Bucatini All’Amatriciana takes just a handful of ingredients and less than 30 minutes to make. It’s an easy Italian classic you’ll fall in love with at first bite!
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Bucatini All’Amatriciana is one of a long list of super simple yet amazingly good Italian pasta dishes. This dish is very high on my list of favorite weeknight meals—but it’s so incredibly good that I also like to serve it to company. A dish that takes less than 30 minutes to make but elicits passionate praise from guests? That’s a win in my book!
Amatriciana sauce is named after the town of Amatrice, which is located in the region of Lazio, right in the heart of Italy. It is one of the best-known Roman and 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. Bucatini is notorious for being hard to eat: its thickness makes it tricky to whirl around a fork, and the ends of the strands tend to stubbornly whip up, splashing sauce around in the process. But while it might not be the best dish to order on a first date, I think the shape and heartiness of bucatini makes it fun to eat.
The traditional recipe for Bucatini All’Amatriciana uses just a few ingredients, and as with most Italian recipes, the quality of the products you use will directly influence the deliciousness of the resulting dish.
At the foundation of Amatriciana sauce is guanciale. Guanciale is a cured pork product, just as pancetta is, but it comes from a different part of the pig: cheeks (or jowls) for guanciale versus belly for pancetta. Guanciale is fattier and its flavor is stronger than pancetta, yet it has a finer, more delicate texture. The very first time I made Amatriciana at home, I used a vacuum-wrapped pork cheek I’d brought back from a trip to Rome—no wonder I fell in love with it.
Some of the ingredients of the sauce are argued over among cooks. My Italian friend Eleonora, who generously provided me with the baseline of this recipe, tells me that you can spark a heated debate by asking Italians whether or not they use onion in their Amatriciana sauce! Because Eleonora advised me to use onion, I use it—and I enjoy the extra layer of flavor it brings to the sauce. I also like to add a pinch of crushed red pepper to add some punch, but you could simply stir in a good grind of freshly ground black pepper if you prefer.
The cheese used in Amatriciana sauce is Pecorino—and this is non-negotiable. Pecorino cheese has a specific, salty taste that seasons and rounds up the flavor of the sauce in a very unique way. For the best flavor, buy a block of Pecorino and grate it very finely, preferably using a Microplane.
Finally, Amatriciana sauce contains a healthy quantity of olive oil, and be sure to use a top-quality, fruity variety of extra-virgin olive oil.
Just like Cacio e Pepe, Bucatini All’Amatriciana is a memorable Italian dish that deserves a spot in your repertoire. Make Bucatini All’Amatriciana a few times, and you’ll quickly become renowned for it. You don’t need to tell anyone how easy it is to make!
Well, I’m not sure what a nonna would say…but you have my blessing. If you can’t find bucatini pasta, the easiest swap is a thick spaghetti (one with a suggested cooking time of 11 to 13 minutes). In general, I’d say Amatriciana sauce is best served with long pasta, but if rigatoni or penne happens to be what you have on hand, I won’t judge.
Guanciale is cured pork jowl (or cheek). To make guanciale, pork jowl is rubbed with salt and spices then cured for a few weeks. It’s a very fatty and very flavorful cured pork product that provides a wonderful depth to classic Italian pasta dishes, such as Carbonara or Amatriciana.
As a specialty item, guanciale can be hard to find. In fact, the only time I was able to cook with real guanciale was when I brought a piece of it sous-vide straight from Rome! If you can’t find guanciale, however, fear not: you can still make Bucatini All’Amatriciana. Pancetta is a more readily available cured pork product. Made with pork belly, pancetta is similar to bacon, but it is not smoked, which makes a huge difference in terms of flavor. Pancetta is very often sold thinly sliced, but for Amatriciana sauce, you want to find cubed pancetta or ask your charcuterie counter to slice pancetta about 1/3 inch (1 cm) thick. You’ll then dice these thick slices of pancetta to use them in this recipe.
Yes! Amatriciana can be made ahead of time. Simply simmer the sauce right up to the point where you’d add the cooked pasta. Let the sauce cool and then refrigerate it in an airtight container for up to 4 days. To serve, gently reheat the sauce in a large skillet while the pasta cooks. Transfer the pasta to the sauce and then finish the dish with the pecorino and olive oil as indicated.
Even when making the sauce ahead of time, it’s important to cook the bucatini right before serving. Bucatini All’Amatriciana is at its very best when it’s al dente and glistening fresh with the sauce.
Hard Italian cheeses all have a different personality, and they tend to shine when you use them in dishes that come from the same regions where the cheeses are made. Bucatini All’Amatriciana comes from Amatrice, a town in the province of Lazio that produces Pecorino cheese. Parmigiano Reggiano comes from a different Italian province and is made from cow’s milk; Pecorino is made from sheep’s milk. Pecorino cheese also has a very different flavor compared to Parmigiano Reggiano. Pecorino’s flavor is sharp, peppery, and very salty, whereas Parmigiano Reggiano has a rich, smooth flavor.
In other words, Pecorino is a unique product that is largely responsible for the unique flavor of Amatriciana sauce. If you use any other cheese, the dish may still taste very good, but it won’t be authentic Bucatini All’Amatriciana.
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