Native to central Italy, Guanciale is unsmoked, cured pig's jowl. This incredibly fatty cut is rubbed with salt and black pepper (sometimes peperoncino, sometimes herbs) and dried for three weeks or longer. Dense with collagens, it imparts a rich and silky texture to a sauce, along with an intensely primitive, funky porkiness. It is the essential ingredient in sugo all’Amatriciana.
The pasta most commonly associated with all’Amatriciana is bucatini, but that is the Roman way, along with the inclusion of garlic and onion. In the town of Amatrice (which fiercely claims the sauce for its own) it is more often made without alliums and served with spaghetti.
I’m equally happy using either pasta to be honest. As regards making the sauce, while I’ve previously sided with the Eternal City (even adding a splash of balsamic vinegar), I now consider myself an honorary Amatrician; because really this sauce is all about the guanciale - garlic and onions are simply unnecessary. Having said that, with so few ingredients involved you should also pay a premium for a good tin of tomatoes and a fine hunk of pecorino.
If you find it difficult to source guanciale locally, you can buy it online from Gastronomica, Natoora or Nifeislife.
for the sugo (enough for four 80g servings of pasta)
red chilli pepper (or dried chilli flakes) to taste
90 ml dry white wine
1 400g tin of good Italian tomatoes
Chop the gunaciale into small matchstick-sized strips (see picture). Finely chop some red chilli pepper, how much being a question of taste. I used half of a 140mm long pepper; you could also use a good pinch of dried flakes. Pour the contents of the tin of tomatoes into a bowl and scrunch up the flesh with your hand.
Spread the guanciale strips across the base of a large frying pan. Place over a fairly low heat, so the guanciale releases its fat and takes on a little colour - maybe 15 minutes or so. You don't want it to crisp up too much.
Add the chilli and cook for a minute or so. Then throw in the white wine and let it bubble away to almost nothing, stirring and scraping with a wooden spoon to incorporate any sticky bits from the base of the frying pan.
Add the tomatoes, stir, and let the sauce simmer gently for about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.
for the pasta (per serving)
It's always worth remembering these words from Marcella Hazan when cooking pasta:
'Pasta needs lots of water to move around in, or it becomes gummy. Four litres of water are required for 450g pasta. Never use less than 3 litres, even for a small amount of pasta...For every 450g pasta, put in no less than 1½ tablespoons of salt...Add the salt when the water comes to the boil. Wait until the water comes to a full, roiling boil before putting in the pasta...Never put oil in the water except when cooking stuffed homemade pasta...In the sequence of steps that lead to producing a dish of pasta...none is more important than tossing... However marvellous a sauce may be, it cannot merely sit on top of or at the bottom of the bowl. If it is not broadly and uniformly distributed, the pasta for which it is intended will have little flavour.'
Cook your pasta for the length of time indicated on the packet. I then use a pasta scoop to transfer it directly into the frying pan, along with a little of the cooking water to loosen the sauce. If you are draining your pasta, reserve a spoonful or two of the water for this purpose. Add a heaped tablespoon of grated pecorino for each serving and a grind or two of black pepper. Mix everything together so every strand of spaghetti is well coated with sauce. Serve in deep bowls with extra pecorino on the side.
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