Penne all’amatriciana

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Couple of weeks ago I had a few friends over for a small get together (about 10-12 people).  Aside from drinks, appetizers, and munchies we wanted to have a good pasta.  After a small debate we went for "pasta all'amatriciana".  I hadn't had it for sometime and it was cold outsite, great timing!

Amatriciana is what I define a "ubiquitous" dish in Italy.  You can find it pretty much in every restaurant, in fact in many restaurant it may not even be in the menu.  You just ask for it.  Afterall, which chef/cook wouldn't know how to make it?

The history of this dish is very interesting.  You can check it out on wikipedia.  Of course the Amatrice site (allegedly the town where the sauce was first invented) reports that the dish was indeed invented there.  Originally it was a dish prepared by the the mountain shepards and later introduced to the Romans (which renamed it "Matriciana").

Given such rich history you could also understand why there are so many different variations of the basic recipe.  Onions? Garlic? Guanciale? Bacon? Tomatos? Pecorino? Lots of questions. 

I did find lots of recipes, just to name a few: Il Babbo, Barilla (Italian), DeLaurenti, Gennarino (Italian).

Here're the ingredients I bought at QFC to make the pasta for 12 people (50/50 malefemale). 

  • 3 packages of "penne rigate" (Barilla
  • 3 big cans of "crushed tomatoes" (S&W brand)
  • 6 fresh tomatoes
  • 2 sticks of celery
  • 1 onion 
  • 1 carrot
  • 1 pound of pork steaks (the ones with a little more fat)
  • 1 pound of thick fresh bacon
  • Parmiggiano
  • Red pepper flakes
  • Salt, Pepper, olive oil

My tought process on the selection of the ingredients:

  • It would have great to have guanciale,  but it's not that easy to find and I decided on the dish two hours before dinner.  Get some good chunks of pork that have a mix of lean and fatty parts…it's not that far (butcher' son speaking here!)
  • Yes, pancetta is better than bacon…but it costs four times as much and it does make a difference when you are cooking for lots of people.  Go for the thick fresh bacon.
  • I had parmiggiano already…so I did not go off and buy the pecorino.  This ingredient is quite important…invest a few extra $$$ and get it from a higher-end market (I got mine at PCC)
  • Celery, tomatoes, crushed tomators, etc… I use these for the tomato "base" sauce .  I will probably cover this in a different posting another day.
  • I chose penne for a couple of reason: (1) Bucatini where not available and penne are actually a great alternative from a flavor perspective (they absorb lots of flavor and that's great with a rich sauce) (2) penne are much easier to eat standing or sitting who knows where.  "ease" of eating is always an important factor when cooking for lots of people…bucatini don't really fall in this category.

Now the steps for the sauce.

  1. Get a nice and thik sauce pan and add olive oil.  I probably used a little more than half cup, my grandma would reccomend leaning toward the "more" olive oil rather than being short.
  2. Warm up the olive oil and add the chunks of pork (I took the steaks and cut them in bite-size chuncks).
  3. After a minute add the bacon (need to cut it in small chunks as well)
  4. Have everything cook until "lightly golden".  Don't burn it, don't worry too much about being perfectly cooked, it will get cooked more later.
  5. Remove the pork and bacon from the pan and place it in a platter.  You'll need this later.
  6. Now add the diced onion, the diced celery and the diced carrot.  Let is cooked until "lightly golden".  Don't burn it!
  7. Add the diced tomatoes (I usually discard all the "tomato interiors" before dicing it)
  8. Have the tomatoes cook for a few mins…you'll see the tomato starting melting
  9. Add the pork stuff back and give it a good stir.  
  10. After 30-60 seconds add the crushed tomatoes from the cans
  11. Spice it up!  Add the chilli pepper flakes (a teaspoon), pepper and salt.  Don't be shy!
  12. Now, get it to the simmering point and leave it cooking for at least an hour. Keep stearing the sauce as necessary.  You don't want it to burn at the bottom.
  13. The sauce is pretty much done (I usually leave it on a the very low heat)

The pasta part is relatively straightforward:

  1. Bring a big pot of water to boil
  2. Drop the pasta and add salt (a good handful is a good start)
  3. Let is cook for about 12-15mins.  NOTE: the cooking time indicated on the package is based on the time the water is boiling.  This means that to properly cook it you need to add a few extra mins
  4. Taste the pasta…so you know if it's cooked right
  5. When you are done just drain it

Bringing the dish together

  1. Take the drained pasta and pour it in the sauce (with the heat on)
  2. Stir them together over medium heat for a minute or so
  3. optional: add some cheese as you are steering. This is optional since you could do it later directly in the plate, think of people that don't like cheese!
  4. You are good to go!!!

To close on the story.  Everyone seemed to have loved the pasta.  The real proof is that there was no pasta left and everyone got a second serving.

You can find a few reference pix here.

Would love to hear any suggestions or comments!

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Showing 5 comments
  • Hellai

    I can attest to the fact that everyone went for seconds after this dish was served. Now, if only there was a vegetarian version, I would be able to indulge!

  • G. LaScola

    You have to be kidding me. You call that recipe a recipe for Amatriciana!! Carrots… celery…! Non posso dire di piu.

  • Magi-Ken

    Hey, G. LaScola, read the 4th paragraph and note the key word, “variations.” What is traditional in one place is not so everywhere.

    Dear Hellai, I trained under a very good Italian prize chef, Rose Costabel, may she rest in her Lord and rise to eat at His table. Later I became a vegetarian and have been one for over 30 years now. Try Worthington brand WHAM frozen roll and a small amount of either Worthington Stripples or Morning Star brand Breakfast Strips. Cook both in the olive oil for about half the time you would real meat. The rest is all vegetarian anyway except the cheese to purists. Then again, Galaxy Foods makes both a fine vegan and a vegetarian substitute or if whole milk is OK, and you are only avoiding animal gut rennet, then Mount Horeb Cheese in Wisconsin will ship fresh blocks with dry ice and proper no-freeze insulation right to your home.

    I know, G. LaScola, more sacrilegious than carrots, but give it to your vegetarian friends (or make some vegetarian friends) and then see how they love it and you too.

    I would also add a couple of cloves of fresh garlic thinly sliced or crushed in a press if pressed for time.

    Good eating my friends!

  • Stavarous

    Where I live in Louisville, KY, we can’t get 10-12 friends together without there being a couple of vegetarians and some pescatarians (not against meat, but prefer seafood for health) as well.

    So I prepare this sauce as above, adding garlic and leaving out the celery and carrots, but they’re OK for those who are French-trained and like that taste.

    Then I put out a warm plate of seasoned and suteed bay scallops or shrimp for those who care for them, and a bowl of Romano to let folks add cheese to taste.

    I like light tomato sauces, and usually save the pork and bacon for the occasional Carbonara (I’m on a mandatory heart-healthy diet, but I have to have my Carbonara now and then).

    Everybody enjoy!

    I agree that penne is a fine choice for the pasta.

  • Stavarous

    I’ve been thinking about this with regard to the pork and bacon in the original recipe, and I think smoked portabellas may make an acceptable substitute for the American taste for bacon. Pancetta is not smoked, of course, but American bacon is, so I’m going to try adding a little of that taste via mushrooms. I’ve done this before, but never in a tomato sauce. If you get to it first, let me know how it comes out.

    I’ll fire up my smoker this week, add the hickory, and as soon as it’s smoking well add the bellas for about ten minutes. They are so full of water that after sautéing, the smoke will be too intense if you let it go longer.

    I’ll report back.

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