Classic Spaghetti Amatriciana

Date cooked: December 12, 2021

Linda and a friend went to Italy for three months this past fall. When they returned they brought a wheel of pecorino romano cheese – and they gave us a nice hunk. Much better than “My sister-in-law went to Italy and all I got was this lousy T-shirt.”

Real Italian pecorino romano cheese
Real Italian Pecorino Romano Cheese

We sampled it and it was delicious. We were trying to decide what would do justice for this cheese when Linda shared this Classic Spaghetti Amatriciana recipe from A Beautiful Plate website. Amatriciana sauce originated in the Italian town of Amatrice. The key ingredients are cured pork cheek and pecorina romano cheese. This Wikipedia article tells more about it. This recipe calls for eight ounces of thick cubed pancetta (pork belly) in place of the pork cheek. It was on like Donkey Kong.

I haven’t found a place that sells whole chunks of pancetta. Our local grocer used to but no longer. Using the pre-packaged paperthin variety was not an option so I searched local grocery stores for pre-cubed pancetta; I found some at Barbur World Foods on Highway 99 in Southwest Portland. Not having to cube the pancetta myself made the rest of the prep really easy.

Sauce ingredients for Spaghetti Amatriciana

Dice the onion, mince some garlic in the press, shred a bit of cheese, and measure out a couple of ingredients and I was ready

Spaghetti Amatriciana sauce mise en place

Eight ounces is a lot of pancetta. Yum!

Sauteing cubed pancetta

Saute it and use a slotted spoon to reserve the pancetta leaving the fat behind.

Reserved pancetta will be re-added to the sauce later.

Saute the onion in the fat; add the garlic; then some tomato paste and red pepper flakes. The recipe calls for 1 to 2 teaspoons of crushed red pepper flakes; I started with ½ teaspoon and it was plenty spicy for us. Then, add the crushed tomatoes and simmer to reduce.

Amatriciana sauce reducing

While the sauce simmers, cook the noodles. Once the sauce is thickened, add the grated pecorino romano cheese.

Tip: get your water up to a low simmer when you start sauteing the pancetta. That way you can turn up the heat and get a rolling boil pretty quickly when it’s time to cook the pasta. Reserve a cup of the starchy pasta water then drain the pasta; return it to the pot and toss with a Tablespoon of soft butter. The recipe calls for adding the sauce to the pasta pot, but I find that makes cleanup harder. So I use a large non-stick skillet and add the pasta to the sauce. Add some of the reserved pasta water to make the sauce a bit looser.

Pasta Amatriciana ready for serving

Dinner is served, passing extra shredded pecorino romano for your guests to add.

Spaghetti Amatriciana ready to eat. Side salad and a glass of red wine. Maybe some day I’ll tell you how I came upon that stainless steel wine glass with Route 66 and my name on it. Or maybe Jim M. can tell you.

Of course I was using my camera throughtout the cook; at dinner Cornelius posed for a picture; Jurgen, not so much. They aren’t always fond of our grown up Sunday meals so we made some bowtie pasta with olive oil and parmesan cheese (are we mean to not share that pecorino romano with them?).

Cornelius enjoying his special pasta

Rating: ★★ 4 stars. I’d be proud to serve this dish to any pasta lover. I don’t think I’ll fly to Italy to get that cheese, but any good cheese section should have a nice pecorino romano cheese. Please don’t use the stuff in the green can; (oh, go ahead I’m not going to judge). This might be just the dish if you are like my friend Terri who demands simple prep; buy the pre-cubed pancetta and all you have to do is chop the onion and push the garlic through a garlic press.

Go to the A Beautiful Plate website for the original recipe; or you can download my PDF version with my notes.

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