There is a lot of debate as to which is the authentic Amatriciana sauce, and I have done a little research around this after receiving one of those spiteful and angry comments by one of those sad people with no joy in their hearts. It turns out that, the original recipe was developed in the town of Matrice, in the southern Italian region called Molise, and it uses just fresh, ripe tomatoes (or canned if out of season), guanciale (very similar to non-smoked bacon, though made from another part of the pork, the cheek), pecorino cheese (the non super salty kind) and a not overly spicy chili pepper. The original recipe also calls for lard instead of olive oil to cook the sauce in, and the classic pasta used for this dish is spaghetti.
This straightened out, I can now say that the recipe I will be sharing with you is a slight evolution from the original, one that my family has been making for years and the one I have loved since childhood. I have never been to Matrice, or anywhere near it either, but every time I have ordered this dish in a restaurant anywhere else in Italy, it matched the flavors in this recipe.
I have a lot of childhood summer memories around this sauce; memories that would involve friends and family over for extended and lazy Sunday lunches under the trees in the garden. Spaghetti alla Amatriciana was one of my uncle’s favorite foods. He would dig in with such relish that my aunt started putting an adult-sized bib around his neck. Large pots of simmering Amatriciana sauce were often sending mouthwatering vapors around the house. Because, of course, you cannot just make enough for one party. You have to have extra!
I had not had Amatriciana in many years, and certainly not since moving to Hawai’i. Then, a few months ago, I dreamt of my uncle, who passed away in 2002, and that triggered a series of memories. Before I knew it, I was slicing onions and bacon and prepping for the sauce: no doses, just from memory, or, as we would say in Italian, a occhio – literally: by eye.
A few days ago I had the urge to make another batch. This time I wrote down the doses and cooking times to put into some structured recipe I could share. I had found some imported artisanal bucatini pasta at my favorite specialty store, so I decided to use those instead of spaghetti. And there you have it!
yields enough for 14-15 portions
– ca 1kg & 200 gr. (ca 2.6 lbs., or about 4 medium/large) sweet yellow onions – sliced (see image)
– 680 gr. (1.5 lbs.) thick cut, natural, uncured bacon, cut into strips
– 1 kg. & 650 gr. (4 14.5 oz. sized cans) canned, peeled tomatoes – the kind with no flavorings added
– 1-2 fresh red little chilies, or 1-2 teaspoons of crushed red chilies/red pepper – you want the sauce to have some fire, but not too much
– 1 teaspoon sugar
– sea salt
– freshly ground black pepper
– extra-virgin olive oil
– finely chopped fresh parsley to finish
1. Quickly puree the canned tomatoes in a blender. Heat a large, stainless steel stock pot and add the sliced bacon. Let it sizzle and cook for a couple of minutes, stirring, until it starts releasing the grease and getting a little color. Add the sliced onions, a couple of Tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, season with salt and pepper and stir, cooking for another couple of minutes.
2. Add the pureed tomatoes, season with salt and pepper again and stir. Add the crushed chili flakes and the teaspoon of sugar. Reduce the heat and let simmer, partly covered, for about and hour and 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.
You will know when the sauce is done because you will no longer smell the bacon, onion or tomatoes anymore. You will smell the sauce.
If you won’t be using the sauce right away, let it cool to room temperature then transfer it to appropriate closed containers and place in the refrigerator. If you plan to freeze it for later use, you might want to distribute the same into 1-2 portion containers so you will not have to defrost a whole batch just for a couple of people.
Being a pasta sauce to be used hot, you can defrost your dose by tipping the frozen blocks of sauce directly into a saucepan and gently bringing it back to simmer.
Bucatini are a thicker type of spaghetti with a hole running through them lengthwise. They are very satisfying with this sauce. Other good pastas for Amatriciana are spaghetti, of course, penne, pennette (smaller penne) or mezze penne (half penne).
Cook the bucatini (or pasta of choice) in abundant salted hot water until al dente. Drain the pasta into a colander and shake out the excess water really well. Pour the drained pasta back into the empty cooking pot, add the hot Amatriciana sauce and stir. Divide it into portions on plates, top with a little extra sauce if desired, drizzle with a little extra-virgin olive oil and finish with a sprinkling of finely chopped fresh parsley.
I have never eaten this pasta with cheese on top, and for as much as I love cheese, I prefer this one without. However, since the original calls for pecorino cheese, I leave that up to you. I think that either a little shaved parmigiano or pecorino would work, though bear in mind that pecorino tends to be more salty and also has a sour edge. It’s your call.
And by all means, if you are a messy eater like my uncle, wear a bib! 😀
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This recipe was originally published on June 24, 2011 in my Food Journey blog, which is now integrated into this one. As it turns out, it was the first recipe I posted on the blog.