Bucatini all’ Amatriciana, Making Guanciale, and Charcutepalooza!

by formerchef on February 15, 2011

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Rome is one of my favorite cities on the planet. Each time I go I’m captivated by the beauty, the thousands of years of history around every turn, and of course by the food. If I had to pick a place outside the US to live, Rome would be in the top three.

One of my favorite dishes to eat in Rome is a pasta called Bucatini all’ Amatriciana. Ironically, this is not technically a “Roman” dish. As the name implies, it’s bucatini pasta in the style of the town of Amatrice, which is about 100 miles from Rome. Still, the Romans have made this dish their own and it can be found on almost every trattoria menu, which isn’t to say it’s common or boring. It may be a simple pasta with few ingredients, but it’s one of the most satisfying and tasty and I find myself ordering again and again.

What makes this dish is the guanciale; the jowl of the pig which has been cured for 40 days, similar to bacon. When we realizeded we had two pieces of jowl with our pig, the first thing my mom and I did was look at each other and say “guanciale.” She took over the curing process, salting and seasoning the meat in a recipe right out of Michael Ruhlman’s Charcuterie: The Craft of Salting, Smoking, and Curing book. It cured in the refrigerator for 15 days, and then hung in her basement, wrapped in cheesecloth for 40 days.  Her basement has the high humidity and cool temps this kind of air curing needs. Once it was ready, the moment I cut into it, I knew she’d gotten it right. There’s something specific in the smell, and I could tell this was it and it was going to be good.

From top left; raw piece of guanciale, seasonings, rubbed with salt.

After curing, cutting into the Guanciale.

The next step was to make the pasta dish and that was my responsibility. Shortly after the guanciale had finished curing I went over to my mom’s house to make us lunch. I think I got it right (see the recipe below) because it tasted just like the ones we’d had on our trips to Rome. As good as this Roman dish turned out, I’d still rather figure out how to move there, than just make the pasta at home.

On another note, does anyone remember when I posted about buying a pig in October, 2010, and wrote;
“What are you going to do with all that pork
, you ask?

The Year in Pork?
Something like that, though this will not become the “all pork all the time” blog, I promise” was my answer.

Although working from “snout to tail” is not a new idea,  two bloggers, Mrs Wheelbarrow and The Yummy Mummy, have improved on it, invited a everyone to join in, and created “Charcutepalooza.” How could I not participate? This post is for the February challange, the salt cure.
Charcutepalooza is a year long online blogging event which focuses on the joys of charcuterie, using Ruhlman’s book Charcuterie as inspiration. This thing has taken on a life of its own, with big time partners and sponsors, an amazing grand prize and some well known judges. There are now over 200 bloggers involved and if you’re interested in what other people are doing or the contest portion of the event, make sure you check it out the links.  Let me know if this is something you are already participating in, or if you’re going to follow along and reap the benefits of everyone’s experience.

Bucatini all’ Amatriciana Recipe
Printable Recipe in PDF

4 oz guanciale (cured pork jowl, you can substitute bacon or pancetta if needed)
4 oz diced yellow onion (1/2 medium onion)
1 can plum tomatoes, diced (28 oz) or 2 cups diced fresh plum tomatoes
1/4 tsp. red pepper flakes
1/4 cup grated pecorino cheese
3/4 lb Buccatini pasta (thin tube shaped pasta, can sub spaghetti)

*Recipe notes; when I looked at recipes for this dish, they were all over the map. Some had garlic, some called for red onion, and a couple even listed vinegar in the ingredients. From what I can tell from the history, in Amatrice no garlic or onion is used, the onion being added later by the Romans. I decided to include the onion, because I’m used to the Roman version. This recipe is how I chose to make my version in the end, and we enjoyed it very much.


  1. Dice the guanciale into 1/4 inch pieces. Dice the onion. Chop up the tomatoes if necessary.
  2. Bring a large pot of water to a boil for the pasta.
  3. Heat a large saute pan and add the guanciale. Let this cook for a while until it becomes soft and translucent and some of the fat has rendered off. Add the diced onion and cook it along with the guanciale until the onion is soft and the meat has started to get crisp.
  4. Add the pasta to the boiling water and cook until al dente.
  5. Add the tomatoes and their juice to the guanciale and onions, stir, and let it cook on medium-low for about 10 minutes. When thickened, add the red pepper flakes and half the cheese and stir.
  6. Toss the sauce with the pasta (or spoon it on top) and then garnish with the remaining cheese as desired.

“Mangia!” as my Sicilian grandma would say.

This post is part of the Wanderfood Wednesday round up of food and travel.

1 Myra February 15, 2011 at 6:41 am

I LOVE Rome. And one of my favorite dishes to order when in Rome, is Bucatini all’ Amatriciana. I had no idea it was so easy to make! I can’t wait to try this.

2 formerchef February 15, 2011 at 11:36 am

Myra, it really is easy. But it’s no substitute for being in Rome.

3 Myra February 16, 2011 at 5:44 pm

Yes, and now I’m craving another visit to Rome . I made this tonight with pancetta – it’s delicious. I’m glad I doubled the recipe!

4 Vivian February 15, 2011 at 7:17 am

Oh I love what you did with the guanciale 🙂 My pancetta should be done in about another week or so, can’t wait to cook with it.

5 formerchef February 15, 2011 at 11:35 am

Thanks Vivian, there is nothing quite like home made Pancetta. Like bacon, it goes well with everything. 😉

6 Sharon Miro February 15, 2011 at 7:27 am

I can attest that the pasta was pefect! An incredibly fresh taste, married to the pungent guanciale makes for a great lunch, or dinner!

7 Mardi@eatlivetravelwrite February 15, 2011 at 10:36 am

I also made bucatini alla’amatriciana (from Mario Batali’s recipe) with my pancetta. Isn’t is a great dish? Didn’t remember you were participating in Charcutepalooza – adding your blog to my reader now!

8 formerchef February 15, 2011 at 11:34 am

Thanks! I will check out your version too!

9 Charles G. Thompson February 15, 2011 at 7:31 pm

I am so impressed! Guanciale from your very own pig. Nice. A few years back I spent a couple of months in Umbria, about an hour by train from Rome, and went in to “town” all the time. I agree, I could live there. Love that you’re doing Chaructepalooza. I knew of it, am not joining in but will watch from the sidelines. This dish sounds great.

10 formerchef February 15, 2011 at 8:11 pm

Thanks Charles. Some day, when I’m “retired” I hope to spend at least 6 months at some point living in Rome.

11 Winnie February 18, 2011 at 5:18 pm

This looks amazing. I need to give the guanciale a go, as well- might be willing to use the pink salt next time 🙂

12 Sharon Miro February 19, 2011 at 8:15 am

Winnie, actually guanciale is one of the few things that doesn’t call for pink salt! But it does take around 3-4 weeks to dry properly.

13 Priyanka February 20, 2011 at 6:12 am

Hi, first time here and loved it 🙂

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