One of the best things about moving from Bologna to Rome was discovering a completely new cuisine. After all, Italian cuisine tends to be very loyal to regional tradition: for example, you’ll find lasagna in the North but are hard pressed to find it in the South. Each province’s culinary repertoire is dictated by the climate, seasonal produce, and history of the region among other things.
Rome’s cuisine tends to be rustic, hearty, and simple in its ingredients. The use of offal or undesirable cuts of meat is due to Rome’s former abattoir, once the biggest in all of Europe, while pecorino or sheep’s milk cheese is favored over parmesan thanks to Lazio’s stable sheep population.Many Roman dishes like spaghetti alla carbonara and saltimbocca are already well-known in the States, but there are also a few dishes that are less familiar that I’ll introduce you to, like coda alla vaccinara, cacio e pepe, and the subject of today’s post, bucatini all’amatriciana.
If you’re not familiar, bucatini* all’amatriciana is a dish consisting of a tomato sauce made with guanciale** and sometimes onion that is traditionally served over bucatini (or rigatoni) and then topped with a healthy dose of freshly grated pecorino cheese. As the name suggests, this dish actually originated in the town of Amatrice, in the Lazio region of Italy. It gradually made its way over to Rome in the early 20th century, where it was well received and quickly became part of Roman cuisine despite being invented elsewhere.
Amatriciana was what I ate for my first ever dinner in Rome, and it was love at first bite. Forget the Coliseum and the Trevi Fountain — Rome’s real treasure was pasta.
During my first months in Rome, I found there was often no need for me to look at the menu, as I already knew what I was ordering; I thought carefully about the different amatriciane I sampled in various restaurants in order to figure out who had the best recipe in Rome (answer: Da Bucatino in Testaccio). I developed my own recipe at home so I could enjoy this dish whenever I wanted and for less money. My sister joked that it was only a matter of time before I woke up one day to discover that I had turned into a bucatino noodle.
I have since branched out from amatriciana and explored more of the Eternal City’s cuisine, but it still remains my favorite of all Roman dishes. Thankfully it is extremely easy to make at home, requiring only a few ingredients that can be thrown together and cooked in no time at all. Don’t let the simplicity of the recipe fool you, though — it packs a flavor punch (how can you go wrong with cheese and guanciale?), and there’s nothing like a nice bowl of this when the weather gets cold and you want something cozy. Be sure to have some good bread handy to get every last bit of the sauce when you’re done.
Note that in a pinch you can use pancetta instead of guanciale here, as it is more readily available in the United States. You can also use another pasta shape besides rigatoni or bucatini, just make sure it is substantial enough to hold the pieces of guanciale in the sauce.
- 1 lb bucatini
- Olive oil
- 1 small onion, chopped
- 4 ounces of guanciale, chopped in to small pieces
- 1 (28-32 oz can) crushed tomatoes
- Freshly grated Pecorino romano cheese
Heat some olive oil in a large skillet over medium low heat. Sauté the onion and guanciale in the olive oil until the guanciale is crispy and the onion is soft and translucent. Next, add the crushed tomatoes to the skillet and stir everything around. Bring the sauce to a bubble and let it cook for a few minutes. Then lower the heat and bring it down to a simmer. While the sauce simmers, put your water on to boil for the bucatini. Salt the water when it comes to a boil, and then cook the bucatini until al dente (follow the package instructions on the pasta). Season the amatriciana sauce to taste with salt and pepper (you probably won’t need much salt, as the guanciale and cheese are salty). After straining the pasta, add it to back to the pot it was cooking in and add the sauce to the pot. Toss the pasta around in the sauce and add as much Pecorino romano as you want to taste. Serve with lots of crusty bread to not lot any of the sauce go to waste.
* Bucatini is a pasta similar to very thick spaghetti.
** Guanciale is cured pork cheek (guancia is cheek in Italian). If you are not able to find guanciale, you can substitute pancetta, which is more readily available in the U.S. The flavor is slightly different, but it’s good in a pinch.