Pasta all’Amatriciana is made with guanciale, tomatoes, and pasta. It’s known as a classic Roman dish, however, a version of it is made in most households throughout Italy because it’s delicious, easy, and uses two of Italy’s favorite ingredients: pork and tomatoes.
The Guanciale (Cured Pork Cheek/Gowl)
Traditionally pasta all’amatriciana is made with guanciale which can often be found in the cured meat or deli section of specialty markets or Italian butchers. Alternatively, it can also be purchased online.
How to Substitute Guanciale
In the US it can be really difficult to find high-quality guanciale, and when it comes to Italian cuisine quality is extremely important. If you cannot find a good quality guanciale, you can use bacon. Many might snug their noses at this but given the choice between a crappy guanciale and premium bacon we will choose bacon every time.
In order to substitute with bacon it's important to get the cut right. Head to the meat counter or butcher and ask them to but you some fresh strips of bacon 1/2" thick. This will allow the bacon to have a similar texture to guanciale once its cooked. Don't use a super thin cut bacon or anything that's overly flavored, especially nothing sweet. If you have to choose a prepackaged bacon choose the thickest cut. Bacon with black pepper on the side is also a good choice.
For the tomatoes you have two options: fresh tomatoes or canned. Although we prefer fresh, using canned/jarred tomatoes allows us to eat this dish year round! For pasta all’amatriciana, bucatini pasta is definitely going to be best and most traditional, however, sometimes we don’t have it in our pantry. So we use spaghetti, which is also very common.
How to Cook Pasta all'Amatriciana
If you haven’t noticed, pasta all’amatriciana, pasta alla carbonara, and pasta alla gricia all have the same base! That's because the depth of these dishes comes from the guanciale. Perfect the art of cooking guanciale and you’ll be ready to cook all of these dishes.
Giuseppe likes to cook the guanciale with the lid off the pan while I like to cook the guanciale with the lid on the pan. We have agreed to disagree. The reasoning behind keeping the lid on goes back to how we cook our ragù alla bolognese recipe. When making pasta all'amatriciana I prefer to cook the guanciale with the lid on because I feel it allows the meat to cook and brown better. I also think it gives you more control over the meat. Try both ways and see what you like best!
We did sneak some peperoncini in while cooking this, we can’t help it! Giuseppe is Calabrian and we love spicy food. Although not traditional it is delicious. We add the peperoncini right before adding in the tomato sauce so the spiciness of the pepper can infuse the fat of the guanciale. You do you.
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- 2 tbsp coarse salt + some for taste
- 350 grams Bucatini or Spaghetti (0.75lb)
- 1 can 15 oz. crushed tomatoes (San Marzano)
- 135 grams (0.3lb) Guanciale (or 4 slices thick cut Bacon)
- 1/4 cup Parmigiano Reggiano or Pecorino Romano (or 1/2 of each)
Fill a medium large pot with water, add salt. If water does not taste as salty as the sea add more salt. Bring to a boil.
- Finely grate Pecorino Romano (or Parmigiano Reggiano).
- Cut guanciale (or bacon) into 1/4″ wide strips.
- Place the guanciale (or bacon) into a medium large saute pan, cover and cook on low heat. You want the meat to ‘melt’. Cook for 15-20 mins on low heat. The meat should be brown but still soft and chewy when done cooking.
- Add tomatoes to guanciale (or bacon) and cook for 15 minutes. Salt according to taste.
- Add pasta to water, stirring every 2 minutes. Cook pasta 2-3 minutes before ‘al dente’ (see package for cooking time). Keep 1 cup pasta water.
- Strain pasta and add to tomato and guanciale (or bacon) mixture. Turn heat to high and stir continuously. Cook 2-3 minutes. (If pasta sauce gets too dry add a little pasta water).
- Add cheese. Turn off heat and continue to stir until cheese is completely combined.
- Plate immediately. Finish with 1 tsp of olive oil or more Pecorino Romano. Enjoy!