Monday, January 6, 2014

Bucatini all'Amatriciana: The Best Pasta and Tomato Sauce You Will Ever Eat

I first learned of this recipe in one of my first non-Betty-Crocker cookbooks, Mario Batali's Molto Italiano. I first made this about 6 years ago. For those of you who know me, you know that I rarely make the same dish twice. In fact, I get bored after 1 night, even if I like it. Life is short, and there are too many recipes to try.

So naturally, when I make something more than 3 times, you know its got to be GOOD. Don't take my word for it. If I lived alone, I might have forgotten about it by now. After all, its way too mainstream now, and I'm an irritating recipe hipster. But whenever I ask my husband, Dan, what I should make for dinner...he always, always requests "Bacon Pasta" (the much easier way to say "Bucatini all'Amatriciana"). Not just him - family and friends have asked for it time and again. So now, with this post, you can quit nagging me to make this dish, and make it yourself! But don't forget to invite me over...

Before I bequeath you my version of this recipe, I should have you know that there are a million ways to do this. Its really simple. At its most basic, just cook bacon to render the fat and then add a tomato sauce, toss with pasta. But that's too easy, and doesn't taste as good as this version. But its like mac and cheese - its really freakin' good and you can't screw it up. So if you can't find this stuff, or are short on time, don't worry. 

Sugo (sauce) all'amatriciana originated from the town of Amatrice in the Lazio Region of Italy.  The traditional Italian version of this dish calls for guanciale, or Italian-cured pork jowl. I've had a hell of a time finding this at the grocery store. So I just use pancetta, which is an Italian seasoned bacon which is both sweet and spicy - its a tough flavor to replicate. If that is hard to find (which it can be, or it can be very expensive at that), just get really good and thick slab bacon. Note that you can buy Volpi brand pancetta online, like here.

Also, the pasta. You can do this with any pasta, but I really recommend bucatini, which is hollow spaghetti. Its so much fun! And it looks and feels thicker than it is, which I think adds to the flavor. The sauce gets inside of the hollow and really fills this with so much flavor. And you can impress your friends - and the kids! - with a new pasta shape. Warning, bucatini can be really tough to find. You can order it online - I suggest ordering bulk because I know you're going to love it.

For what its worth, to be especially traditional, use ingredients that are found locally, which is actually much more legit - so don't really listen to my purist rant above. The ingredients of the original dish were easily obtained in Amatrice, and reflect what was available to commonfolk at the time. Think of it as Italy's version of pot roast and mashed potatoes (but really, much more tasty).

Something else you're going to notice with this recipe is that the sauce barely covers the pasta. And that's the way it should be! Italians don't tend to drown their pasta in bulky sauces, that's soooooo American. With a pasta as good and tender as bucatini, you'll want as light of a coating as possible. This way, you can feel the texture of the pasta, and more easily taste the bacon. 

Ok, finally, here is the recipe.

Serves 8

1 pound dried bucatini
2 tbsp olive oil
1 24 oz. can crushed tomatoes (preferably San Marzano)
3 cloves garlic, diced or mashed
1 onion, sliced into quarter inch thick half-moons
12 ounces finely chopped pancetta, or good quality slab bacon
3/4 cup dry white wine (or 1/4 cup white wine vinegar and 1/2 cup chicken broth)
Pinch of hot red pepper flakes (optional)
2 tbsp sugar (omit 1 tbsp if using San Marzano tomatoes)
3 tbsp salt
Pepper to taste
2 cups freshly grated Pecorino Romano (or good quality Parmesan)
1 cup finely chopped basil

In a large saute pan, add olive oil, onions, hot red pepper flakes, and sugar, and cook until translucent, about 7 minutes. Add the pancetta and garlic, and cook until the fat has been rendered, about 12 minutes. Add the white wine and cook until mostly evaporated. Add the crushed tomatoes, bring to a boil, then lower the heat to simmer and cook for 30 minutes. While the sauce simmers, bring 6 quarters of water to a boil in a large pot, and add 2 tbsp salt. Add the bucatini and cook for 1 less minute than the package directions (until al dente, or very firm but not crunchy). Drain and add to the sauce and toss for about 1 minute to coat. Add the basil and toss again. Serve with pecorino.

Pair with a vibrant sangiovese (Italian style red wine).

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