This week, we’re using summer tomatoes to make an Italian classic: Pasta all'Amatriciana.
Sugo all’ amatriciana, or amatriciana sauce, is a Roman-style pasta sauce made with tomatoes, guanciale (cured pork jowl) and pecorino cheese. Variants include the addition of chile or black pepper. To lighten the sauce for summer, fresh tomatoes and basil can be used.
While the exact origin of the sauce is debated, its name comes from Amatrice, a tiny town in the mountainous panhandle of Lazio that is about an hour outside of Rome. It is believed to have been derived from gricia, a peasant’s sauce made simply with guanciale and pecorino. Tomatoes came later, when the idea of marrying pasta with tomato sauce was born. (The first known recipe for pasta with tomato sauce appears in the late-18th-century cookbook L'Apicio moderno, by Roman chef Francesco Leonardi).
Today, amatriciana sauce is often found served with dried pastas like spaghetti, bucatini and rigatoni.
This recipe, slightly adapted from Sauces & Shapes: Pasta the Italian Way, as seen on Epicurious, uses ripe tomatoes, dried chile and thin strips of guanciale to make a porky, tangy sauce. We incorporated fresh basil for summertime flair.
2-1/2 ounces guanciale, cut into thin strips
2–3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 small onion, chopped (optional)
1 pound red, ripe plum tomatoes, broken into pieces (or canned Italian peeled tomatoes, drained)
1 small piece dried chile
1 pound pasta (spaghetti, bucatini, rigatoni, casarecce)
7 rounded tablespoons grated pecorino
Fresh basil, chopped
Put the guanciale and oil in a saucepan. Turn the heat to medium and warm gently so the guanciale renders some fat and starts to brown. Taste a piece to assess how salty it is. Then, when it just begins to become crisp, add the chopped onion (if using) and sauté gently until transparent. Add the tomatoes and chile, then taste for salt (how much you need will depend on the guanciale).
Finish cooking the sauce, covered, over low heat. You'll know it's done when the liquid has thickened somewhat and the fat shows on the surface, about 20 minutes.
Make-ahead note: This much can be done earlier in the day, but this sauce is not customarily made in advance or kept, except casually as leftovers for the next day.
Bring five quarts (or five liters) of water to a boil in an eight-quart (or eight-liter) pot over high heat. Add three tablespoons kosher salt, then add the pasta and cook, stirring occasionally, until al dente.
Warm a serving bowl or platter in a low oven. If the oven is not practical, warm the bowl just before use with hot water, even a ladle full of the pasta cooking water.
Drain the pasta and put it in the warmed serving bowl. Toss it first with the grated cheese, then with the sauce. Top with chopped fresh basil and serve immediately.