Important Note: I planned and wrote this post over a month ago. Last week, while putting the final touches to it, I learned of the August 24th earthquake that devastated the town of Amatrice and killed almost 300 people in the region. My heart goes out to all of the families touched by the disaster. I’ll be making another batch of All’ Amatriciana this week as an ode to them—I hope you will, too.
This is another one of those super simple yet amazingly good Italian pasta dishes. Pasta All’ Amatriciana features high in my list of favorite weeknight meals—but it’s so good that I also love to serve it to company. A dish that takes 20 minutes to make but elicits passionate praise? That’s a win in my book!
Amatriciana sauce is named after the town of Amatrice, which is located in the province of Reiti, right in the heart of Italy. It is one of the best-known Italian sauces and was even named a Prodotto agroalimentare tradizionale, or a traditional Italian food product, by the Italian government. The sauce is most often served with bucatini, a thick, spaghetti-like pasta with a hole running through the center that is renowned to be hard to eat without splashing sauce all over yourself. I love the heartiness of bucatini, but the pasta tends to be a specialty item and can be hard to find, so I usually substitute spaghetti—or any pasta shape I have on hand, really—which is why I simply called the recipe Pasta All’ Amatriciana.
The traditional recipe uses just a few ingredients, and as with most Italian recipes, the quality of the products you use is directly linked to the deliciousness of the result. At the foundation of the sauce is guanciale, a cured pork product. Guanciale can be compared to pancetta, but it comes from a different part of the pork—cheeks (or jowls) versus belly for pancetta. Guanciale is fattier, though, and its flavor is stronger than pancetta, yet it has a finer, more delicate texture. It’s the most luxurious-tasting bacon you’ll ever eat! In fact, the very first time I made this sauce at home was using a vacuum-wrapped pork cheek I may or may not have brought back “illegally” from Rome—no wonder I fell in love with it. Look for guanciale at Italian markets or specialty charcuteries, but if you can’t find it, substitute pancetta, making sure to buy the very best quality you can because the flavor of the sauce depends on it.
Some of the ingredients of the sauce can be debated upon, especially diced onion. My friend Eleonora, who provided the baseline of this recipe, says you can spark a passionate debate by asking Italians whether they use onion in their Amatriciana! Following her advice, I use it, and I also like to use crushed red pepper flakes to provide a subtle punch to the sauce (you could simply use freshly ground black pepper, too). The cheese to use is Pecorino Romano—and this one is non-negotiable. Pecorino-Romano cheese has a specific, salty taste that seasons and rounds up the sauce really nicely. For the best taste, buy a nice block of aged cheese, and grate it yourself. Finally, the sauce uses a healthy quantity of olive oil, so—again—make sure to use a top-quality, flavorful sauce.
Just like Cacio e Pepe, Pasta All’ Amatriciana is a memorable Italian dish you need to have in your repertoire. Make it a few times, and you’ll become renowned for it. You don’t need to tell anyone how easy it is to make!
Makes 4 generous servings.
Amatriciana sauce takes just a few ingredients and 20 minutes to make. It's an easy Italian classic you'll fall in love with at first bite!
5 minPrep Time
20 minCook Time
25 minTotal Time
Heat 2 tbsp [30 ml] of the extra-virgin olive oil large skillet over low heat, then fry the guanciale or pancetta until golden and crisp. A lot of fat will render in the pan, but that’s ok, you want to keep it as it will flavor the sauce. Add the onion and red pepper flakes. When the onion is translucent, pour in the wine and bring to a boil until completely evaporated. Add the tomatoes and cook, uncovered, for 10 minutes, until the sauce is thickened. Season lightly with a pinch of sea salt, keeping in mind the cheese with add more salt to the sauce. Lower the heat to the minimum to keep the sauce warm while the pasta boils.
While the sauce is cooking, bring a large pot of water to a rolling boil, add some salt and plunge the pasta in the water. Set a timer for a minute less that the cooking time specified by the manufacturer. Shortly before the pasta is ready, scoop up ½ cup [125 ml] of starchy pasta cooking water.
Drain the pasta and pour it in the tomato sauce skillet (if your skillet isn’t large enough to mix the sauce with the pasta without making a mess, do the contrary: transfer the cooked pasta back into its cooking pot, then pour the sauce over). Add the grated Pecorino Romano, the remaining extra-virgin olive oil (2 tbsp [30 ml]) and the reserved pasta cooking water. Cook for a few minutes more, mixing and rocking the skillet to coat the pasta evenly. Taste and add salt, if necessary. Serve piping hot in warm bowls, with more grated cheese on the side.
Recipe Credit: Marie Asselin, based on instructions from Eleonora Baldwin.