When I ate my first fork full sitting at one of those charming outdoor restaurants in Rome, I was ready to just eat a dish of pasta (the way you eat a grilled cheese), but I remember stopping and saying, “whoa, what’s in this? It looks so very ordinary, and the way I think, I’m already eating tomorrow’s bowl when I haven’t finished todays. I came home and I made it several days in a row with fresh tomatoes and then I forgot about it, because summer was over and I thought this dish HAD to be made with fresh tomatoes. I was so positive that every plate of pasta all’ Amatriciana was made with fresh tomatoes, but now I’m not so sure.
I’m going to ask you to trust me that this is a spectacular sauce. It looks like just another dish of spaghetti. In fact, It looks like that 80’s hit, spaghetti pomodoro, that I don’t much care for as it usually reeks of garlic.
As I followed the instructions to chop canned Italian tomatoes, and drain the juice, I thought I might be disappointed. How wrong I was. There simply are no disappointments when cooking a Marcella recipe. The combination of butter, onion, and tomato is very sweet, made sultry with pancetta, and cut just right with hot pepper.
Retro Rose thought I used FRESH tomatoes. I fooled her.
There were three of us for dinner. Two of us were not very hungry. One whole pound of pasta completely disappeared, and that never happens. We are Italians. We eat good food every day. But, we were jumping up and down (almost) remarking over and over again that this is so good. Retro Rose already took home some of my pancetta and the recipe so she can make it.
So trust me, when Retro Rose gets excited about pasta, it’s a big deal, because she has never counted carbs in her life, and she eats pasta several times a week.
So if you don’t trust me, trust her. She’s been eating pasta for 74 years.
I googled this sauce to see how others might be preparing this dish. I saw a lot of mistakes.
I saw garlic.
Please, please do not use garlic in this. It will rob you of sweet onion taste.
I saw olive oil.
I’m not as picky on this, but if you do use olive, also use butter. Even though by the end of the dish you don’t really see butter and onions, you will taste them. They make the dish.
I saw bacon instead of pancetta.
While I can see that pancetta might be more difficult for some to purchase, it delivers a completely different taste than bacon. You can purchase just a small piece for this recipe at deli counters that sell Boars Head, if you don’t have access to an Italian market. Our local Whole Foods actually sells pancetta made here by a local farmer.
I saw canned tomatoes and fresh tomatoes. Good canned tomatoes are better than bad fresh tomatoes.
Bucatini, a thick, hollow spaghetti is the traditional pasta used in this dish. It’s the perfect pasta to cook al dente, and add a thick, dicey sauce must especially blanket a pasta with a bite to it. I have never once experienced a true al dente pasta in an Italian restaurant in America. But, that is all you get in Italy, and it’s so much more al dente than you might think. Keep in mind that pasta continues to cook once you strain it. If you think your “al dente”needs another minute, it’s done.
Normally, I have at least 2 pounds on hand, but just when I need it, my Italian market is out of it until late November. I use De Cecco kamut spaghetti. I love this pasta, find it meaty and, while it is NOT gluten free, it’s a great choice for those with wheat sensitivity.
Cooking Italy - Pasta all’ Amatriciana, Not Just Another Dish of Spaghetti
- 1 medium onion diced
- 2 tablespoon butter
- 3 tablespoon vegetable oil
- 1/4 ”slice pancetta cut into 1”strips (1/2”wide)
- 1 1/2 cups Italian tomatoes diced,drained of juice
- 1/2 small dried hot chili pepper or 1 t chile pepper flakes or to taste
- 1/2 teaspoon salt or taste
- 1 pound pasta
- 1 tablespoon Pecorino cheese freshly grated
- 3 tablespoons Parmigiano Reggiano freshly grated
- Saute onion in oil and butter on medium until it's pale softened, almost golden. Add pancetta, cooking for about 2-3 minutes.
- Add tomatoes, chili pepper, salt and simmer for 25 minutes. Taste and correct for salt and pepper.
- Toss pasta with sauce then add both cheeses.
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Recipe for filling adapted from Marcella Hazan’sEssentials of Classical Cooking