With great memories of my recent Rome trip still strong, I decided to make one of the city’s most popular pasta dishes for supper tonight – Bucatini all’Amatriciana – as I had some pancetta in the fridge and some nice large ripe plum tomatoes. As it turned out, bucatini-shaped pasta wasn’t on any local supermarket shelves this morning so I decided to make do with whatever I had at home; then by evening my meal for one had turned into a meal for three with Jonathan and Lyndsey coming round, so Jonathan was charged to stop en route to my house to find the best alternative he could – and tortiglioni worked very well.
Like many popular dishes, finding an authentic recipe is fraught with controversy. Added to this, I don’t think I’ve actually eaten Bucatini all’Amatriciana out – though Robert chose it on our last day at the trattoria near his and Jenny’s apartment – so I wasn’t completely sure of what I was looking for. Out came the recipe books – but with with surprisingly little help. However, that great Italian food writer, Marcella Hazan, offered a recipe in The Classic Italian Cookbook, as did Fred Plotkin in his lovely book, The Authentic Pasta Book. Fred told me that the recipe originated in the town of Amatrice, in a hilly region northeast of Rome. He also uses fresh plum tomatoes while Marcella uses tinned ones. I wanted to use my fresh tomatoes so went that route. You get quite a different flavour that I like, but I would certainly unhesitatingly use tinned tomatoes another time – especially convenient for a last-minute supper. I also strayed from tradition with the pancetta. Although this is a common alternative, the original recipe uses guanciale, a salt-cured pork cheek.
It’s really a very quick dish to put together, so it’s a good idea to assemble all the ingredients before you get going.
For healthy-sized portions, I allow 100g pasta per person, so measured that out and got it going in some salted boiling water. I skinned 3 large plum tomatoes, deseeded them and chopped the flesh coarsely. Then I chopped 1 medium onion and gently fried it in some olive oil. Next I added 140g of chopped pancetta and about 1 level teaspoon dried chilli flakes.
I gave this a good stir and fried for a couple of minutes then added the chopped tomatoes and mixed it all well and seasoned with salt (only a little because of the pancetta) and pepper. I then left it to gently bubble. After a short time I decided it didn’t look quite as sauce-like and tomato-y as I wanted so I added a good glug of dry vermouth and a healthy squirt of tomato concentrate. By the time the pasta was ready, the sauce has cooked down to a nice thick conistency. Just before serving, check the seasoning.
I drained the pasta and put into a warmed serving bowl, added the sauce and stirred. Then over the top I grated a fairly large amount of pecorino cheese and stirred it all well together so everything is nicely amalgamated. The bowl went to the table ready for everyone to help themselves – and add a good grating of black pepper.
The sauce is a delicious combination of the salty pancetta, slightly acidic but sweet tomatoes and with a great spicy edge from the chilli. The added pecorino also gives depth. It’s a great standby recipe as some form of tomatoes are always on hand in my house; I’ve also taken to keeping packs of very good pancetta (and chorizo) from Waitrose in the fridge and if I didn’t have pecorino cheese, I always have Parmesan. With a crisp green salad on the side, it was a lovely supper.