Simple, Basic, Classic Pasta Dish: Amatriciana

We have a new pasta dish here in¬†The Bachelor’s Kitchen. It’s a classic, simple, but full-flavored pasta dish that goes well with a mixed salad, especially with balsamic vinegar. It’s called Amatriciana. An easy-to-read version is available on this website at the recipe name link above.

The origins of this simple sauce are not clear. Likely it came from the area around Amatrice, a mountainous part of Italy. The base of this sauce, traditionally, is cured pork cheek. (Don’t get squeamish, the cheek, like the tongue, is often the tastiest part of many animals.) Since that ingredient may not be readily available in your grocery store’s meat section, you can use lean, thick-cut bacon instead.

There’s lots of room to change this to match your tastes, like more herbs (that’s what we like), different kinds of pasta, and different kinds of cheese (just stay away from soft cheeses, you need something with some strength). Any brand of can stewed tomatoes will work, just don’t select the ones that are already¬†seasoned.

To begin, you’ll need a large skillet or a medium saucepan to warm up on the stove. Remember, set it on a low heat so the pan doesn’t start to smoke. Turn the heat up to medium-high when you’re ready to cook. You will also need a pot to cook the pasta.

Chop up four or five slices of bacon in a dice. Don’t go cheap here. The more fat you have the greasier your dish will be. We like to get ours from a smoked meat vendor at the Farmers’ Market. Also, chop enough onion for about a half-cup. A teaspoon of minced garlic is also needed and you may have to chop that as well. For dishes like this, we often use pre-cut garlic packed in olive oil to save time. Measure out about a 1/4 teaspoon of crushed red pepper flakes, it adds just a little bite to the sauce but it won’t clear your sinuses.

For pasta, a pound of dry linguini or fettucini is preferred, but if all you have is spaghetti, that will work, too. If you have fresh basil, use it. We grow our own so we have fresh basil all year. You can also use flat leaf parsley or half the amount of dried herbs. That might not seem like much, but we’re not making pesto, here.

Now, let’s talk cheese. Please, we beg you, spend the money for real Parmegiano cheese. Pecorino, a sheep’s milk cheese, is just as good but has a slightly more intense flavor. Avoid that green canister of mostly sawdust. You can use the American Parmesan if you must but make sure it’s refrigerated.

Cook the bacon until crisp, about 5 minutes. If you use fatty bacon, drain all but about 2 tablespoons from the pan. If you used lean bacon, you can skip that. Add onions to the bacon grease and cook for about 3 minutes. Add the garlic and the red pepper flakes and cook for just about a minute. Add the tomatoes along with all the liquid in the cans. Let this mixture simmer over medium-high heat for 10 minutes. Stir frequently, breaking up the tomatoes as you stir.

While that’s cooking, turn up the heat under the pasta pot. Add several teaspoons of salt. Drop in the pasta when the water is at a rolling boil and cook according to package directions until al dente, about one minute less than package directions. Drain then add to the tomato mixture along with the basil. Toss and serve with the grated cheese.

If you don’t add the pasta to the sauce, hit it with some olive oil and toss to keep the strands from sticking together.