Thursday, October 15, 2009

In Search of...The Real Recipe for Bucatini all' Amatriciana

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It is amazing how possesive people can be about their traditional dishes. A couple of days ago, I watched Giada de Laurentis cook this dish with her aunt on her program.  It was funny, almost embarassing for poor Giada as for every step in the process, there was some criticism from her aunt...and she was not subtle about it!  They argued over the use of garlic, whether the onions should be chopped or minced, the aunt wanted vinegar addded so Giada relented with white wine, and on and on.  Mind you, they were making the Roman version of the Amatriciana original, so I can't imagine what it would have been like had it been the latter.  I think the whole region would have been up in arms.

I became some intrigued that I decided to do some research as to what the real deal and all the confusion was about.  And here is the scoop.   This zesty pancetta and tomato sauce is commonly associated with Lazio and Rome, but it is actually from the town of Amatrice, which was just over the border into the Abruzzo before Mussolini redrew the maps. The inventors were the shepherds from the region now known as Lazio, so it makes sense that the original recipe did not call for wine or garlic.  Now, the roman version is something else!

Because of the simplicity of Amatriciana sauce, be sure to use the finest ingredients. It makes a big difference especially considering that there are only a few critical ones.

And Giada de Laurentis:

Serves 4


1 pound bucatini or thick stranded spaghetti (see note)

1/4 pound (100 g) pancetta or guanciale, diced (see note)

1 pound (400 g) ripe tomatoes (4-5 plum tomatos), blanched, peeled, seeded and chopped (you can certainly use San Marzano canned)

Half an onion, minced

A hot pepper, seeded and shredded (or leave it whole if you want to remove it)

1/2 cup olive oil

An abundance (a cup) of freshly grated Pecorino Romano


Set the pasta water to heat, salt it when it boils, and cook the pasta. While this is happening, heat the oil in a skillet, add the diced meat, and cook until it browns, stirring the pieces about. Remove them to a sheet of absorbent paper with a slotted spoon and keep them warm. Add the onion to the grease in the pan, together with the hot pepper, and when it begins to color add the tomato pieces, which should be well drained. Cook, stirring, for 5-6 minutes, then return the diced pancetta to the pot and heat it through. Drain the pasta while it's still a little al dente, turn it into the skillet with the sauce, cook a minute more more, stirring the pasta to coat the strands, and serve, with grated pecorino.  You can sprinkle some parsley on top, but don't let Giada's aunt catch you!


First, Italians traditionally make Amatriciana sauce with Guanciale, salt-cured pork jowl. It is similar to flat pancetta, but not as lean, and therefore has a richer, more voluptuous feel to it. If you can find guanciale, by all means use it, though in its absence pancetta will work. Bacon is not a good substitute, because it is smoked and also contains sugar not present in either pancetta or guanciale.

Second, Amatriciana sauce derives from a much older sauce called La Gricia, which the shepherds used to make by sautéing diced guanciale so gently as to keep it from browning, and adding freshly boiled pasta, a healthy dusting of pepper, and grated pecorino Romano. The Amatriciana sauce, with tomatoes, was initially enjoyed by the nobility, because only they could afford tomatoes.

Third, the people of Amatrice prefer to use spaghetti in preparing their signature dish. The use of bucatini is more a Roman thing. The different shapes do produce different textures, and which you prefer is up to you.


  1. MMMMM! Mom can we have this for dinner?

  2. Good job. Well done on the facts and the recipe.


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