Bucatini all’Amatriciana

We are going to Italy in a few weeks and I must admit that I haven’t been excited about a trip like I have been for this one. And I have been doing a bit of reading.

All’Amatriciana means ”in the style of Amatrice”, Amatrice being a town near Rome in the province of Rieti, famous for this tomato sauce that became increasingly popular in Rome in the 19th century.

In Amatrice, the sauce is made with sliced tomatoes, sliced onions, some form of bacon, usually guanciale, cooked in oil and served with thick shavings of Pecorino Romano cheese. It is a Roman tradition to add some form of hot pepper or even fresh ginger to spike the sauce. In Rome, apparently, the sauce is served with spaghetti or rigatoni whereas in Amatrice, they prefer serving it with the traditional bucatini, a large, fat spaghetti with a whole in the middle.

All the recipes I have come across call for sliced ingredients, not chopped. The bacon should be cut in about 3cm x 0.5cm sticks, the onion and garlic finely sliced, even the tomatoes should be sliced lengthwise. I think that by doing this, each individual ingredient remains distinct even after simmering for a long time.

The success of this sauce is without a doubt due to its perfect balance of sweet (the onions), salty (the bacon), spicy (hot pepper flakes or ginger) and acidic (tomatoes). No ingredient should be left out. I find it hard to find guanciale in Canada, but in Ottawa, you can find it at Luciano’s Fine Italian Foods on Preston Street. I buy the full cheek, cut it in small strips and freeze them for later use. It can certainly be replaced by pancetta if you can’t find guanciale and it is as good. Guanciale is very much like pancetta, a bit fattier with a slightly stronger taste. And like other Roman pasta, it is served with Pecorino Romano cheese, not parmesan. I am a bit anal when it comes to classics.

I think I make a mean Amatriciana sauce and I can’t wait to compare it to what they serve in Rome. I will certainly keep you posted.

Bucatini all’Amatriciana


1/4 cup olive oil
1 large yellow onion, finely sliced
100 g guanciale or pancetta, cut in small sticks
3 or 4 cloves of garlic, finely sliced
1 to 2 teaspoons hot pepper flakes or 1 tablespoon sliced fresh ginger
28 oz can of whole tomatoes, sliced lengthwise, with their juice
14 oz water
454 g bucatini
1/3 cup freshly grated Pecorino Romano cheese, plus more at the table


1. In a large skillet set over medium heat, cook the guanciale or pancetta in the oil for a few minutes, until it just starts to turn golden on the edges.
2. Add the onions and continue to cook, stirring every few minutes, until the onions are tender and golden, about 10 minutes.
3. Add the hot pepper flakes or ginger and the garlic and cook for another minute.
4. Add the tomatoes and their juice. Fill the can halfway with water and add it to the sauce.
5. Cook on low heat, uncovered, for 45 minutes or until most of the water has evaporated and the sauce has thickened.
6. Cook the bucatini in salted boiling water for one minute less than indicated on the package. Reserve one cup of the cooking water.
7. Add the drained bucatini to the sauce along with half a cup of cooking water and finish cooking the pasta in the sauce, stirring constantly, for one more minute, until the pasta and the sauce are well combined. Add the cheese and serve immediately.

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