The town of Amatrice is famous for two things. Many of the papal cooks over the centuries came from here and, just as significantly, so did the simplest and most delicious of all pasta sauces – sugo all’amatriciana. As they seldom pronounce the ‘a’ in this commune 65 kilometres north of Rome, you often find it written as ‘sugo alla matriciana’ on modern menus.
This ‘food fact’ is almost as boring as knowing the ‘phonetics fact’ that dropping, and not pronouncing, a silent vowel like this at the front of a word is called ‘aphaeresis’.
I was first taught this as a ‘cucina povera’ (peasant cooking) dish by a disreputable Roman when we had no bacon left, just some rendered lard left over from frying the pig bits for carbonara the night before. This ‘strutto’ gave an equally meaty depth and lovely silkiness to a simple tomato and garlic sauce, and this is why I like to use the bacon just as a garnish for my matriciana.
- sea salt
- 500 g dried rigatoni or penne
- 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
- 300 g bacon or pancetta (or fancy guanciale if you can find it), cut into batons
- 1 red onion, finely chopped
- 6 garlic cloves, crushed
- 2 × 400 g cans whole peeled tomatoes, ideally cherry
- 1 lemon, zest peeled into a 4 cm strip, lemon juiced
- 100 g pecorino (or parmesan if you prefer), finely grated.
Bring a large saucepan of water as salty as the sea to the boil over high heat. Add the pasta and stir in a cup of cold water to separate the pasta and stop it sticking. Return to the boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for 2 minutes less than it says on the packet or until al dente.
While your water is coming to the boil, heat the oil in a frying pan over medium–high heat. Add the bacon or pancetta and cook for 3–4 minutes or until crispy. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on a plate lined with paper towel.
Add the onion to the pan and cook in the rendered fat for 5 minutes or until softened. Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute or until aromatic. Mash in one of the cans of tomatoes, then add the other (without mashing) and the strip of lemon zest. Cook for 10 minutes or until reduced and thickened.
While the sauce is reducing, check the pasta – it should be cooked but still with a little resistance. Scoop out and reserve 250 ml (1 cup) of the cooking water.
If you want to warm your bowls and keep your pasta good and hot to serve, here is a little trick I have picked up. Place your serving bowls in the sink and put the colander on top. Drain the pasta through the colander, allowing the cooking water to warm your bowls. Brilliant! (Just remember to dry the bowls before serving up!)
Add the pasta to the tomato sauce, splash in a little of the reserved pasta cooking water and toss to coat the pasta. Taste and season with salt and lemon juice.
Scoop into the serving bowls, top with the crispy bacon or pancetta and finish with a good sprinkling of pecorino.
TIP: Herbs – especially marjoram or oregano – make this meal prettier but will double the price of the dish if you have to buy a sleeve of herbs from the supermarket. Plant a herb garden and save $$$$$$$!
Yummy Easy Quick Around the World by Matt Preston, published by Plum.