Easy to prepare and impressive to serve, bucatini all’amatriciana is a regional Italian pasta made with grated cheese, tomatoes, red pepper flakes and guanciale, or cured pork jowl. Within that seemingly straightforward rubric, however, lies a world of intrigue.
Some cook down onions and garlic with the tomatoes to create a denser, more pungent sauce. Others splash white wine into the mix. Detractors believe these additions overpower the dish’s bright balance.
Black pepper is similarly divisive. While some add it to their finished dish without a second thought, others note that few Romans use black pepper in tandem with red pepper flakes in this or any recipe. Italian food historians also note that dried red peppers were more accessible than black peppercorns in pre-World War II Italy, and thus better suited to everyday fare like sauced pasta. Then again, canned tomatoes weren’t always widely available in Italy either, which adds another wrinkle.
Like any classic dish, bucatini all’amatriciana doesn’t escape debates over origin and ownership. Residents of Amatrice, a town in Lazio, Italy, claim it as theirs. Meanwhile, some Romans see it as part of a big-city trinity that also includes pasta carbonara, a crowd pleaser made with cheese, eggs and pork; and pasta alla gricio, which combines guanciale with cheese and black pepper.
How to Make Bucatini all’Amatriciana
Wherever you stand, this recipe for bucatini all’amatriciana creates a savory, sophisticated dish that comes to the table in less than 45 minutes.
As with most recipes that have very few ingredients, it pays to buy the best quality you can afford. The caliber of your pork is especially crucial. While slab pancetta works, quality guanciale gives the finished sauce a subtly smoky flavor and rich texture that neither overwhelms nor gets lost in the bright, zesty tomatoes or spicy red chilies.
That said, if all you have is supermarket bacon, you can still make a satisfying, amatriciana-adjacent pasta. Cook the bacon low and slow to keep its texture silky and pour off half of the rendered fat before you add the tomatoes and chilies.
Bucatini is the traditional and recommended pasta, but you can make a very tasty iteration with spaghetti or, if you’re feeling extra iconoclastic, penne.
Note, this version isn’t very spicy, so it’s worth serving extra red pepper flakes alongside so each person can customize their plate.
In large sauté pan, add olive oil over medium-low heat. After 30 seconds, add guanciale and cook, stirring occasionally until fat renders and batons appear golden, approximately 5 minutes. If guanciale starts to brown, lower heat and stir to keep pork from getting too much color.
Turn heat to low and add tomatoes, their juices and red pepper flakes to the pan. Cook 8–10 minutes to marry flavors and rid tomatoes of any tinned taste, taking care not to reduce sauce.
While sauce cooks, bring large pot of heavily salted water to boil. Add bucatini and cook until al dente, 5–8 minutes.
Use tongs to transfer bucatini directly to pan with sauce, and toss over low heat to coat. With measuring cup or ladle, add ¼ cup pasta water to the pan and toss again until sauce comes together, 1–2 minutes.
Remove from heat and add Pecorino, tossing again until pasta strands take on glossy sheen.
Plate into four bowls and serve with additional red pepper flakes.