Don't be fooled by chain Italian restaurants or the grocery store end-cap promoting 'exotic' or 'premium' red pasta sauces like Tomato Vodka or some nonsense that probably has the the word "Tuscan" or "Herb" or "Creation" in it. These sauces are farces, concocted for the appletinis and Cheesecake Factory crowd.
Out in Lazio, they've got the ill sauce you've never even seen before. Sugo all'Amatriciana (SOO-goh ahl-LAHM-ah-tree-CHA-nah) is the best red pasta sauce that's ever been created by humans, and especially Italian humans, who created it 300 years ago if wikipedia is to be believed.
Real amatriciana is made with guanciale, which is Italian for hog jowl bacon. If you go about halfway towards the Tiber on Corso Vittorio Emmanuele II (the main East-west street in that part of Rome) from where Julius Caesar was murdered, and turn right on to Vicolo Savelli, there's a little restaurant called Pizzeria Montecarlo. In addition to having a whole bunch of recommendation stickers in their windows from French travelguide books, they serve Bucatini all'Amatriciana to you on a tin plate for cheap. And boy is it ever good.
While Montecarlo is pretty cheap, the Eurostar from Florence to Rome is thirty-nine Euros ninety and two hours each way, so my friends and I couldn't just pop down there whenever we had a hankering for it. Guanciale isn't the easiest thing in the world to get ahold of in a Florentine supermarket. So we substituted cubetti di pancetta (Italian pig-belly bacon, in cubes), which came prepackaged in little lunchables-looking things. Just for amatriciana! Or carbonara, really, but it doesn't matter. It was perfect for making amatriciana, or amatreech, which is what one calls it to be silly.
Well imagine my dismay after I finished my MA and came back home to gli Stati Uniti and found that pancetta so doesn't come in cubes from the supermarket. It comes in slices here, like bologna. Which is a bunch of baloney, because it's near impossible to turn a bunch of round, thin slices of unsmoked bacon into little cubes. I've tried! I also tried salt pork, which comes in a big brick of salty... pork. It's the rightish part of the pig, but it's inedibly salty. Luckily for both me and you, gentle reader, not only have I recently found that the alternative grocery store Trader Joe's actually carries pancetta cubes, but in the recipe below I have included all of the substitutions I've used to create reasonably-delicious simulacra of amatriciana.
- 750g (26oz) Chopped Tomatoes
- 750g (26oz) Strained TomatoesFor both of these I use the Pomi-brand that comes in little UHT milk-type boxes. It's from Italy, I can get it in the pasta aisle in the US, and I swear that it tastes different from American tomato products.
- 1 etto / 100g (4oz) Pancetta Cubes
- OR coldcut-style Pancetta, as available in the US, sliced into small pieces
- OR Salt Pork + 2 large potatoes, peeled and quartered lengthwise (to absorb excess salt)
- 1/2 white onion, diced (optional) I feel that onion is just a filler, and don't use it since I'm not getting killed by an exchange rate any more
- 1 hot pepper, whole (optional)
- 500g (1 lb.) Bucatini (somtimes called Percatelli in the US) pasta, or Gemelli if you want a short pasta instead of a noodle or Capellini if your guests have already arrived and you still haven't put the pasta on
- 1 metric buttload (an abundance) of Pecorino Romano, grated or shredded
- ~350ml (~1 1/2 cups) of that recorked Chianti sitting in your pantry
- Rosemary, Basil, Salt & Pepper, to taste
- If using onions, sweat until translucent in a small pan. Set aside.
- In a large aluminum or nonstick pot, fry pancetta in its own fat, medium-high flame, stirring frequently, until it appears cooked, about 5 minutes.
- Immediately add chopped tomatoes, strained tomatoes, onions, in that order to prevent splattering.
- Pour yourself a glass (~200ml) of that Chianti. Then pour the remainder (half a cup) in the sauce. Do not use your unopened 1997 Castelli del Grevepasa Chianti Classico Riserva "Clemente VII" for this, unless you're opening it anyway ahead of dinner in order to let it breathe. If you lived in Florence, you would have a few half-full bottles of some €1,60 garbage vino di tavola lying around specifically for this.
- Add rosemary, basil, salt, pepper. Mix thoroughly until color of chianti blends fully with tomato sauce. If using salt pork, DO NOT ADD SALT. You will later wish to kill yourself if you do.
- Add hot pepper (if using) and potatoes (if using salt pork) at this time. Let simmer uncovered for about 10 minutes.
- Cover, let simmer on very low for about an hour.
- In your largest, deepest lidded sautée pan fill halfway (4"-5") with water, add salt (DO NOT ADD SALT IF USING SALT PORK, blah blah), cover until boiling. Using a deep sautée pan conserves water and still allows a half-kilo of pasta to float freely like in a pastaiola. Plus you probably don't have a pastaiola and are already using the pot you normally boil pasta in for the sauce, aren't you?
- Uncover water, add pasta (and a little olive oil if you're from Naples or something) and cook until al dente.
- Drain pasta through colander. Do not "wash the pasta off" you cretin! Who told you to do that? Porca miseria.
- Take sauce off flame. Remove pepper and potatoes if they're in there. Discard (or eat them, whatever).
- Add pasta to sauce pot. Grate or mix in pecorino until sauce looks orange. This usually takes most of the cheese wedge you get prepackaged at the store. One of those tubs of pre-shredded cheese is about enough, but try to get the kind that looks like pecorino-colored shredded carrots instead of pecorino-colored powdered dishwasher soap. The larger shreds blend better.
Serve it straight from the pot unless it's a formal occasion. The fewer dishes you use, the fewer you have to clean up. Feeds six. Buon appetito.