I was thinking about all this tonight as I was making dinner. We have so many things we like to make as a direct result of our travels and people we've met. This is one of them, something we fell in love with in Italy and is now one of our absolute favorites. Sugo all'amatriciana is a tomato-based sauce for pasta (traditionally, bucatini, or thick round noodles with a hole through the center). In Rome, they make it with onions, garlic, olive oil, pepperoncini, tomatoes, and guanciale, which is delicious, fatty, cured pork jowl. I use the recipe from the Babbo cookbook, though I totally, and inexcusably, Americanized it: I use good, thick cut bacon in place of the guanciale and I eat it with al dente spaghetti. Still, the whole dish is flat out delicious, I promise, especially if you use Mario Batali's recipe for basic tomato sauce, which is redolent of thyme and slightly sweet from the addition of grated carrot, as the base.
Spaghetti all'amatriciana (adapted from Mario Batali's restaurant Babbo and its eponymous cookbook)
Notes on ingredients:
- My favorite canned tomatoes are organic whole Muir Glen tomatoes and, recently, Alta Cucina's canned tomatoes. I also like La Valle San Marzano tomatoes, though they are hard to find. I'm picky about canned tomatoes but generic are probably going to be fine. You may need to adjust cooking times/seasonings for watery or bland tasting tomatoes, though, which is not a huge deal.
- Notes on bacon/guanciale/pancetta: Someone really intent on authenticity would seek out the guanciale. Someone mildly concerned with authenticity would use pancetta. Someone who wants to be able to make really good pasta with what she has on hand would just make it with bacon and be happy. Another thing: 3/4 pound of pork product is kind of a decadent amount. Some nights, when I'm feeling reasonable, I cut that amount in half and it still tastes good.
- 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 Spanish onion, chopped in 1/4-inch dice
- 4 garlic cloves, peeled and thinly sliced
- 3 tablespoons chopped fresh thyme leaves, or 1 tablespoon dried
- 1/2 medium carrot, finely grated/shredded (I use the small holes of a box grater)
- 2 (28-ounce) cans peeled whole tomatoes, crushed by hand and juices reserved
- Salt and sugar, to taste
- In a 3 quart saucepan, heat the olive oil over medium to low-medium heat. Add the onion and garlic and cook until soft and light golden brown, about 8 to 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.
- Add the thyme and carrot and cook 5 minutes more, until the carrot is soft and melting into the onion mixture.
- Add the hand crushed tomatoes, with their juices, to the pan and bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring often. Lower the heat and simmer until as thick as hot cereal. (Babbo says this should take 30 minutes but this step takes me more like 45 minutes to an hour.)
- Season to taste. I add a large pinch of kosher salt (or two). You really have to taste your sauce. For instance, sometimes I find that my tomatoes are really acidic, in which case I will add a teaspoon of sugar.
- ¾ pound guanciale, or pancetta, or good bacon
- 3 garlic cloves
- half of 1 red onion, sliced ½-inch thick
- 1 ½ teaspoons hot red pepper flakes
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
- 1 ½ cups basic tomato sauce
- 1 pound spaghetti (or bucatini)
- Flat-leaf parsley, leaves only
- Pecorino Romano, for grating
2. If using guanciale or pancetta, thinly slice. If using bacon, stack a few slices on top of each other and slice in half, length-wise, before cutting into small chunks. Place the guanciale/pancetta/bacon in a 12- to 14-inch sauté pan in a single layer and cook over medium-low heat until most of the fat has been rendered from the meat. Turn occasionally. Remove the meat to a plate lined with paper towels and discard half the fat, leaving the remainder in the pan.
3. To the pan, add the garlic, onion slices, and hot pepper flakes. Return the guanciale/pancetta/bacon to the pan with the vegetables, and cook over medium-high heat for 5 minutes, or until the onions, garlic and guanciale are light golden brown. Add the tomato sauce, reduce the heat, and simmer for 5-10 minutes.
3. Cook the pasta in the boiling water according to the package directions, until al dente. Drain the pasta and add it to the simmering sauce. Add the parsley leaves, increase the heat to high and toss to coat. Divide the pasta among four warmed pasta bowls. Top with freshly grated Pecorino cheese and serve immediately.