This is the Big Bang, the prime mover. Without this dish, I wouldn’t have thought about unleashing yet another food blog on the world. But this is the first dish that got our kids really excited about food, and gave mommy and daddy some hope that all would not be mashed sweet potatoes and plain fried chicken for the rest of our lives.
It might just look like spaghetti and sauce but if you are not familiar with all’Amatriciana it is a sauce that goes to eleven. Sure, there were other dishes that Willa and Phoebe liked that were already “normal” food, and we still eat those mashed sweet potatoes and fried chicken to this day. But this is their first-food love and it’s the one they ask for, week after week. Maybe it was Dean Martin on Spotify in the background crooning “That’s Amore.” Maybe it was mommy and daddy slurping up the pasta with each of them, Lady & the Tramp style. Maybe it was a bottle of Sangiovese that put mommy and daddy in a good mood that night after a long day at work. Whatever it was, it was magic.
Bucatini all’Amatriciana is a classic dish originally from (shocker) Amatrice outside of Rome. This version, as explained below in the notes, is meant to be a little more kid friendly with the slices and dices involved. You can buy guanciale at most good Italian delis, specialty food stores, or of course, online.
- 3 Tbsp olive oil, split
- 6 oz guanciale, slivered (or pancetta if you can't procure guanciale)
- 1 medium yellow onion, small dice (about 1 cup)
- 2 tsp kosher salt, plus additional salt for pasta water
- 1/2 tsp crushed red pepper
- 28 oz can whole tomatoes, roughly crushed by hand
- 1 lb bucatini
- 4 oz grated Pecorino Romano cheese
- Freshly ground black pepper for garnish (optional)
- Heat 2 Tbsp of the oil over medium-low heat in a 2-qt sauce pan, and add the guanciale. Render the guanciale until crispy (you should barely hear it crackling anymore). It will burn quickly near the end of this process so mind your heat—it should take around 10 to 15 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon to a bowl. There should be additional fat in the pan from the guanciale. Leave it!
- Add the onion, 2 tsp of the salt, and the crushed red pepper into the sauce pan. Cook until the onions are nearly beginning to brown.
- Add the guanciale back into the pan. Add the crushed tomatoes to pan and give it a good stir. Bring to a simmer, then reduce heat to low. Stir and scrape down the sides occasionally for 1-1/2 to 2 hours, until the sauce is brick red. Most of your onion and guanciale will essentially be melted into the sauce. The sauce can be prepared in advance through this step in the morning or days ahead of time.
- Bring a large pot of well-salted water to a boil and add the bucatini. Cook for a minute or two less than the packaged instructions—the pasta will complete cooking in the sauce. Just before draining the pasta, remove 3 or 4 ladles of the pasta water to a non-metallic bowl and set aside (metal = hot). Then drain the pasta.
- Transfer sauce to the pasta pot and add the pasta back into it. Keep the pot over low heat and add ladles of water back in until the pasta is nicely coated and the sauce is just turning soupy again. You might not need all the water.
- Remove from heat. Add the last Tbsp of olive oil and around a quarter of the Pecorino cheese and stir to combine. Adjust salt as needed (you're adding more cheese in the next step as a garnish, so relax a little with the salt).
- Serve in pasta bowls, garnished with the remaining cheese and black pepper if desired. Wear bibs, adults too.
- For the guanciale, freeze your 6 oz chunk and then slice first with a mandoline, making mini slices of something like bacon. If you don't have a mandoline see if you can get it sliced where you buy it. Then create your slivers by cutting across the slices. For "real" all'Amatriciana you can keep your pieces of guanciale larger so that they don't entirely dissolve into the sauce. But if you have small kids keep it small, it goes down better. And always, always, call it "bacon." No one likes to talk about where guanciale comes from. (Don't use actual bacon bacon, either—it's too smoky for this dish.)
- The dinner comes together very quickly if you make the sauce over a weekend or even early in the morning before heading out to work. Alternatively, you can even make this entire dish in around 40 minutes by using a wide sauté pan for the sauce and substituting Tomato Passata (usually found in a jar or a box, like Pomi) for the whole tomatoes. You won't quite reach the depth-of-flavor as with the longer version but it's not a crisis-level difference.
- Update: I've heard from some of you that have made this that finding guanciale is harder than I think it is, and that the dish comes out very salty if you use pancetta. So, leave out the salt (except for the pasta water) if you make this with pancetta. You may also want to add more olive oil, if your pancetta is particularly lean.