Amatriciana sauce is one of the easiest pasta sauces in the world. It’s also one of the most often butchered — typically by someone adding too much to it. It really is simple, centered around three ingredients: bright red San Marzano tomatoes, funky pecorino cheese, and fatty cured pork cheek, known as guanciale. If you’re staying traditional, that needs to be pretty much it.
The beauty of a great salsa or sugo like this is that it allows each ingredient to do its thing and shine. The tomato is super bright and almost tart. The pecorino adds a creamy edge and a slight cheese funk. And then there’s the guanciale. It has a cellared funk, is super fatty, and offers the flavor of unsmoked bacon turned up to eleven. Those three elements combined and tossed with some hefty pasta are the epitome of a chef’s kiss.
The best part is that you really don’t need a lot of experience to create this dish. It’s easy for dates or after work. The most difficult part will be sourcing some guanciale. In a pinch, you can use pancetta, but you’ll be losing some of the deeper tastes a guanciale holds. The fat won’t be quite the same, but it will work.
Other than that, if you can fry bacon, you can make this dish. Let’s get to it!
- 1/2 pound bucatini
- 8 oz. guanciale
- 2 oz. pecorino
- 2 cans San Marzano tomatoes
- White pepper
- Black pepper
You’re going to be tempted to add onions or garlic to this sauce. You truly don’t need it. Trust in the ingredients and the power of good food working together. As with a lot of great Italian cookery, simplicity is often where you find the highest highs.
As for the pasta, it’s pretty common to get this with bucatini around Rome. I’ve seen it with rigatoni or even hand-torn pasta. The point is to use a large format that can hold a lot of sauce.
What You’ll Need:
- Large pot
- Large saucepan
- Kitchen knife
- Box grater
- Fill a large pot with water and add in a large pinch of salt. Bring to a boil. Add in pasta.
- Cube the guanciale and add to the cold saucepan. Put the pan on medium-high heat.
- Fry the guanciale until it’s browned.
- Drain off most of the excess fat (there will be a lot) leaving a thin layer of fat in the pan.
- In the meantime, empty the cans of tomatoes into a bowl and crush them with your hands.
- Add the tomatoes to the saucepan with guanciale. Hit the sauce with two big pinches of salt and white pepper. Stir.
- Simmer the sauce until the tomato just starts to reduce (less than ten minutes).
- Once the pasta hits al dente, use the tongs to transfer the pasta to the sauce.
- Add about 1/4 of pasta water to the sauce along with the grated cheese.
- Toss the pasta well with tongs until it’s fully coated. Kill the heat and let the pasta rest for two minutes or so.
- Plate up in a pasta bowl and grate some more pecorino over the top and hit with a few cranks of the black pepper mill and garnish with a basil leaf.
This is so bright and light while holding some serious depth, thanks to that fatty and funky guanciale. It was really hard not to eat two bowls the second I served it up. Also, it takes under 20 minutes to make — seriously. All you’re really doing is boiling some pasta, frying some pork cheek, and simmering a sauce for maybe ten minutes.
That means a lot of big flavors for very little effort. The tomato is just lovely and the cubes of crunchy, fried pork cheek are like little morsels of pure bliss. Looking for something easy, new, and delicious as spring gets kicking? This is a perfect pasta to expand your repitoire with.