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Amatriciana sauce comes from the Italian town of Amatrice, east of Rome, where it’s the star of an annual public feast in August. It’s a very simple tomato based sauce with chilli and pancetta or bacon, and is easily my favourite pasta sauce. So much so, in fact, that I’ve been on a bit of a quest to find the best one in Adelaide (or really anywhere else for that matter).

On occasions when we eat out at an Italian restaurant, admittedly not all that regularly, I will invariably have the Amatriciana and give it a bit of a subjective rating against other versions I’ve had. As you might expect they vary a lot, and like many things follow a Gaussian distribution with the majority clustered about the middle and smaller numbers of very good and very bad ones at either end. I’ve had both, but thankfully not too many of the latter. So far the best comes from an inner city suburb called Norwood and is the version on which I have modelled this recipe, which we eat pretty regularly at home.

amatriciana1 Fry the bacon, onion and garlic

It probably won’t surprise anyone to learn there’s a recipe for Amatriciana in ‘The Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking’ (the so-called Bible of Italian cooking by Marcella Hazan). Funnily enough I haven’t tried it, not for any particular reason, although it might spoil the quest game a little bit if I do. In it she notes the ideal and traditional pasta for this sauce as bucatini, a thick hollow spaghetti. I possibly risk the wrath of the pasta gods when I say I never really can tell the difference with various pasta shapes and the sauce they are paired with, but it gives me some comfort to note Marcella advises that penne, which I use here, ‘can be nearly as successful’ (my emphasis). Therefore with my imprimatur go forth and use whatever pasta you like!

amatriciana2 Add the tomatoes

You don’t need me to tell you how to cook pasta – any recipe or even the packet will tell you how to do it – but I will give you the benefit of some acquired knowledge. First, before bringing a large volume of water in a big pot to a rolling boil, consider the environment and your energy bill, take my encouragement and try doing it in a minimum amount of water. Having discovered the joys of steaming eggs rather than boiling them prompted me to wonder (as you do) about steaming pasta. It turns out that is not really a workable idea, but cooking in a small amount of water is, and that is how I do it all the time now.

amatriciana3 Isn’t it supposed to be cooked in water? Don’t panic – it’ll work.

Second, don’t cook it for as long as the instructions say, which produces pasta soft and limp like a lump of seaweed rather than the al dente it purports to be good for. Coupled with the low water method I generally reduce the time by about 10%. And finally, don’t put salt in your stainless steel pans until the water is properly boiling or it causes pitting of the surface (you’re welcome).

amatriciana4 Stir in some basil or parsley

I always worry about timings for recipes and getting it all to come together simultaneously at the end, but for this one have the water for the pasta boiling (which won’t take long given your new-found knowledge), then chuck in the pasta when the hard work for the sauce is done and it goes into the simmer phase.

I’d really love to hear if you’ve got a favourite Amatriciana recipe or a place to eat it, and your success or otherwise with cooking pasta in a small amount of water. Leave a comment below or like my Facebook page and leave a comment there..

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Pasta with Amatriciana Sauce

Cooking: About 20 minutes
Serves: 4

  • 4 slices bacon, diced
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon crushed garlic
  • 14 teaspoon crushed red chilli flakes
  • 2 400g tins chopped tomatoes
  • 500 g pasta
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh basil or parsley
  • grated Parmesan cheese, to serve
  • Cook bacon in a frypan over medium high heat until lightly browned and beginning to get a bit crispy, about 5 minutes.
  • Add the onions and cook over medium heat for about 3 minutes, then stir in the garlic and chilli and cook for an additional 30 seconds. Add the undrained tomatoes. Simmer for around 10 minutes.
  • Meanwhile, cook the pasta by your method of choice until al dente. Drain.
  • Stir the parsley or basil into the sauce and toss with the cooked pasta. Serve with cheese.