Bucatini is one of my favorite pastas. It is sort of like eating spaghetti on steroids or macaroni for Lilliputians. One of the best ways to eat it is in the style of Amatrice, the Italian town that was devastated recently in the massive Italian earthquake. Recipes abound. Mario Batali and Anne Burrell, both famous for their Italian-based cooking, have recipes on the internet. So does Giada de Laurentiis. Two of my favorite versions are by Marcella Hazan in Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking and Tom Maresca and Diane Darrow in La Tavola Italiana. Not surprisingly, with so many recipes there must be controversy as to what is exactly the “correct” way to prepare this famous and classic dish.
Controversy begins with the pasta. Most folks accept the notion that bucatini is the real deal. But you may have a hard time finding it, so spaghetti or penne are quite acceptable substitutes. Then there’s the matter of tomatoes. Some advocate canned whole San Marzano tomatoes while some argue that only fresh can be used. You may have to settle for Roma unless you are lucky enough to find San Marzano. Most agree that tomatoes should not overwhelm the other ingredients, but that is a quantitative judgement. There is much disagreement about the choice of meat. Traditionalists call for guanciale, cured pork jowl, more strongly flavored but similar to pancetta, which for most writers is a totally acceptable substitute. The cheese proponents come down on either the side of Parmigiano Reggiano or pecorino romano. You can find a middle ground and use both. The purists would not countenance American parmesan and romano. Finally, there is a choice for heat from chiles. Pepperoncini are perhaps most commonly used, but then there is a debate about whether to leave them in the sauce or remove them. Red pepper flakes are often a substitute, and many other chiles have been recommended. Actually, all of these many choices mean that the cook has unlimited options and can really create a dish that is uniquely his or hers.
Here’s how I cooked it last night.
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
- 1/3 pound guanciale, sliced and cut into ¼inch x ½ inch rectangles (Be sure to have the butcher cut off the thick rind. It is tough and not very tasty. Use pancetta if you can’t find guanciale)
- 1 medium onion, diced finely
- 5 green chiles (or red pepper flakes to taste)
- ½ cup dry white wine
- 5 fresh Roma tomatoes, blanched, peeled, seeded, and coarsely chopped
- 3 tablespoons freshly grated Romano cheese + more for garnish
- 3 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan cheese
- ½ teaspoon ground black pepper
- salt to taste
- 1 pound dry bucatini (imported Italian Granoro brand is a good choice)
- Heat the oil and butter in a large sauté pan over medium heat. Add the sliced guanciale, stirring frequently until it begins to crisp but is not completely rendered. Stir in the onions and continue to sauté until the onions are translucent and have begun to caramelize, about 5 minutes. Add the chiles and cook for another minute or two. Stir in the wine and cook until the wine has almost completely evaporated.
- Add the tomatoes, and cook over medium-low heat, stirring frequently, for another 20 minutes. Stir in the grated cheeses. Remove the chiles.
- Boil the bucatini in a large pot of boiling salted water until cooked through but slightly al dente, about 8-10 minutes.
- Transfer the cooked bucatini to the warm sauce in the large sauté pan, tossing to completely coat the pasta with the sauce. Serve immediately with more grated Romano cheese. Should serve 4-6.