The first time I had Bucatini all’Amatriciana was at Manducatis in Long Island City, N.Y. Vincenzo Cerbone was out in the restaurant. His wife Ida was in the kitchen. They had recently opened. I had recently married. As we waited for Ida to create her magic, Vincenzo would sit at our table and, over a glass of wine, talk about family, life and politics.
Some nights, my husband Frank and I would walk in with a group of friends. Vincenzo would come over and say, “Let me take care of you,” smiling as he described what special dishes they had to offer that day. Plate after plate would arrive at the table—a little of this, a little of that, from calamari to espresso. And somehow, the bill was always reasonable. It was an experience that was repeated many times. When it was just Frank and me, we’d stay for hours. It was like being a guest in Vincenzo and Ida’s home. They weren’t concerned with turning tables over. They just wanted to make sure every customer had the best time and the best meal. I miss those days and will always remember the wonderful dinners, conversations, and endlessly full glasses of wine!
Here’s my version of that dish which always brings me back to those nights.
Named for the small town from where it originated, Amatriciana is a spicy sauce of onions, garlic, tomatoes and guanciale, a incredibly flavorful unsmoked Italian bacon. If you can’t find guanciale, pancetta will do the trick.
Although we used Bucatini, a long straw-like pasta with a hole though its center, feel free to use spaghetti, linguini, or even penne. Bucatini is great because the hollow center allows the noodle to pick up even more sauce than usual, but your favorite pasta will work, too. We like to use campari tomatoes but you could certainly substitute plum tomatoes. Whatever tomatoes you use, cut them in half, squeeze out the seeds, and give them a rough chop.
* * * *
1 lb bucatini pasta
2 lbs tomatoes, seeded and chopped
5 slices of pancetta or guanciale, about a quarter of a pound (or even a few slices more, says Lee!)
one medium onion, sliced thin
4 cloves of garlic, smashed and chopped
Good pinch of red pepper flakes
Parmesan or pecorino romano, grated
*Put up a large pot of water to boil for the pasta.
*Set a 12 inch sauté pan over medium heat, add about a tablespoon of olive oil and heat until hot but not smoking.
*Cook the pancetta or guanciale until crispy. Remove to a plate and crumble.
*Add the sliced onion and cook until translucent, not browned (you’ll want to stir regularly), over medium heat.
*Add garlic and red pepper, sauté for a couple of minutes.
*Add the tomatoes.
*Add salt to taste.
*Reduce heat to medium-low, cover and cook for about 15 minutes. Remove cover and cook for about 5 minutes more.
*Add the guanciale (or pancetta) and a handful of fresh torn basil.
*When the pot of water comes to a boil, add about a tablespoon of salt—this sounds like a lot but it’s not for all that water. This is your only chance to season the pasta.
*Cook the pasta al dente according to the directions on your package.
*When cooked, drain your pasta, reserving a cup of the pasta cooking liquid. This is very important! Add the pasta to the sauce. Combine well. If it’s a little dry, add a couple of tablespoons or a bit more of the reserved pasta liquid.
*Plate it and pass the cheese!