Bucatini all'Amatriciana

July  8, 2014

Merrill's daughter Clara has quite the appetite -- and it's all Merrill can do to keep up. Armed with her greenmarket bag, a wooden spoon and a minimal amount of fuss, she steps into the fray.

Today: A little bit of Rome, at home -- an authentic Roman pasta for any night of the week.

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My husband, Jonathan, and I spent a few days in Rome in May (it was his first trip there, and my first visit in nearly twenty years). Timing-wise, we struck the culinary jackpot. It was the tail end of artichoke season, and the first strawberries and tomatoes were just appearing in red, juicy piles at the markets -- it was a near-perfect marriage of late spring and summer produce.

We cooked dinner one night in the sweet little kitchen of the flat we found on Airbnb: fresh ravioli stuffed with ricotta and a hint of truffle in a simple sauce of butter and Parmesan, and a tomato and green bean salad dressed with balsamic vinegar and a drizzle of grassy olive oil from 2-liter plastic bottle filled for us at the market from a large steel vat. We drank sparking rosé from a similar plastic bottle, filled from its own steel vat, and we had strawberries and biscotti for dessert.

More: Try your hand at making shaped pasta with a seasonal, bright ravioli. 

We also had too many great restaurant meals to count. Jonathan's favorite dish, which he ordered probably five times in as many days, was pasta all'amatriciana. Made with guanciale (cured pork jowl), tomato and Pecorino Romano, amatriciana is a classic Roman sauce, prepared a little differently by every cook who makes it. It's rich and salty and bright all at once, and when I saw how much Jonathan enjoyed it I promised to make it for him when we got home. I had little doubt that Clara would like it too, since "pasta with meat sauce" of any kind tops her current list of favorite foods.

More: Pick up some extra guanciale for a pizza suitable for breakfast and dinner. 

I prepared my version with bucatini, which is like a thicker version of spaghetti with a hollow middle (this is the "buco," or "hole," that gives the pasta its name). It's one of my favorite shapes and the most popular choice for amatriciana in Rome. While some people eschew one or the other, I added both onion and garlic, plus some red pepper flakes, another optional ingredient. And because ever since I started making Marcella's sauce I have to add a knob of butter to all tomato sauces to smooth out the edges, I threw that in too. 

Bucatini all'Amatriciana - Pasta with Tomato Sauce

Bucatini all'Amatriciana

Serves 4

2 tablespoons olive oil
6 ounces guanciale (if you can't find guanciale you can use pancetta or unsmoked bacon), roughly chopped
1 large onion, finely chopped
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes, plus more for serving (optional)
1 small clove garlic, peeled and smashed
2 cups chopped tomatoes (fresh or canned)
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 pound bucatini
Grated Pecorino Romano, for serving

See the full recipe (and save it and print it) here. 

Photos by Mark Weinberg


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I'm a native New Yorker, Le Cordon Bleu graduate, former food writer/editor turned entrepreneur, mother of two, and unapologetic lover of cheese.


Jan W. July 9, 2014
This recipe puzzles me because it removes most of the incredibly flavorful rendered fat from the guanciale, among some chefs in Lazio this would probably be tantamount to blasphemy. If you are lucky enough to live near an establishment that sells authentic guanciale or can make your own, the stuff is like pork gold. You'll pay upwards of $15/lb for the stuff on a good day, usually much more. Therefore, I suggest using less guanciale if there is more fat than lean, maybe 3 oz instead of 6. I also would not use butter in traditional amatriciana sauce - that's why the guanciale is used in the first place!! Just look that the glorious fat in it!
Merrill S. July 10, 2014
I should have specified that you should NOT throw away that pork gold! As you point out, some guanciale is fattier, and in this case leaving in all the rendered fat can lead to a greasy sauce. I like having lots of meaty bits, so I prefer to pour off a little of the fat if necessary and use it for something else. And in my mind, butter serves a very particular purpose here -- even just a dab smooths out the acidity of the tomato sauce and mellows any sharp edges. Of course, leave it out if you prefer!
serafinadellarosa July 8, 2014
The controversy continues regarding the onion. What was the name of the food show on TV in Italy? La Prova del Cuoco. They were adamant about not adding onion. And no garlic, either. There was a lot of finger wagging about that issue. Let the guanciale render its flavor into the tomato sauce.
Merrill S. July 10, 2014
Love that! I looked at a lot of amatriciana recipes while I was writing this, and very few didn't call for onion -- and most of the versions we ate in Rome had onion (fewer seemed to have garlic, but I can't resist it). But I certainly respect the purists!
Megan H. July 8, 2014
I have to admit, when you mentioned bringing Clara into the office, I've been waiting for a post. :)