This is a classic dish from the small town Amatrice in the region of Lazio, near Rome. There is, however, much controversy around the origins of the dish and the way in which it should properly be prepared. Amatrice was originally part of Abruzzo and only became connected to Rome through Lazio in the early 1900s. The residents of Amatrice originally made this dish without tomatoes, using only spaghetti, Pecorino and guanciale (cured pork jowl). This dish today is made in Rome and Amatrice with the same ingredients but also includes San Marzano tomatoes and sometimes red onion. I used to omit the onion but after watching Molto Mario and hearing the venerable Mr. Mario Batali speak about the dish I have since changed my mind and incorporate sliced red onions wholeheartedly.
Ingredients (serves 6-8 as a first course):
-1 pound best quality bucatini or spaghetti
-1 cup guanciale or pancetta, cut into bite size pieces (not too small)
-Salt & pepper
-Extra virgin olive oil
-1-2 tablespoons of hot chili flakes
-1 can whole San Marzano tomatoes
-1 red onion, sliced into half moons
Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Meanwhile slice the guanciale into chunks. Add 2 tablespoons of olive oil to a large saute pan over medium high heat and add the guanciale, followed by the onion about 1 minute later and cook until most of the fat has rendered and the pieces are slightly crispy (but not carmelized). Remove from the heat and discard all fat except for 1/4 cup.
Add 4 tablespoons of salt to your boiling pasta water and drop your pasta. Cook according to the package instructions but remove 45 seconds prior to being done. Bring your sauce pan to a boil and drop the pasta into the sauce. Toss for 1 minute over high heat. Add more pepper and grate a healthy amount of Pecorino Romano over the top. Serve immediately.
James is a food writer and Bay Area chef who owns and runs a private dinner party and cooking class business specializing in regional Italian and Spanish cuisine. See CookWithJames.com