Want to talk comfort food? No need, this dish is it. End of discussion. Okay, I’d be open to a discussion that included mac and cheese, but short of that, this pasta dish is hands down top of my list. I ate this for the first time in Italy, many (many) years ago. If my memory was better I could tell you the name of the charming little town or the amazing hole-in-the-wall restaurant where I ate it. But I have 3 kids and no memory left, so let’s just say Italy.
Bucatini looks just like spaghetti but has a long, thin hole down through the center. It is now readily available in most markets. But I like to make this dish with rigatoni, so that all the sauce gets caught inside the pasta. Try both.
So Bucatini all’Amatriciana is a traditionally Roman dish made with onions, diced tomatoes, and pancetta. Every Italian nonna has her own secret recipe, a little of this or a bit of that. Lucky for me (and now for you) I married into a family with a great Italian nonna (now with 5 gorgeous grandchildren)! Thanks nonna Luciana for passing along this family treasure (“bella tesoro” as nonna Maria would have said), first to Lee and now to me.
The second time I ate this dish my husband made it for me. Luciana taught him how to make both Bucatini all’Amatriciana and Chicken Milanese (this made him a real catch with the ladies!). He considers these his “signature dishes” and every once in a while he still makes me a heaping bowl of steamy, delicious, pasta.
2- ¼ inch thick slices of pancetta, diced (pancetta has a strong smell when cooking it up, but tastes great)
½ large sweet Vidalia onion, diced
½ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1-2 tablespoons red wine vinegar (I use regular red wine too, a little for me and a little for the sauce).
1-28oz. can diced San Marzano tomatoes
1 box rigatoni, cooked in salty water and according to the box instructions. *Reserve 1 cup cooking water.
In a large, deep skillet, sauté the diced pancetta. You want the pancetta lightly browned but not crispy. Do not add salt at this point, as pancetta is in the bacon family and quite salty.
Remove the pancetta with a slotted spoon and add the onions, sautéing about 5 minutes or until translucent. Add the red pepper flakes and cook another 1 minute. Add the vinegar and deglaze the bottom of the pan. Basically as you mix, the vinegar picks up the browned bits from the bottom of the pan (called fond). These browned bits have tons of flavor. Then add the tomatoes and the cooked pancetta back into the skillet. Simmer for about 10 minutes. Sauce will reduce quickly. Add the pasta to the sauce, mixing well. Add a bit of pasta water as this will thicken the sauce and help the sauce to adhere to the pasta. Taste the pasta at this point and add a bit of salt if needed. Serve with fresh grated Parmesan cheese.