Bucatini all’Amatriciana

Bucatini all’Amatriciana is one of those pasta dishes with an enticing name that doesn’t get enough attention. A quick glance at the ingredients tends to paint it as a simple, almost ordinary pasta dish…and don’t get me started on the many “alternative” versions of this dish out there that include things like bacon or prosciutto (a dead giveaway that you should be looking for a different recipe). The humble appearance of this dish aside though, it is really incredibly flavorful and one of the most uniquely flavored pasta dishes I’ve had the pleasure of eating. The success of this dish is pretty much entirely dependent on one magical ingredient: guanciale.

Bucatini all'Amatriciana

As I’ve discussed before, guanciale is a dry-aged, cured pork jowl that is mind-blowingly simple to do at home (and probably easier to do yourself compared to finding it stocked in any grocery stores). The stuff packs a punch and delivers a concentrated, rich, porky flavor that is not something you can achieve with a substitute.

With the guanciale sliced thinly, slowly cooked, and simmered with a simple tomato sauce, you’ll find yourself armed with a very forward sauce that will make this dish a memorable one for you. I’m always tempted to bring a lot of “extras” to a dish that looks as simple as this (e.g. other veggies mixed in with the pasta, more spices in the sauce, etc), but this is a flavor profile that stands solidly on its own as is (although every region has its variations). The sauce has a traditional, simple tomato base along with a touch of heat (in the form of dried chili flakes), parsley for earthiness, and as I’ve already mentioned, a generous helping of guanciale to take it somewhere special. A medium-thickness noodle is a good option for this dish, and bucatini is preferred (its like linguini with a hole in the middle–great for sopping up sauce into the noodle).

This particular recipe came from Mario Batali.

  • 3/4 lb guanciale
  • 3 garlic cloves
  • 2 large shallot
  • 2 tsp hot red pepper flakes
  • salt
  • pepper
  • 1.5 cups tomato sauce
    • olive oil
    • 1 shallot
    • 1 carrot
    • 1 celery stalk
    • 6 cloves garlic
    • 8-12 tomatoes
    • basil
  • 1 lb bucatini (or linguini if you can’t find bucatini)
  • 1 bunch flat-leaf parsley
  • Pecorino Romano

Simmer some tomato sauce

Firstly, if you’re making your own sauce, you should probably do that first. I tend to make a bit more than I need and freeze the extra for another day.

Begin by finely dicing the carrot, celery, shallot, and garlic, and in a saucepan with some hot olive oil, sauté the celery, carrot, and shallot for ~8 minutes. Add in the garlic, continuing to sauté for another minute or two. Then, add the diced tomatoes, heat to a rapid simmer for about 10-15 minutes, and drop to a low simmer for ~2 hours or until the sauce reaches a thickness you’re happy with. Throw in the diced basil at the end.

Dice up the guanciale

With the sauce ready, dice up the guanciale into small, thin chunks. Dice the shallots into large chunks and finely mince the garlic.

Heat up a large sauté pan over medium-low heat and cook the guanciale (spread out in a single layer). A lot of fat should render out of the meat, taking somewhere around 10-20 minutes (your mileage may vary). Avoid the temptation to blast the gunaciale with high heat like you would bacon or you’ll blow away its distinct flavor. Let this go a little slowly.

Render the fat from the guanciale

Once the meat is cooked, remove it from the pan for now. The original recipe suggested discarding half the fat in the pan. After watching this meat cure for roughly 1.5 months, the last thing I was going to do was throw anything in the trash. That stuff tastes awesome, so I say keep it in the pan. You only live once! Yes, it looks like a lot. The pasta and the sauce will welcome it with open arms nonetheless and the final product will not look or feel greasy. Just trust me.

With the meat set aside, dice the shallot, finely mince the garlic, and get some pepper flakes (or grind up a handful of dried peppers). Sauté the shallot and pepper flakes on medium high for about 5 minutes and then throw in the garlic for a minute more. Return the meat to the pan and give it a few minutes to let everything take on a light golden brown color.

Add the tomato sauce to the pan, season with salt and pepper, stir things up, and simmer over low heat for 10 minutes.

Bucatini all'Amatriciana

Finally, cook the bucatini according to package directions. Drain the pasta and toss it into the simmering sauce. Dice up some parsley leaves, raise the heat to high, throw them into the mix, toss to coat. Finally, its time to plate. Grate on a bit of cheese with each serving and dig in. Enjoy!

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5 Responses to “Bucatini all’Amatriciana”

  1. Toni Says:

    I’ve never heard of guanciale before, Mike. We’ve got a great Italian grocery store here that stocks all kinds of interesting things. I think I’ll go that route before I start curing my own meat!

    But I do trust you, and would try this recipe as is before I jumped in and started doctoring. Your description of it makes it sound like my kind of meal – simple and heavenly.

  2. nina Says:

    That sauce must be so rich and flavorful with the pork in there!! New to me, but most tempting!!!

  3. Kevin Says:

    That looks good! I like the use of the guanciale.

  4. joanne at frutto della passione Says:

    One of my favourite dishes, but I hate twirling bucatini so I often use something else ;-)!

  5. Mac Says:

    I landed a couple of pork cheeks recently and immediately set about searching a guanciale cure. Found yours and it worked like a charm. I’m sure it helped that I had a drafty Vermont basement to dry in, but it was literally fool-proof. The result has flavor and texture utterly unlike conventional pork belly goods.

    Now the only problem will be reliably coming up with those fatty jowls. :)

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