I’m Rome born and raised so pasta all’amatriciana is in my DNA. There is no Roman cook that doesn’t make it. There is no Roman trattoria that doesn’t offer it in its menu. There is even a famous restaurant called Il Matriciano… quite expensive though. If you happen to be in Rome, you may want to pay it a visit.
The recipe that I am about to share with you presents a few deviations from the original recipe and this is because some of the ingredients are almost impossible to find in the United States (unless you live in big cities where you can find truly Italian food stores). Therefore, most likely you will have to go for a substitute ingredient which is as close as possible to the original one.
Nonetheless, I think it is important that I give you a little information about the original recipe. The reasons for that are twofold: the first is that when you talk to Italian people about this pasta, you can show them that you really know what you are talking about (without getting that judgmental look!) and the second is that if you are lucky enough to find all of the original ingredients, you know how to handle them.
The recipe originates from Amatrice, a town located in the Lazio region, the same where Rome is. Originally, it did not include the tomatoes, which where added at the end of the 18th century. Some people mistakenly think that the Amatriciana belongs to the Roman cuisine tradition; however, it was the shepherds from Amatrice who brought the recipe to the Capital during their seasonal wanderings across the Roman countryside.
The key ingredient of this recipe is “guanciale”, a cured meat deriving from the pork’s jowl or cheek. Unfortunately, since it is impossible to find it in the place where I live, I have no choice but to go for a substitute which, in this case, would be pancetta (a cured meat deriving from the pork’s belly), hoping that Italians understand my predicament! 😉
The other key ingredient is grated pecorino cheese from Amatrice, which must not be confused with Roman pecorino cheese as the flavor of the former is much more delicate than the latter’s. Finding Amatrice pecorino in the United States would be tantamount to an odyssey and, therefore, the suggested substitute is Parmigiano cheese instead of Roman pecorino whose strong flavor would alter the taste of the sauce.
In terms of cooking fat, the original recipe required the use of “strutto” (i.e., pork lard). However, nowadays its use has drastically diminished and contemporary cooks use much healthier olive oil instead. And since we are at it, the way real Amatriciana is done calls for you to use an iron pan (as opposed to a non-stick one) so that the guanciale or pancetta gets really nice and crisp.
As for which kind of pasta to use, De Cecco Spaghetti no. 12 is the way to go. If you happen to visit Rome, you’ll notice that all the trattoria signs “scream” at you loud and clear: “bucatini all’amatriciana” … just so you know, the use of this type of pasta is a Roman deviation from the original recipe. The only other kind of pasta that some cooks, and I underline some, allow as substitute to spaghetti is rigatoni: that’s because they are a ribbed pasta and, therefore, the sauce adheres to them well.
Last but certainly not least the seasoning. The secret seasoning ingredient of this recipe is… absolutely NOTHING. Not only does the recipe not contemplate the use of any onion, but it even bans the use of garlic. You may want to think of the Amatriciana pretty much as a vampire: you want to kill it? Add garlic. Yeah, yeah I hear you, garlic fan club. I know, I know, you love garlic so much you would put it on your buttered toast in the morning and eat it for breakfast. Plus, we are talking cooking here and what is cooking other than being creative and experiment with ingredients and flavors? Well, let me express my opinion. When it comes to spaghetti all’amatriciana, there is nothing to experiment about: centuries ago, the shepherds did a hell of a job for the sake of the palate of the human species. The shepherds’ recipe was a masterpiece centuries ago, it still is today and it will be for centuries to come! Trust me on this one and just give it a try, will you? 😉
7 lb fresh tomatoes
10 slices of pancetta, ¼ inch thick
¼ cup extravirgin olive oil
1 fresh chili pepper
½ cup of dry white wine
1 lb De Cecco Spaghetti no. 12
5 Tbsp grated Parmigiano cheese
Wash the tomatoes and make a cut in the shape of an x on the bottom of each of them with a knife. Bring a large pot of water to boil and put the tomatoes in the water for 30 seconds (be watchful, because you do not want to cook them). Strain the tomatoes and rinse them with very cold water. Pull the skin of the tomatoes away and cut them in half. Remove all the seeds and cut up the tomatoes into 1 inch pieces. Set aside.
Cut up the pancetta into bits (between ½ and ¾ of 1 inch).
In a large iron skillet, heat the oil and add the pancetta and the pepper. After a few minutes, add the wine and cook, stirring occasionally, until the wine evaporates and the pancetta gets golden and crispy.
Add the tomatoes, season with salt (to taste) and cook for about 20 minutes or until the sauce thickens. Remove the pepper from the skillet.
In the meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to boil, add the spaghetti and cook until al dente, stirring occasionally. Drain the spaghetti and put them in the skillet with the sauce. Add 3 Tbsp of Parmigiano cheese and toss to coat.
Put the spaghetti into the serving plates and dust the top of each plate with the rest of the Parmigiano cheese.
If you make it, I would love to hear from you how you like it since this is a recipe I am very fond of!