Pasta With Tomato and Guanciale Recipe

Spaghetti all'amatriciana
piazzagabriele/Getty Images
Prep: 5 mins
Cook: 30 mins
Total: 35 mins
Servings: 4 to 6 servings
Nutrition Facts (per serving)
298 Calories
18g Fat
27g Carbs
7g Protein
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Nutrition Facts
Servings: 4 to 6
Amount per serving
Calories 298
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 18g 23%
Saturated Fat 6g 29%
Cholesterol 20mg 7%
Sodium 866mg 38%
Total Carbohydrate 27g 10%
Dietary Fiber 2g 7%
Total Sugars 3g
Protein 7g
Vitamin C 10mg 49%
Calcium 69mg 5%
Iron 1mg 8%
Potassium 275mg 6%
*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.
(Nutrition information is calculated using an ingredient database and should be considered an estimate.)

As with many Italian dishes, there is some heated argument amongst Italians about the "right" way to make this rich, zesty and slightly spicy dish. It originates from the town of Amatrice, in the northern Lazio region, but has since come to be strongly associated with Rome and is one of the most popular dishes served in Roman trattorias.

Allegedly the "original" Amatrice version is made with guanciale (salt-cured pork jowl) and spaghetti. Roman versions tend to use bucatini (also known as perciatelli), which are a long, tube-shaped pasta with a hole down the middle. If you can't find guanciale, you can substitute it with pancetta (sweet or smoked, though unsmoked would be closer to the taste of guanciale), pork jowl, salt pork, or bacon. Since bacon is smoked, it changes the flavor of the dish quite a bit from the original guanciale, but we must say that this is a case where we find that the different flavor profile is just as good. (We don't see the point in being a purist just for the sake of purism.) 

Whether or not onions or wine should be added is hotly debated. This version does not use wine but does include onions, as we find that their sweetness balances the richness of the pork and spiciness of the red chile pepper. 

The original version of this dish, known as pasta alla gricia, was made with just guanciale, pasta, black pepper and Pecorino Romano―no tomatoes, as those were too expensive for the peasants who first ate this dish. So, some could argue that even tomatoes are verboten in this recipe, but since most of us can find and afford tomatoes these days and they make the dish taste even better, why not use them?

Pecorino Romano is the cheese traditionally grated on top of the final dish, and it pairs much better with this spicy sauce than Parmigiano.

The version presented here does include onions and adds the browned guanciale or pancetta to the sauce at the end so that it stays crisp.

[Edited and expanded by Danette St. Onge]

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil

  • 1/4 pound (100 grams) guanciale, or pancetta

  • 1 small onion, or 1/2 large onion, finely diced

  • 1/2 teaspoon dried red chile pepper flakes

  • 1 pound bucatini, or spaghetti

  • Fine sea salt, to taste

  • 1 pound (400 grams) plum tomatoes, blanched, peeled, seeded, and chopped, or 1 (14.5-ounce) can drained diced tomatoes

  • Grated pecorino Romano cheese, for serving

Steps to Make It

  1. Set a large covered pot of water to boil over high heat for the pasta. (When it reaches a rolling boil, salt it and add the pasta. Note, however, that this sauce is particularly salty and so is Pecorino, so you can use less salt in the pasta water than you might normally. When the pasta reaches al dente consistency, drain it, retaining about 1/4 cup of the pasta cooking water.)

  2. Meanwhile, start the sauce:

  3. Heat the oil in a large pot and add the diced pork (whichever type you are using). Cook over medium heat until brown and crisp, about 6 to 8 minutes, then remove from the pot with a slotted spoon or mesh skimmer and transfer to a paper-towel-lined plate to drain. Set aside.

  4. Add the diced onion to the pot and sauté until soft, about 5 minutes.

  5. Add the chile pepper (dried or fresh) and cook for another 30 seconds to 1 minute, until fragrant.

  6. Add the tomatoes, cover, and lower heat to low. 

  7. Simmer the sauce over low heat for about 10 to 15 minutes. When the pasta and sauce are ready, stir the browned meat back into the sauce. Season to taste with fine sea salt (though keep in mind that Pecorino is pretty salty), toss with the pasta (and a bit of the pasta cooking water to thin the sauce, as needed) and serve with plenty of freshly grated Pecorino Romano sprinkled on top. 

Variations

Instead of using red chile pepper flakes, you can use 1 dried red peperoncino, crushed, or 1 fresh red chile pepper, seeded and thinly sliced. If you can't find guanciale or pancetta, you can also use pork jowl or salt pork. Thickly cut bacon, diced, will also work.