A Roman classic and a favorite of neighborhood osterie, this is traditionally made with guanciale, cured pork cheeks, but pancetta or even slab bacon can be substituted. Bacon is definitely not used in the original—it will give the sauce a smoky flavor.
While it seems like a fairly straightforward dish, how exactly pasta all’Amatriciana is made is the subject of endless squabbles and debates. Some people say it should have onion, some say no. I have been told that parsley never goes in it and I’m not sure about it, but personally I like the brightness fresh chopped parsley gives it. Some will tell you to simmer the tomato sauce for hours and some will say it should just be quickly heated through. In the end, like with so much Italian food, everyone swears their version is the only way to make it and still have it be Amatriciana.
I just make it how I like it and don’t worry about what anyone else thinks. In Rome, it is traditionally made with bucatini, long hollow pasta—like big spaghetti with a hole in the middle—but it’s also good with just about any other pasta shape, from spaghetti to spaghettoni to penne rigate to rigatoni.
This recipe is excerpted from The Four Seasons of Pasta (Avery 2015). —Sara Jenkins
4 to 6
large garlic clove, minced
medium onion, finely chopped
cured pork, preferably guanciale (or pancetta, or bacon), diced small
extra-virgin olive oil
drained 28-ounce can peeled whole tomatoes
small spicy dried chili peppers such as Calabrian or pequin
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
(500 grams) bucatini or other pasta (see head note)
chopped fresh parsley
Freshly grated aged Pecorino Romano or grana padana cheese
Combine the garlic, onion, and pork with the oil in a saucepan and set over medium heat. Cook gently, stirring occasionally.
When the meat just begins to brown and render its fat, add the tomatoes, breaking them up with your hands as you add them. Stir to mix and continue to break up the tomatoes in the pan, using the side of the spoon.
As soon as the tomatoes start to bubble, turn the heat down and simmer gently, stirring occasionally, until the sauce is dense, 20 to 30 minutes. Taste and add salt and plenty of black pepper.
Meanwhile, bring a large pot of water to a boil and cook the pasta.
As soon as the pasta is al dente, drain it and turn into a warmed serving bowl. Immediately pour the sauce over the pasta and serve, turning the pasta and sauce together at the table and passing grated cheese.