Along with Carbonara and Cacio e pepe, Bucatini all’Amatriciana (or Matriciana in Roman dialect) is one of the classic primi piatti of Roman cuisine. However, the dish actually originated in the hill town of Amatrice which is situated a couple of hours north-east of Rome and was once part of the region of Abruzzo. The Amatriciana is a development of Gricia, a simple pasta dish invented by local shepherds which utilized the most prevalent ingredients of the mountainous region; guanciale (cured pig cheek) and pecorino cheese. As the shepherds travelled around during transhumance they spread the recipe for Gricia across the area. Later on, towards the end of the 18th century, tomatoes were added to the dish and the Amatriciana was born.
Despite now being considered a Roman staple, the true home of the Amatriciana is still the small town of Amatrice and it remains the best place to try the traditional recipe. Every year, at the end of August, the town holds the Sagra dell’Amatriciana, a festival to celebrate the dish. However, it is also quick and easy recipe to try at home.
Originally the Sugo dell’Amatriciana was served with spaghetti, but nowadays in Rome it can often be found served with bucatini, a type of thick spaghetti with a small hole running through it. As with most Italian recipes there are numerous variations to the ingredients, including the addition of onion, garlic and white wine. Some substitute the guanciale with smoked pancetta but the fattiness of the guanciale will help to ensure a silky sauce. Finally, while chili was not used in the original dish, it is common to include a touch of red peperoncino for extra flavour and heat.
Bucatini all’Amatriciana (serves 4)
250g guanciale, cut into strips
500g tin of peeled tomatoes
150g pecorino, grated
1 red chili, finely chopped
What to do
Heat a splash of oil in a frying pan and add the guanciale and chili. Fry for a few minutes until the guanciale turns golden and begins to crisp on the edges. Add the tomatoes and cook for 10-15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the sauce begins to reduce. Taste and add a pinch of salt if necessary (sometimes the guanciale will be salty enough already). In the meantime cook the pasta as instructed until al dente, then drain and add to the frying pan. Mix the pasta with the sauce, gradually adding the grated pecorino as you stir. Serve immediately with an extra sprinkle of pecorino on top.