just a few pulses does the trick. You can also use a standing blender or a food processor- just be sure not to overdo it!