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Pasta all’Amatriciana

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This classic Pasta all’Amatriciana recipe is easy to make with 6 traditional ingredients and full of the best rich and savory flavors.

Pasta all'Amatriciana

This past summer during our month in Rome, I made it my mission to sample the four classic Roman pastas as often as possible. It’s no exaggeration to say that these four pastas — Cacio e Pepe, Gricia, Carbonara and Amatriciana — are some of my favorite recipes in the entire world. (And one of the reasons I was so eager to return to Rome!) But while they will forever each hold a special place in my pasta-loving heart, it was pasta all’Amatriciana that stole the show on this trip. ♡

Maybe it was because we were traveling during the heart of Italian tomato season. But as the only one of the four pastas that features a red sauce, I’m convinced there’s just something extra-special that happens when tomatoes meet the other famous Roman pasta ingredients. Guanciale shows up to the party with its intensely-savory pork flavor, Pecorino brings the grassy and earthy notes, a splash of dry white wine helps to deglaze the pan, a pinch of hot pepper flakes add a subtle kick of heat, sea salt and black pepper round out the seasonings. Then when mixed with sweet San Marzano tomatoes and tossed with perfectly al dente pasta — well, let’s just say that there’s a reason that Amatriciana is the most famous red sauce in the capitol of Italy. It’s full-flavored, rich and hearty, and absolutely divine.

In Italy, Amatriciana sauce is always served with pasta that is just barely al dente (notably firm with a slight bite, which we learned apparently has the added benefit of giving the pasta a lower glycemic index and making it easier to digest). The versions I ordered in Rome were always served with either bucatini or rigatoni, with varying sizes of guanciale. But my favorites were definitely those that added in a generous amount of hot chili, whose heat was never overpowering but absolutely brings the sauce to life.

The good news for all of us is that classic pasta all’Amatriciana is relatively quick and easy to make. And, I might add, also much less finicky than the other three pastas in terms of technique, in case you’ve ever had issues with cheese sticking in your cacio e pepe or eggs scrambling in carbonara. I’d recommend serving the pasta with a fresh green salad and some roasted veggies, since the Roman pastas famously include zero greens. And if you feel like adding in a glass of wine, a good full-bodied Italian red would be perfect here.

Grazie mille to Italy for bringing the world all of these heavenly pastas. Now let’s make some Amatriciana!

Amatriciana Ingredients

Pasta all’Amatriciana Ingredients

Here are the classic pasta Amatriciana ingredients that you will need to make this recipe:

  • Pasta: Thick spaghetti, bucatini, or rigatoni (I used mezzi rigatoni in the batch photographed here) are the most common pasta shapes traditionally used with sugo alla Amatriciana. But of course, the dish will still be delicious with just about any type of pasta shape you have on hand, so it’s up to you.
  • Guanciale: As the official Amatrice website declares, “either you use guanciale, meaning the part of the pig’s jaw and cheek, or it’s not really Spaghetti all’Amatriciana. Only with guanciale will the dish be incomparably delicate and sweet.” Bold statement…but I have to agree. Italian cured pork cheek is undoubtedly the starring ingredient in Amatriciana, Gricia and Carbonara, but its rich, salty, intense pork flavor pairs especially well with the tomato base in Amatriciana, and its signature thick crisp-chewy texture is so satisfying. In my opinion, it’s absolutely worth a trip to your local Italian market if guanciale is unavailable at your local grocery store. But if you can’t track down guanciale, thick-cut bacon or pancetta will work as a non-traditional substitute.
  • Dry white wine: A generous splash is used in the official recipe to deglaze the pan. But if you do not cook with alcohol, you’re welcome to just use a splash of water instead.
  • Tomatoes: The official Amatriciana recipe calls for using either fresh or canned whole San Marzano tomatoes as the base for this red sauce. I prefer using canned San Marzanos, since they are easier to find here and available year-round. If you’re unable to find canned tomatoes that are specifically from the San Marzano region of Italy, no worries, any good-quality canned whole tomatoes will do. But the famously sweet flavor of San Marzanos are especially delicious in this recipe if you can find them.
  • Crushed red pepper flakes: The official recipe tosses in a single dried peperoncino (hot red chili pepper). But if you are like me and do not typically keep whole dried peppers stocked in your kitchen, you can use 1/4 teaspoon (or more) of crushed red chili flakes.
  • Pecorino Romano: The official recipe calls for Pecorino Amatriciano, an aged sheep’s cheese local to region around Amatrice that is slightly milder than its Roman cousin. But since this cheese is typically quite difficult to find internationally, Pecorino Romano works great as a substitute, whose grassy, tangy flavor is so delicious here.
  • Fine sea salt and freshly-ground black pepper: And finally, of course, we will use these for seasoning.

Step by step photos of how to make Amatriciana

Tips for Making Amatriciana

Full instructions for how to make pasta all’Amatriciana are included in the recipe below, but here are a few key tips I would recommend keeping in mind as well:

  • Read through the recipe first. This recipe is not difficult to make, but it does require a bit of multitasking that goes quickly once you begin cooking. So I recommend taking a few minutes to read the entire recipe fully before you begin cooking.
  • Finely-grate the cheese by hand: As always, it’s important to grate the cheese by hand versus buying pre-grated cheese at the store (which usually contains anti-caking agents that prevent the cheese from melting smoothly). I recommend using a microplane or your preferred grater to finely-grate the cheese just before cooking.
  • Be sure to use a large enough sauté pan. You are going to need ample room to toss the pasta when combining it with the sauce, so it’s important to use a large pan or stockpot that has plenty of space.
  • Have a strainer or tongs ready to go. I find it’s much easier to use a spider strainer (or tongs, if using long noodles) to transfer the pasta directly from the stockpot to the sauté pan. But if you do not own either of those, use a heatproof cup to scoop out a few cups of the starchy water (always good to have more than you need, just in case). Then you can drain the pasta in a colander and transfer it immediately to the sauté pan.

Pasta Amatriciana in Serving Bowl

Amatriciana FAQ:

How do you pronounce Amatriciana? It is pronounced “ah-mah-tree-TCHAH-nah.”

What is the history of Amatriciana? The exact origins and evolution of the dish are controversial among historians, as all of the Roman pastas tend to be. From what I’ve read, Amatriciana is most commonly believed to have originated from pasta alla gricia (sometimes also called Amatriciana bianca, or white Amatriciana), which was then combined with tomatoes potentially as early as the 18th century¹ or as late as the second world war² to form the tomato-based sauce we know and love today. Amatriciana sauce is believed to have been brought from Amatrice to Rome by shepherds who traveled to the capital and surrounding countryside to sell their dairy products, as well as sheep and beef meat.³ Then eventually became increasingly popular and famous in Rome, and became known as one of the 4 classic Roman pastas, even though it technically originated outside of the city.

So where is Amatrice? Amatrice is a small town located in northern Lazio, a few hours’ drive outside of Rome.

Does the sauce include olive oil? The official Amatriciana calls for a tablespoon of oil to sauté the guanciale, but I omitted this from the recipe below since the grease within the guanciale is more than sufficient to brown the meat. That said, you’re welcome to include it if you’d like.

Can I add garlic and onion to the sauce? These ingredients are occasionally added by cooks for extra flavor, but they are very much frowned upon in the town of Amatrice. In 2015, for example, one of Italy’s most famous chefs, Carlo Cracco, was publicly chastised after revealing on national television that the secret ingredient in his Amatriciana was sautéed garlic. I personally think the sauce is plenty flavorful without them!

What can I use instead of guanciale? As mentioned above, guanciale is one of the key ingredients that makes traditional Amatriciana so special. But if you can’t find guanciale in your local stores, pancetta or a good thick-cut bacon can be used as a substitute.

What can I use instead of Pecorino Romano? This sheep’s cheese is always used in the traditional Roman pastas and, in my opinion, tastes best here. But if you are unable to find Pecorino Romano, I’ve also tried making this recipe using freshly-grated Parmesan (Parmigiano Reggiano) and it was delicious.

The 4 Roman Pastas

Interested in trying out all four of the classic Roman pastas? These traditional recipes won’t let you down!

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Pasta all'Amatriciana

Pasta All’Amatriciana

  • Author: Ali
  • Prep Time: 10 mins
  • Cook Time: 25 mins
  • Total Time: 35 mins
  • Yield: 4 to 6 servings 1x

Description

This classic Pasta all’Amatriciana recipe is easy to make with 6 traditional ingredients and full of the best rich and savory flavors.


Ingredients

Scale
  • 1 pound (~500 grams) pasta (I used mezzi rigatoni)
  • 4 1/2 ounces (125 grams) guanciale
  • 1/4 cup (50 mL) dry white wine
  • 1 (28-ounce or 794 grams) can San Marzano whole tomatoes, drained
  • 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • 3 1/2 ounces (100 grams) Pecorino Romano
  • fine sea salt and freshly-ground black pepper

Instructions

  1. Prepare the pasta water. Fill a large stockpot about half full of water (roughly 3 quarts), add 2 tablespoons fine sea salt, and bring the water to a boil. 
  2. Cut the guanciale. Slice the guanciale into ¼-inch-thick slices. Then cut each slice into roughly ½ x 1-inch pieces. (It can help to freeze the guanciale for 10 minutes beforehand to make it easier to cut.)
  3. Cook the guanciale. Heat a large sauté pan over medium-low heat. Add the guanciale to the pan and cook, stirring and flipping occasionally, until the guanciale is golden brown and crispy and the fat has rendered, about 10 minutes. (Keep a close eye on the guanciale so that it does not burn.) Using a slotted spoon, transfer the guanciale to a separate plate. Pour the remaining fat into a heatproof measuring cup. Measure out ¼ cup of the fat to save, then discard the rest.
  4. Simmer the sauce. Carefully add the wine to the saucepan and use a wooden spoon to scrape up any browned bits stuck left on the bottom of the pan while the wine simmers. Use your hands to roughly crush the tomatoes into small pieces, then add them to the saucepan. Add the crushed red pepper flakes, cooked guanciale, the reserved guanciale fat and stir to combine. Let the sauce continue to simmer on medium-low while the pasta cooks, stirring it occasionally and adding in a ¼ cup of the starchy pasta water if the sauce starts to seem too dry.
  5. Boil the pasta. Once the pasta water reaches a rapid boil, add the pasta. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the pasta is about 2 minutes shy of al dente. (The center of the pasta should still have just a slight crunch.)
  6. Emulsify the sauce. Use a spider strainer or tongs to immediately transfer the pasta to the sauté pan with the tomato sauce. (Be sure to save all of the remaining starchy pasta water in the stockpot.) Gently toss the pasta continuously in the sauce for 2-3 minutes until the pasta is al dente, adding in an extra ¼ cup of the remaining starchy pasta water as needed anytime the sauce seems too dry.
  7. Finish the pasta. Turn off the heat. Gradually add in the cheese and toss gently until the cheese has melted and the sauce is glossy, adding in an extra few tablespoons of the starchy pasta water when needed to thin out the sauce.
  8. Serve. Serve immediately, garnished with an extra sprinkle of cheese and twist of black pepper.


Notes

Source: This recipe is slightly adapted from the official Amatriciana recipe from the city of Amatrice. All of the ingredients and amounts are the same, with the exception of omitting the tablespoon of olive oil which was originally recommended to brown the guanciale (I find it unnecessary). I also slightly updated the instructions.

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2 comments on “Pasta all’Amatriciana”

  1. This looks excellent! I very much appreciate that you include substitutes. I get recipes from another source, also, and most of their recipes include something that can’t be found at my location. It really is ridiculous that they think everyone must live in NYC. Anyway, thanks for letting me vent but most importantly let you know that I for one appreciate your substitution ideas!

  2. Made this last night… pretty easy and tasty! I used diced Pancetta, as it was what I could find. (Also skipped adding the fat back into the pasta) The red pepper made a nice kick, and I did add one crushed clove of garlic… it seemed to be the thing to do.

    Nice tasty dish. *I did add about 6-8 oz sliced grilled chicken, as we had extra on hand. I also used less Penne, 1# seemed too much, and wish I’d used only ½#, but… plenty of leftovers… Might add a bit of tomato paste next time, as I’d like a bit more coating on the pasta. Keep up the pasta dishes! Yummy!