Can you Tell I love pasta? Yes, yes you can. At the time of this post, I have 5 blog posts under dinner, and 3, possibly 4, are served with pasta! I promise as I add more dinner posts, they will not all revolve around pasta, but for now, here’s another pasta post. I make dinner with the inclusion of pasta at least twice a week. It’s usually quick, economical, feeds many, and is always a crowd pleaser. Also, if you or someone you’re feeding is gluten-free, your favorite gluten-free pasta option is easily substituted in many recipes.
This is not a dish from my childhood. In fact, I don’t remember ever having pancetta growing up. I think the first time I tried it, I was in my 20’s and trying a recipe from one of my cooking magazines. Since then, I’ve been looking for ways to incorporate it into my life. It’s crispy, fatty, salty and lends a subtle pork flavor, what’s not to love? Don’t get me wrong, American bacon tops the list of things that bring me great joy, but sometimes the smokiness can be overpowering in certain dishes. Pancetta, not being smoked, is a better option when you don’t want the smokiness to compete with your other flavors.
Although this sauce resembles an All’ Amatriciana sauce, I am very careful not to call it that. Italians are very particular regarding regional dishes and what ingredients must be included in those dishes. Native to Amatrice, Italy, Amatriciana sauce is traditionally prepared with guanciale (cured pork cheek), white wine, pecorino cheese, and tomatoes. I’ve chosen to replace the guanciale with pancetta because pancetta is more readily available to us in the United States. I also nixed the white wine to make it more economical and reduce the shopping list. I love the addition of onions and garlic that I include in my recipe. Some recipes for Amatriciana sauce do include these ingredients as well, however, it’s not considered traditional.
Now that we’ve cleared up what constitutes Amatriciana sauce and that my recipe does not qualify, let me tell you why this is one of my favorite dinners to prepare. Most important to me is the flavor, it’s remarkable. Even though the ingredient list is small, every ingredient plays so well together, creating a deliciously balanced sauce. I guarantee if you make this recipe, your guests will think you put in considerably more effort than you actually did. Also, an ingredient list that is short and sweet? Yes, please! I’ll take all the help I can get when meal planning, especially during the week! Lastly, this recipe comes together in 30 minutes or less. In the time that it takes to cook frozen chicken nuggets and french fries in the oven, you could be enjoying bucatini with a tomato and pancetta sauce. Homemade goodness that can rival the pasta dishes of your favorite Italian restaurant… yes, you can do it!
Have I convinced you to make this recipe yet? I hope so because I’m about out of words! I only have one more thing to say…buy true Pecorino Romano, Pancetta and high quality canned tomatoes (I used San Marzano because they have a softer texture and break down so nicely). And…don’t overcook your pasta, drain it prior to the al dente stage and finish cooking in the sauce. Oh, and don’t throw out that pasta water, you’re going to need it to finish your sauce. Okay… so maybe I had more than one thing to say, but all necessary!
Serves: 4-6 Preparation/ Cook Time: Under 30 min.
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1/2 lb. pancetta sliced into 1/4″ thick slices, cut into lengths that measure 1/2″ by 1/4″ (no need to be precise, only a suggested measurement).
- 1 medium onion, cut in half and thinly sliced
- 4 large cloves of garlic, sliced paper thin or minced
- pinch or two of hot pepper flakes
- 1 large can whole, peeled plum tomatoes (I use San Marzano)
- 1/2- 3/4 cup reserved pasta cooking water
- 1/3 cup flat leaf Italian parsley, chopped
- 1/2 cup Pecorino Romano, freshly grated on Microplane or small side of box grater
- sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
- 1 lb. bucatini pasta
Begin with bringing a large pasta pot filled with water to a boil.
In the meantime, heat a large skillet (large enough to hold sauce and 1 lb. of cooked pasta) over medium/high heat and add 2 tablespoons olive oil. Reduce the heat to medium and brown the diced pancetta, stirring frequently until crisp and nicely browned. This should take about 6-8 minutes. Add the sliced onions and garlic to the skillet, continuing to stir frequently until onions and garlic have softened, but not browned. Next, add a pinch or two of hot pepper flakes and saute an additional minute. Crush the canned tomatoes with your hands and add them to the onions, garlic, and pancetta.
Turn heat down to medium/low, and allow your sauce to cook for about 10 minutes before placing your bucatini into the salted, boiling water. Cook bucatini just short of al dente, you’ll finish cooking it in the sauce. A quality pasta should have al dente cooking time located on the package. After your sauce has cooked for the 10 minutes, test for seasoning, adding salt and black pepper. Keep in mind that you will be finishing the sauce with the Pecorino Romano which is quite salty, so go easy.
When your pasta is just short of al dente, add it to your sauce using tongs or a pasta spoon. Don’t forget to reserve that pasta water, it’s essential. Toss the pasta in the sauce, adding pasta water to the desired consistency. Cook pasta in the sauce until you have reached al dente level of doneness. Finish by adding the chopped parsley and grated Pecorino Romano, tossing again to evenly distribute. Serve with additional Pecorino Romano for passing at the table.