Roman dishes like this are classically simple and rely solely on some cured local pork and a handful of Italian pantry staples.
My attempt is somewhere between the two. I wanted the depth of flavor and richness that is at the core of this hearty classic, but I wanted an element of freshness and ease of execution (no need to cook the tomato sauce all day). And as always, a little heat from some red chile flakes is never a bad thing.
The flavor really comes from the beautifully rendered fat of the pancetta, which is a perfect compliment to some high quality San Marzano’s that are simmered just enough for the flavors to marry and the brightness of the tomatoes to shine through.
- 4 oz pancetta or guanciale, diced
- 12 oz high quality dried bucatini
- 1 28 oz can crushed San Marzano tomatoes
- 3-4 garlic cloves, minced
- 1/2 yellow onion, finely diced (optional)
- 1 tsp red chile flakes (more to taste)
- 2 TBSP olive oil
- Kosher salt, oregano, black pepper, to taste
- Grated parmesan, chopped parsley, and toasted breadcrumbs to finish
- Heat 1 TBSP olive oil in a small dutch oven or other thick-bottomed pan over medium heat. Add pancetta and cook until most of the fat has rendered, about 6 minutes.
- Remove pancetta with a slotted spoon and set aside. Add onion, stirring until translucent, about 3 minutes, then red chile flakes and garlic, stirring about 30 more seconds until they become aromatic but not browned.
- Return pancetta to pot along with crushed tomatoes and reduce heat to low. Simmer for 1-1.5 hours, stirring occasionally to prevent anything from sticking to the bottom.
- Bring a large pot of generously salted water (you want the pasta water to taste like the sea) to a boil, add bucatini and cook just shy of al dente, tasting along the way. Bucatini is a thicker pasta, so you’re looking for a slightly firm but not at all crunchy texture. The last minute or two of cooking will take place in a pan with the sauce.
- Taste the sauce…add a little salt, oregano, black pepper, or more chile flakes depending on taste. Heat 1-2 TBSP olive oil in the largest saute pan you have, then add a few ladles (about 2 cups total) of the sauce and simmer gently over medium heat.
- When the pasta is done, use tongs to transfer to the saute pan, along with about 1/4 cup of pasta water. Shake, toss, and stir consistently until a well incorporated sauce is formed, about 2-3 minutes. If it looks too thick, add another 1/4 cup of pasta water and reduce. This trick is also useful if the pasta is still a little too al-dente for your tastes. This technique is also nice because you’ll be able to tell quickly if you need to add more sauce. If you’ve over-sauced initially, not a big deal either because whatever doesn’t cling to the pasta you can serve on top (as pictured above). Make sure you get get some of those delicious pancetta bits in there!
- Serve in warm bowls, top with grated parmesan, toasted breadcrumbs, and fresh parsley.