A couple months ago, my friend Steph asked me what was in Spaghetti all’Amatriciana, which just so happens to be one of my favorite Italian dishes. The minimalist combination of tomato sauce, fried pancetta and chili flake tossed with noodles (usually spaghetti or bucatini) is comfort food at its simplest and best.
I first fell in love with Amatriciana when it was a regular menu item at Buca di Beppo, the chain of kitschy, obnoxious, family-style Italian-American restaurants. I would have been happy replicating something similar to that version, but I was extremely pleased to see that Babbo Ristorante, the flagship of Mario Batali’s restaurant empire, had posted their recipe online.
Mainly due to laziness and because guanciale is not the readily available at Safeway, I took a few liberties with the ingredients. I picked up a box of Trader Joe’s Italian Tomato Starter Sauce, which I felt was basic enough to use instead of making a batch of tomato sauce as outlined in the original recipe. I also picked up some chopped pancetta because I couldn’t find whole or sliced pancetta. You can substitute bacon in a pinch, but you’ll get a much bolder flavor than intended. (which can be good or bad depending on how you look at it…) I used bucatini (thick round noodle with a hole in it) for this attempt, but my wife’s not a big fan of bucatini, so next time I do this, I’ll just use regular spaghetti.
Overall, this dish was really easy to make and the final results were great. If you’re not into spicy food, then adjust the amount of chili flakes to taste. Also, the Trader Joe’s Starter Sauce is a shortcut I’ll gladly take when making this dish again.
½ pound pancetta, thinly sliced
3 garlic cloves
1 red onion, halved and sliced ½-inch thick
1½ teaspoons hot red pepper flakes
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1½ cups Trader Joe’s Italian Tomato Starter Sauce
1 pound bucatini or spaghetti
1 bunch of flat-leaf parsley, leaves only
Pecorino Romano, for grating
1. Being 6 quarts of water to a boil and add 2 tablespoons of salt.
2. Place the pancetta in a 12- to 14-inch sauté pan in a single layer and cook over medium-low heat until most of the fat has been rendered from the meat, turning occasionally. Remove the meat to a plate lined with paper towels and discard half the fat, leaving enough to coat the garlic, red onion and red pepper flakes. Return the pancetta to the pan with the vegetables, and cook over medium-high heat for 5 minutes or until the onions, garlic and pancetta are light golden brown. Season with salt and pepper, add the Trader Joe’s Italian Tomato Starter Sauce, reduce the heat, and simmer for 10 minutes.
3. Cook the pasta in the boiling water until al dente approximately one minute less than the time on the package directions. (The pasta will finish cooking when you add it to the sauce.) Drain the pasta and add it to the simmering sauce. Add the parsley leaves, increase the heat to high and toss to coat. Divide the pasta among four warmed pasta bowls. Top with freshly grated Pecorino cheese and serve immediately.
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