When I cooked this pasta the other night, spaghetti all'amatriciana, I was surprised to find that it hasn't made its way onto the Dinner Tonight column already. It's one of my favorite quick dinners. A bit like pasta carbonara, it's a member of a trio of pastas based around bacon and cheese in the area of Italy around Rome. The closest cousin is pasta alla gricia (sometimes known as "amatriciana bianco"), with just bacon, cheese, pasta, and sometimes chili or sausage depending on who you ask. Carbonara never has chili but adds egg and lots of extra pepper. Amatriciana draws its deliciousness from the sweetness of onion and tomato.
If you can find guanciale (a type of bacon made from pig jowl), it's truly superior, but pancetta or American bacon will do fine. I use tomato sauce when I have it on hand, but simply starting from canned tomatoes and simmering the sauce a little longer is about the same. This recipe from the Babbo restaurant website calls for thick half moons of red onion, which brings a sweetness I think works wonderfully against the spice of the chili and the acidity of the tomato. Truly a classic, standout dish.
- 1/2 pound guanciale or pancetta, thinly sliced and cut into small pieces
- 3 cloves garlic
- 1 large red onion, halved and sliced 1/2-inch thick
- 1 teaspoon hot red pepper flakes
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
- 1 1/2 cups basic tomato sauce, or a 14-ounce can of tomatoes
- 1 pound pasta, traditionally bucatini
- 1 cup flat-leaf parsley, leaves only
- Pecorino Romano cheese, for grating
Bring a large pot of salty water to boil.
In the meantime, heat a large skillet over medium-low heat and add the guanciale, pancetta, or bacon. Cook gently as the fat begins to render, turning occasionally. When it begins to brown, add the red onion, garlic, chili flakes and a splash of olive oil if the bacon hasn't rendered enough fat to coat the vegetables.
Increase the heat to medium-high and cook until the onions are soft and beginning to brown and the bacon is golden brown. Add the tomato sauce or canned tomatoes with their juice. If using canned tomatoes, break them up with a wooden spoon and cook them down for 20-25 minutes. If using sauce, simmer for 10 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Cook the pasta until just before al dente, then reserve some pasta water and drain. Add the pasta to the tomato sauce to finish cooking, adding pasta water to keep it moist if necessary. Add the parsley, toss well, and divide among plates. Top with cheese and serve immediately.