Thursday, May 3, 2012

Spaghetti all'Amatriciana

I made my own extruded spaghetti for the first time and wanted to have an interesting sort of "iconic" sauce to have with it. 

This sauce is like all things Italian food related - hotly debated as to which ingredients & what preparation is acceptable to call it "Italian" at all.

That being said, I think this recipe is pretty faithful to the traditional sauce without using the pork cheek, which I don't have on hand.

For those of you who don't care if this is traditional or not, I definitely took the "long route" on this, so I've listed substitutions that will still make a tasty sauce.

Spaghetti all'Amatriciana
(from here)

12 oz homemade thick stranded spaghetti (or store bought)
4 oz of pancetta or guanciale, diced (or bacon, but pancetta/guanciale really is better here (I used pancetta))
6-10 (depending on size) Roma tomatoes (or for a little more sauce, one 28oz can of tomatoes, San Marzanos really are better here, so splurge!)
Half a large onion, minced
Red pepper flakes (to taste)
1/4 cup olive oil
1 cup of freshly grated Pecorino Romano (to serve) (can sub parmesan)


I took the time/trouble to blanch, peel and chop the tomatoes for this sauce myself. You can (and should) just use a can of tomatoes. I was just being hard on myself.

If you've never done this, it is actually kind of satisfying.

Start by removing the stem from all the tomatoes. I just use a paring knife like so:

Cut a shallow "X" into the bottom of each tomato. This will help the skin come off after blanching.

Drop each one into a small pot of boiling water for 15-30 seconds. I only do one at a time.

The softer or more ripe they are, the less time you should blanch them. If they are pretty hard then go towards the 30 second mark.

Exit immediately to an ice-bath.

The skin should come off pretty easily. Use a paper towel to give you some grip on the skins if they're being a pain.

Now de-seed them. I use a tablespoon and scrape out the insides.

You can save the insides and sprinkle them with some salt to coax the juices out of them.

Let this sit over a bowl for about an hour. 

Dice your tomatoes fairly finely. I liked them very fine in this sauce but you can go for a more chunky style if you want.

You can add the tomato water from the cores back into the tomatoes after an hour or so.

I had quite a bit of tomato water .


Start by adding 1/4 cup of olive oil to a large pan over medium heat. 

Add the pancetta.

Cook until browned and remove with a slotted spoon.

Drain on a paper towel for now.

Add the onion to the pan and cook until beginning to brown.

It's kind of hard to judge, but I let mine go for maybe 7 minutes. Since I'm using fresh tomatoes I wanted to make sure I got some sweetness from the onions starting to caramelize. 

After 5-7 minutes, add the tomatoes. Do this carefully if you have a lot of liquid in the tomatoes.

Also, add the crushed red pepper here. I totally forgot this because I'm always looking out for my daughter's sensibilities. Do add a pinch to yours.

Stir well and boost the heat to high.

Simmer for another 5-7 minutes.

I wanted to reduce the liquid from this:

To this:

When most of the liquid has reduced, add the pancetta back into the sauce and drop the heat to med/low to maintain the simmer.

Let this go for 10 minutes or so to let the flavors mingle and help the tomato break down a little more.

Taste for salt. 

Meanwhile, cook your pasta:

Beautiful homemade spaghetti
Cook your pasta for about 5 minutes or until there is a slight bite. Don't overcook it as we're finishing it in the sauce.

If using boxed pasta (no harm here) cook it 1 minute less than specified since we'll be finishing it in the sauce. 

Transfer the pasta directly from the water to the pan while over medium heat. That extra water will help emulsify the sauce.

Once all the pasta is in the pan, toss well to combine.

Add some pasta water to get everything coated.

If it's really tight, add a bit of the pasta water. Not a lot, just enough to get a good emulsion going. It'll be thick, shiny and smooth. 

Serve with a healthy dose of Pecorino cheese.


Overall this was a really outstanding sauce. Rich and flavorful but also well balanced. The acid from the fresh tomatoes cut through the meaty flavor of the pancetta as the onions added a nice sweet element and the salty but kind of creamy Pecorino brought everything together. The heat from the red pepper would make a great addition (if I hadn't forgotten it).

The homemade pasta was an extra element that really made the dish. Great texture and unparalleled flavor. I've never had pasta like it. 

Do yourself a favor and give this dish a try. 


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