Last week, the Italian town of Amatrice was preparing for the 50th anniversary of sagra, its food festival to celebrate its famous dish, bucatini all’amatriciana, when a devastating 6.2 earthquake hit, destroying much of the city and killing 291 people. A number of restaurants and chefs, including Jamie Oliver, are serving the local dish and donating a portion of the cost to the Italian Red Cross to help the victims.
Bucatini all’amatriciana is made with a tomato-and-bacon-based sauce with red chili, topped with pecorino romano cheese. The bacon used is called guanciale, and it is a locally made bacon using the pork cheek, or jowl. The fat is rendered from the bacon and used as the base of the sauce.
Of course, this is Italy, so there are different ways of making the sauce. Some recipes add olive oil, onion, garlic, wine or basil. These particular additions are usually made to “cut the fat,” as the guanciale can impart a gamey, fatty taste.
Some substitute pancetta or bacon for the guanciale, but that’s only if guanciale is not readily available because all these products are different and will change the dish. Some use a different pasta besides bucatini. Bucatini is similar to perciatelli, which my family uses. These are used interchangeably today, but I have seen them as two distinct pasta shapes in old cookbooks. Some think spaghetti is a reasonable substitution but scoff at using a short pasta. But there are reasons for using a particular pasta, such as how the sauce adheres to it. Because tomatoes were not grown in the area, canned tomatoes are used. (Before tomatoes arrived in Italy, the dish was made white, or in bianco. The tomato-less version is called alla gricia. Some think the dish only started having tomatoes after World War II.) Finally, it is essential to use pecorino romano cheese and not parmigiano reggiano because the former is a sheep’s-milk cheese, which is from the local area with its history of shepherding, not cow’s-milk, like the latter.
I made bucatini all’amatriciana this weekend from the recipe in La Cucina: The Regional Cooking of Italy by the Italian Academy of Cuisine. Luckily, I found guanciale and got it cubed, which is how it is typically cut for this dish. I substituted perciatelli for the bucatini, since I already had some. Really, you can do what you like because the resultant dish will be delicious no matter how it is prepared. The only criticism of mine would be that I used a lot of sauce, but this is how we like it.
In addition to bucatini all’amatriciana, I made farro all’amatriciana with some farro I got from my cousin in Italy. The farro recipe comes from Savoring Italy by Robert Freson.