Bucatini all’Amatriciana is one of the holy three pasta sauces in Rome (also alla gricia and alla carbonara) based upon guanciale. Guanciale is cured pig jowl, and though you might not have heard of it or eaten it, trust me that it is the very finest thing one can do with a pig. Yes, better than American bacon or even prosciutto (at least for me). The flavor is wonderfully rich and distinctly porky in a way unique to guanciale. People offer say to substitute pancetta in the states, but please don’t do that for this dish, especially since most pancetta available in the US is absolute junk. Real guanciale from domestic producer La Quercia can be purchased in New York from Eataly or Philadelphia from diBruno brothers. It freezes fine, so go out of your way to buy some and keep it for several months in the freezer, cutting off a little here and there as needed. If you can’t go to the trouble of obtaining guanciale, just don’t make this dish. There are other lovely things to eat. Though I have long made alla gricia and carbonara, Amatriciana had always troubled me a bit. After consulting numerous recipes, I just couldn’t get it to taste just right, like the best version in Rome from Arcangelo Dandini, which he uses to dress his heavenly potato gnocchi. But last week I was eating at Armando in Rome, and they were publicizing their new cookbook with a little pamphlet, and in the pamphlet was their recipe for amatriciana! I made it tonight, and though I might tweak it just a bit, it was better than my previous attempts, some of which included onion and too much tomato. Armando’s version keeps tomato to a minimum, uses wine, and uses no onion. Tonight I’m cooking for myself at Casa Sinibaldi in Rome, awaiting my new group of students to arrive tomorrow for a week of culinary and cultural immersion, and so here is Armando’s recipe for Amatriciana, scaled down for one!
Most traditional is actually bucatini (thick, hollow spaghetti), but I prefer spaghetti, or better yet, small rigatoni since I have an idiosyncratic dislike for tomato sauces with spaghetti.
Bring 4 quarts of water to a boil and properly season with 2 tablespoons salt. Add 50 grams pasta and cook about until al dente.
While the pasta is cooking, brown 10 grams of pancetta in a pan with a little olive oil, then remove from heat, remove the guanciale, and add a splash of white wine. Add 2 tablespoons tomatoes (fresh or high quality canned and crushed) and 1/8 teaspoon salt. Cook for about 5 minutes.
When the pasta is ready, drain and add it to the sauce along with the reserved guanciale. Add generous grindings of black pepper and about 10 grams grated high-quality imported pecorino romano cheese. Plate and serve at once, with additional pecorino, black pepper, and olive oil.
Note: Although Armando doesn’t use it, Marcella Hazan includes a little butter in her recipe, and I have a suspicion that Arcangelo might do the same, though I’m not sure. Although butter is not traditional in most Roman cooking, it’s worth a try.