Spaghetti alla Amatriciana: Would You Know it if You Saw it? Just Make it Yourself!

With our two favorite dinner guests Sheri and Don (who we don’t get to see often enough, but when we do) Laura and I always play a game, “COOK SOMETHING FOR SHERI , SHE WON’T RECOGNIZE OR KNOW THE NAME OF.” So due to an earthquake in Italy we learned of Pasta Amatriciana and taught ourselves how to make it. Exquisite dish! Lovingly placed it in front Sheri and she exclaims with glee, “Ooooh Amatriciana, one of my favorite dishes.” Damn you, Sheri, we’re foiled again.

So here’s some back story of the dish and the attached recipe. Easy to make and, without a doubt, mouth-wateringly delicious!!!

The mountain town of Amatrice, was devastated by an earthquake that hit central Italy a couple of years ago. The town is not usually mentioned in the same breath as other celebrated hilltop towns in the area. However, to most Italians, Amatrice is a household word. Pasta Amatriciana, the bacon-and-tomato sauce-based dish that bears the town’s name, is a beloved national staple.

Thanks to the mainstreaming of ethnic cuisines, and to the bacon craze sweeping the United States, it has become popular around the world.

Its history is an example of how simple and humble Italian dishes, once the food of peasants, have been turned into global success stories.

In fact, according to Italian-American celebrity Chef Mario Batali, “Amatrice is considered by many Italians to be birthplace of the best cooks in the country.” That may be a debatable statement in a country where people will go to great lengths to defend their local culinary traditions. But one thing is for sure: the great food legacy of Amatrice will no doubt survive the earthquake that devastated its birthplace.


Author: Jim Kirkley

A classic pasta from the town of Amatrice in Italy

Serves: 4

Spaghetti alla Amatriciana


1/3 pound, pancetta in 1 piece – partially frozen (see Notes)
2 tablespoons, robust extra virgin olive oil
1 onion – thinly sliced
red pepper flakes
1 tablespoon, chopped fresh Italian parsley leaves
1 1/2 tablespoons, red wine vinegar
3/4 cup, tomato puree
3/4 pound, spaghetti or bucatini
Freshly grated Parmesan (recommended: Pecorino Romano)


  1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat.
  2. Meanwhile, unroll the pancetta. Cut it into 1-inch long chunks, and then slice each chunk thinly across the grain.
  3. Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over moderately low heat. Add the pancetta (or blanched bacon if using) and cook until it renders some of its fat, about 5 minutes. Do not allow it to crisp. Add the onion and cook until soft, about 10 minutes. While the onion is cooking, add the pasta to the boiling water.
  4. Add the red pepper flakes and parsley to the onion mixture and cook briefly to release their fragrance. Add the vinegar and simmer briefly until it evaporates, then add the tomato sauce and 1/4 cup of the pasta water. Simmer briefly to blend.
  5. When the pasta is just shy of al dente, drain it and return it to the warm pot over moderate heat. Add the sauce and cook briefly so the pasta absorbs some of the sauce, then transfer the pasta to a warmed serving bowl and shower with the pecorino. Serve immediately.


Start boiling the pasta after the onions have softened so that you have some starchy pasta water for your sauce. Putting the pancetta in the freezer for about 30 minutes will make it easier to slice. If you cannot find pancetta, bacon will work. To reduce the smoky flavor of the bacon (pancetta is not smoked) blanch the bacon in boiling water (heat water to boiling, add bacon, turn off heat, wait 5 minutes, remove bacon) dry bacon and slice into 1/4 inch pieces.


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