A quick and easy sauce to make, the Amatriciana, originally from Amatrice in Lazio, is traditionally very simple to make using a merging together of guanciale (cured pork cheek) and pecorino cheese. In the case of carbonara with the addition of egg yolk and with Amatriciana (matriciana-Roman dialect) using tomatoes. The fatty pork melts along with the cheese in to the tomatos giving a wonderful flavour.
In the UK, especially during pandemic lockdown, it is virtually impossible to get hold of guanciale and pecorino cheese is hard to come by so this is my version which is really just an idea of the day.
I start by melting some butter in a quality extra virgin olive oil with the purpose of creating a full flavorsome fat experience that you might get from guanciale. I added cured, smoked bacon, chopped without cutting off fat and fry in a moderately high heat.
I leave it frying until the bacon fat starts bubbling off the meat and mixes with the fat of the oil and butter and I allow it to brown and go almost crispy, and yet-still soft I don't want to turn the bacon in to crisps.
For a 5 minute prep I would stop there however, I would like to add onions so I get a nice onion hit inside the fat mix. I sliced the onions against the grain using a chefs knife, wafer, see through thin so they cook quickly and I cut them a couple of times with the grain so I get slightly long shreds of onions so I will be able to taste them almost individually in a forkful as opposed to dicing them with the purpose of making them disappear just to become one with the sauce. In terms of quantity I'm using one giant onion which could be the equivalent to 3 supermarket onions or 6 of the tiny value? onions.
The bacon I wanted to cook hard and brown slightly to extract the full flavour but the onions I don't want to brown but need them thoroughly cooked so they go in to caramalised deep golden buds of onion flavour hits.
To do this, and also to speed up proceedings, I add a few table spoons of water, stir any burnt bacon from the bottom of the pan and add the lid. I give them a good stir every couple of minutes and if they are starting to burn I add more water.
Now for me, I use a filtered water as depending on where you live, water can have some bad odours and when your constantly evaporating that water you will be concentrating those bad odours-personally I really detest this and I find you can really taste the difference when some dishes made high in Italian mountains using fresh and almost sweet tasting mountain water. In the UK I have a water filter jug that I have next to my stove.
When the onions are cooked to a molten golden treacle it means they are ready and I have removed the lid to allow any added water to have evaporated. Here I add the Casa Varisco Tomato sauce. Traditionally you would just add fresh tomatoes but the sauce is made using fresh tomatoes which are sweetened with a few other ingredients such as wine in order to counteract the bitterness of a tomato that hasn't been ripened in the natural sun, in Italy. If I hadn't have added the onions I might have added a little squeeze of tomato concentrate which would also give it a deeper tomato colour, however for today, I am keen on capatalising on the onion flavour so I want to keep it pure and contaminate it as little as possible.
I heat the sauce while stirring it in to the onion and bacon. Here comes the pecorino part which I don't have but I do have a touch of fresh grana padano and I grate a few strokes directly in to the sauce.
I had cooked some spaghetti- personally I like a thickness of around 8 minutes cooking time, I don't like it too thick so it can soak up a higher proportion of sauce as this is the main focus in this sitting, the pasta is just to go with it. However, use a quality pasta that will produce a nice al dente texture. My go to for this is Barilla N.5, it doesn't have to be made in Italy as long as it's good- Panzani is excellent and is not made in Italy while other supermarket brands made in Italy I find turn in to some kind of horrible glutinous goo while managing to skip the whole al dente phase.
Some people In the UK don't like pasta al dente, although always remember, it is better for your body to eat al dente and you will gain less weight eating it like this for those who have weight concerns.
I cooked the pasta in this case 1 minute below what it said for al denete, drained it and stirred it in to the sauce while still in the pan. When serving I added a modest amount of grano padana to begin with but by my fourth helping had upped the dosage considerably.
Obviously this is just one in a million ways to approach this sauce which also expressed my mood of the day. I hope you will also explore and find yourself in this dish.