February:Amatriciana Sauce

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Amatriciana 2 with script named

Buon giorno!

Some of the most memorable Italian dishes are also the cherished standards of regional cooking. These are authentic representations of the very best the region offers and need no embellishment or gilding. One such signature dish from the region of Lazio (the region of Rome) is AMATRICIANA SAUCE  – a recipe named for the town of its origin, Amatrice. I prefer to call it “magical sauce.”

On the surface, the recipe is really simple and perhaps it is not immediately evident as to why this sauce is such a big deal. If we look a little deeper at the ingredients and think for a moment, the fog lifts and it is easy to see where the magic of this dish lies. As with all good Italian cooking – the secrets are just beneath the surface in the ingredients themselves. I often opine over the importance of ingredients in Italian cooking. This recipe is a perfect demonstration of how one ingredient can make or break a dish.

The secret in this dish – Look no further than the use of pancetta. Now look at the amount used – 1/2 pound. Hmmm..really? This is one of those times when no other ingredient other than a good dose of pork fat can be substituted – not ground meat – not sausage. For absolute authenticity, guanciale is the traditional meat used in this dish. Very little of this meat packs a huge jolt of flavor to any dish. Guanciale is a cured meat product made from pork cheek or jowl. However, it is sometimes very difficult to find it. What to do? The best and closest choice of substitution is pancetta which is readily available almost everywhere – – and yes, a half pound is necessary! Case in point – go ahead and make the sauce without the pancetta and compare – the difference will be HUGE! Something happens when the fat from the pancetta is rendered into the sauce and simmers for just a few minutes. Magic? Perhaps! Whatever you want to call it, the truth is that when the sauce transforms during the simmer, it becomes something quite different from the expected.

The pasta – Traditionally the pasta of choice for this sauce is bucatini. This is the long tubular noodle with a tiny hole in the middle. Perciatelli is much the same and can be used interchangeably. When the sauce creeps into that tiny hole.. well.. oh my! Of course, if you cannot locate this type of pasta, spaghetti will do.

You will simply not believe how much flavor lurks in this sauce. If you want to really grasp the notion of “magical sauce”, try this experiment. Make the dish and serve it with no fanfare. Then wait for the raves from your guests. Take your bow!


Makes: enough sauce for a pound of pasta

Serves: 4

Prep: 15 minutes

Cook: 30 minutes


1 lb. Bucatini, Perciatelli or spaghetti prepared according to directions

4 Tbsp. Olive Oil

8 Oz. Pancetta – chopped (easier to chop when frozen) Or Guanciale if you can find it!

1 medium onion – chopped

3 Cloves Fresh Garlic – chopped finely

Pinch of Red Pepper Flakes

1 28 oz. Can  Whole Peeled Tomatoes (San Marzano always best) processed lightly in blender or food processor – keep the tomatoes chunky no smooth

Kosher Salt and lots of black pepper

Grated Pecorino Romano cheese is preferable

Fresh chopped Basil for garnish


Begin by heating your oil in a  pan. Then add the onion and cook about 3 minutes.

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Now add the pancetta, garlic, and red pepper flakes.

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Cook until pancetta releases its fat – do not brown or crisp. This takes about 8 minutes at a strong simmer. Stir frequently.

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Add the tomatoes, salt and pepper to taste, simmer at medium for approx. 30 minutes – until sauce reduces and thickens and liquid cooks off. Stir occasionally.

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Add this amazing sauce to your pasta and toss well.

Garnish with fresh Basil and serve with plenty of grated cheese.

This AMATRICIANA SAUCE is one of the very best of traditional Italian sauces. While a Toscana would be a very good choice to pair with this dish, my pick would be a beautiful Barbera. To me it is a coupling meant to be!


Comments are welcome in the “Speak Your Mind Area” beneath this post online.




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  1. Ed Wilson says:

    This is PRECISELY the recipe taught to me by my “cooking tutor” in Rome. And she was a native of Amatrice!

  2. Ed McAlister says:

    Lived in Italy for four years (hard to believe I ever came back) and this is the real deal. I first ate this dish near Gaeta in Lazio, and as with most Italian dishes, there are likely plenty of variants. The only differences between this recipe and mine are: 1) I add a half stick of butter to slightly less oil than you use; and 2) I most often make this dish with fresh tomatoes, not canned (although if you have access to really nice Italian canned tomatoes you’re obviously doing just fine). I slice the tomatoes so they’ll give it up easier and it doesn’t take much longer than 30 minutes either way. Some people peel and de-seed the tomatoes, but I don’t bother. Buon’ appetito.

    • Ed – Gaeta is very near to my mother’s family’s hometown of Minturno – a beautiful coastal area. I use the San Marzano tomatoes – which are far better than most other canned types – although you can’t beat the good fresh tomatoes of summer. Thank you for sharing your experience with this one – such a beautiful sauce.