The Best Bucatini

Eric Guido's traditional take on an Italian classic

 


If it isn’t broken, why fix it? This is a question I’ve asked myself often as I’ve traveled the road of understanding traditional Italian cuisine. I understand adjusting a recipe to fit society’s current palate but in many cases I find it unwarranted. I can’t count how many times I’ve set out to experiment with a traditional recipe, thinking it may not appeal to the taster, only to find that they love it. In Italy, a sense of place is important, and if you take away certain components of a dish, you take away that which makes it special; you take away its sense of place.

 I found this to be extremely apparent with the dish, Bucatini all'Amatriciana.  I thought back to culinary school and looked at the old recipe I was given and then began to search for other recipes, some of which came from esteemed chefs.  One ingredient that almost all of these recipes substituted with pancetta is guanciale, which also happens to be the most important ingredient and the one that truly gives this dish a sense of place.  I ask again; if it isn’t broken, why fix it?
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It pays to take the traditional route with this Italian crowd-pleaser.
Guanciale is an unsmoked, salt cured meat prepared from the pig’s jowl or cheek. What does it taste like? It tastes like the best slice of bacon you’ve ever had. That flavor is imparted into the sauce of Bucatini all'Amatriciana and truly makes this dish special. It provides a rich pork flavor that is accentuated by a spicy tomato sauce and tempered with a sprinkle of pecorino Romano cheese. This is the stuff that stops conversations around the table, as your guests are enthralled by it’s depth of flavors. Best of all, it’s a simple preparation that only depends on sourcing the best ingredients and can be prepared, start to finish, in under a half hour. 

As for pairing wine, well that’s where it can get tricky. Remember that this is a spicy dish by nature and with heat, you always risk the possibility of overwhelming certain wines. I wouldn’t pair a feminine or elegant red with this dish because the heat will dull the wine on the palate. I would, however, start by looking at the place (sense of place) that this dish originated, in the Lazio region of Southern Italy. However, just to throw another interesting pairing at you, I paired this with a second wine, a Zinfandel from Sonoma County, and one of the most dependable producers I know: Ridge.

2004 Salvatore Molettieri Taurasi Cinque Querce -- The nose on the Molettieri taurasi was explosive and layered with ripe strawberry, musk, olive and cherry liquor. Upon tasting, flavors of blackberry, tar and minerals showed with a dark cherry mid-palate and a mouth-filling texture. This bottle had a good tannic structure with balanced acidity and enough fruit to keep this going for years to come. It stood tall against the Bucatini all'Amatriciana, but its structure begged me to wait a few more years before opening another bottle. This would probably be a perfect pairing in three to four years time.

2006 Ridge Zinfandel, East Bench -- This Ridge zin showed like a big basket of ultra ripe berries with rock dust and a cranberry whiff that lead into a slight heat on the nose. The palate showed velvety cherry jam, light vanilla and peppery spice, which accentuated the pasta. The finish is long, clean, and mouthwatering with briary fruit and very fresh against the heat of the sauce.

In the end, I think the Ridge won the day as a versatile, affordable red, which gives a lot of bang for the buck and screams to be paired against a spicy dish like this. I think the only disappointing point during this meal was when the East bench was declared finished.

Bucatini all'Amatriciana

I beg you to look for guanciale. Could you substitute it with pancetta and still enjoy this dish? Sure, but I assure you that it is pale in comparison to guanciale. I was able to find guanciale after only stopping at two Italian butchers. It’s certainly not something that you’ll find at the local supermarket but, with just a little digging, it’s very possible to source.

Also, I found that using a combination of both fresh and canned tomatoes gave this dish a gorgeous contrast on the palate and my tasting panel agreed wholeheartedly. You could just use the canned tomatoes but it would take away from the recipe, in my opinion.

Makes 4 – 5 servings

½ pound slice guanciale
1 pound Bucatini (pasta)
4 –5 cloves of Garlic (rough chop)
½ teaspoon red pepper flakes (you can double this if you prefer a good amount of heat)
28oz of canned San Marzano tomatoes
¾ cup of plum or grape tomatoes cut into large dice (must be fresh and ripe)
¾ cup of grated pecorino Romano cheese
½ cup red wine (preferably the same wine you plan to pair with the dish)
Olive oil (as needed)
Bunch of fresh basil (for garnish)

Place a large pot of salted water on a burner on high to bring to a boil.

Strain the juice from the canned tomatoes and, over a strainer, try to remove as many seeds as possible.  When you’re done, you should have a bowl of strained and deseeded tomatoes and a bowl of tomato juice.

Place a medium to large sauté pan (or sauce pan) over a medium flame.  Add olive oil to just barley coat the pan.  Before the oil gets too hot, add the guanciale.  Think about making Sunday bacon, but with the intention of pulling the meat before it gets crispy.

Add the pasta to the water and set the timer for one minute short of its recommended cooking time.

Remove the guanciale from the pan onto a paper towel to drain, and pour the rendered fat from the pan through a fine mesh strainer.  (This is not 100% necessary, but those small bits you can’t scoop out with a spoon may burn if you leave them in the pan.)  Wipe any burnt bits from the pan and pour two tbls of the rendered pork fat back into the pan.

Add the rep pepper flakes, the garlic and the fresh tomatoes.  Allow to cook over medium-low flame for two minutes.  Then (with the pan removed from the burner) add the red wine. 

Once the wine has begun to reduce, add the strained San Marzano tomatoes and a cup of the strained tomato juice that came from the can.  Bring this entire mixture to a simmer and allow to reduce for 3 – 5 minutes.

Around this time, the pasta should be done.  Strain the pasta and pour back into the pot.  Now pour the sauce over the pasta and stir until combined.  Sprinkle half of the cheese into the pot as well as half of the cooked guanciale.  Over a low flame, stir until completely combined.  Allow this mixture to cook for one minute on low flame.

Check for seasoning, but remember that the guanciale can add a good amount of seasoning on its own.

Chiffonade the basil. 

To plate, place a mound of pasta on a heated plate and sprinkle with pecorino Romano, then guanciale, and finally the basil chiffonade.  Clean the rim of you plate and serve.


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Comments

  • Snooth User: Annechino
    359579 3

    Glad to see your respect for the authentic. I mean, what's with all these so-called Italian-American expert-chefs adding onions?
    I've eaten this dish (many times over an extended period of years) in different restaurants in the town of Amatricia. Once, when I asked about additional ingredients, the restaurant owner gave me a post-card listing the proper ingredients and CROSSED OUT CIPOLLA..."No cipolla," she said.
    By the way, I don't recall the addition of pepperoncino either.
    Thanks for the post.

    Joe Annechino
    <jannechi@hotmail.com>

    Aug 06, 2010 at 3:23 PM


  • Snooth User: dmcker
    Hand of Snooth
    125836 7,340

    Got me salavating, Eric, and it's not yet 6am on a Friday morn, and I'm up to get a lot of work done on a busy day. I do miss a good Amatriciana, since I've yet to find one in Tokyo. With this recipe (and luck in finding the right pork), hopefully my kitchen will be the best place to find some.

    Any other wines from southern Italy, Campania or elsewhere, you'd want to try?

    Aug 06, 2010 at 4:01 PM


  • Snooth User: eggypann
    116269 1

    What do you substitute if you can't find guanciale?

    Aug 06, 2010 at 4:13 PM


  • Snooth User: michael5
    Hand of Snooth
    147458 61

    Boccalone is a great source for guanciale. Order it online at Boccalone.com and they will ship it to you.

    Aug 06, 2010 at 5:35 PM


  • Sunday we will try the "The Best Bucatini. The blending of spices and the two types of tomatoes is interesting. I will be calling the local Italian specialty stores in our area for the Guanciale. Oh, yes! Maybe an addition to your "Social" Heading . . . "Entr'Amis" (Among Friends)???? Michael Oliver, a wine grower in the Napa Valley area sometimes uses the term as a toast.

    Aug 06, 2010 at 6:58 PM


  • Snooth User: zinfandel1
    Hand of Snooth
    154660 1,004

    I love your recipes. Your dishes are from the heart. I will be trying this dish at our in home October wine tasting which consists of high end cabernets. However, for our sit down dinner I will serve the Ridge Zinfandel.
    I can't wait to try this dish.

    Aug 06, 2010 at 8:27 PM


  • Snooth User: Eric Guido
    Hand of Snooth Voice of Snooth
    92549 165,763

    eggypann- pretty much everyone that needs to substitute guanciale ends up doing it with pancetta.

    dmcker - I'm glad you asked, 2008 Hauner Bianco (mix of Catarratto and Inzolia) was paired with this at a dinner the following week with spectacular results. I also had a Californian, calistoga cab with this recipe that was gorgeous, I had a review of it on my blog at http://theviptable.blogspot.com/201...

    I guess what it comes down to is that it's extremely versatile. Whites with body, minerality and a hint of sweetness do great against the pork. Reds with rich structure mixed with vibrant acidity compliment the temperate heat (as long as you're not making it extra hot).

    Aug 06, 2010 at 8:52 PM


  • Snooth User: Eric Guido
    Hand of Snooth Voice of Snooth
    92549 165,763

    zinfandel1 - you are going to be very happy with the pairing. I've put more than one Ridge Zin against this dish and each has been spectacular. Most recently was the 2008 Three Valleys

    Aug 06, 2010 at 8:57 PM


  • I read this article with excitement as I knew it sounded delightful and within 30 minutes was out to the local Italian store (Cioffi's in Vancouver) to begin the day's event. I found the guanciale - even they weren't sure what it was - and all other ingredients and hurriedly went to my local grog shop to find just the right wine for this meal. I was searching for a Zin as suggested and had included your two listed on my grocery list. I found the Ridge Zin 2007 Three Valley, and another rated 90 on Wine Spectator - a 2008 "Twisted" Zinfandel Old Vine. I was excited with anticipation of which Zin to use for my pairing. I could hardly wait to begin the production!

    Finally, the time was here and I brought out the guanciale to look at and raised it up as if it were a good bottle of wine. It wasn't sliced yet so I tried to cut it as thin as I possibly could tho not with much success so I figured small thin slices across would work well too. Oh my - never replace this with anything - it is soo full of a real seasoned and homemade bacon flavour - nothing would compare.

    Finally, the meal was complete and I was ready to taste the fruits of my labour - I chose the Twisted to save the Ridge for another special day. The meal was utterly fantastic - and the Twisted was absolutely the perfect pairing for this meal.

    As you say, if it isn't broken, why fix it? And this sure isn't broken!! It's phenomenal.

    Aug 08, 2010 at 1:00 PM


  • Snooth User: Eric Guido
    Hand of Snooth Voice of Snooth
    92549 165,763

    BacchanalianBlonde - I'm really happy you enjoyed it so much. Nothing makes me happier than seeing people try these recipes and love them as much as I do. Thanks.

    Aug 08, 2010 at 2:29 PM


  • Snooth User: RalphDiG
    551304 7

    I think leaving out lots of sweet onion in this dish is heresy--the guanciale (or pancetta) and onion are what make Amatriciana special and distinct from ordinary pork ragu. Plus, there's nothing quote like the flavor melding of almost carmelized onion and pork jowel bacon. MY .02.

    Aug 13, 2010 at 3:56 PM


  • Snooth User: Eric Guido
    Hand of Snooth Voice of Snooth
    92549 165,763

    I certainly see your point. I'm not standing on a soap box here and saying that it's just plain wrong to change the recipe from its origins, I'm just trying to figure out why so many people substitute an ingredient that makes it so special. It's one thing for the local pizzeria but it's another when you see it in restaurants. Pancetta is simply so... pancetta like.

    It's like adding bacon, everything maybe better with bacon, if you adore the taste of bacon.

    Aug 14, 2010 at 2:51 PM


  • Snooth User: judles24
    89506 135

    Hail to the pig!
    This dish was a huge hit with company (aka Guinea pigs) this weekend. Easy to make and easier to gobble up. Wasn't sure how to cut the slab of guanciale so sliced it thick to cook. Might try cubing first next time and cooking over lower heat, was a bit chewy (when nibbled) until combined with sauce. Suggestions welcome!
    My sauce didn't coat the noodles like in the photo but there wasn't a morsel left over (4 people). Tried the Ridge Zin, great match, and also had a cheap 'n' cheerful Primitivo that worked well with and was a good 2nd wine.
    As much as I adore pancetta, using it instead would certainly taste different (but never bad - bacon good!).
    Thank you, Eric!

    Aug 16, 2010 at 3:03 PM


  • Snooth User: winetastinginLA
    Hand of Snooth
    498900 29

    I'm going to try this Best Bucatini. I have a Zin that I'm going to pair this wine. Will let you know the outcome. Thanks Eric!

    Aug 30, 2010 at 7:45 PM


  • Snooth User: Eric Guido
    Hand of Snooth Voice of Snooth
    92549 165,763

    Sounds great, let me know how it turns out and if the wine pairs well then please share what bottle it is.

    Aug 30, 2010 at 8:06 PM


  • Snooth User: Mr Lee
    390285 52

    I finally got around to trying your recipe Eric and it was fantastic. It was easy to prepare. I did double the red pepper to add some heat. Only I live in a small town in the badlands of New Mexico and had to settle for Pancetta. As for the wine I opened a bottle of 07 Brazin Old Vine Zin from Lodi. It was a great dinner. To cool things down after we had a simple Lemon Italian Ice with a 1/2 oz of Limoncello out of the freezer poured over it!

    Sep 24, 2010 at 12:12 AM


  • Snooth User: klex
    567679 16

    Eric, I started making my own Guanciale a few years ago because I could not find it in my area. This Italian dish is truely a show stopper; especially when made right, it is exquisite cuisine. I remember the first time I made it, my wife had no idea what guanciale was, every bite she took she exclaimed that it was the best thing that she had every eaten. Pairing the dish with a good Zinfandel is at the top of my list as well. Try a hearty Pinot Noir sometime....it's pretty good against the spice of the dish as well.

    Nov 10, 2010 at 1:31 PM


  • Snooth User: Eric Guido
    Hand of Snooth Voice of Snooth
    92549 165,763

    Thanks Klex.

    Making your own guanciale is amazing, that's great! Luckily, I have a very good "old school" Italian deli near my home. Really glad you enjoyed the article.

    Nov 10, 2010 at 8:01 PM


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