Bucatini All’Amatriciana

In addition to the bouef bourgignon (in keeping with September’s book club themes), I also made Bucatini All’Amatriciana this week. I was already buying beef shoulder for the bourgignon from Cafe Rouge anyways, and their guanciale always intrigued me, so I bought some. I’d never thought of any use for it before, but here was the perfect excuse, for the recipe incorporated it. You can always just use pancetta (or even bacon or salt pork, I suppose), but the first time I attempt a new recipe, I like to follow it to a tee. and experiment with it whenver I try again. If you’ve never seen guanciale before, it’s a flat white hunk of fat dusted with herbs. When sliced, it’s about the width of a slice of bacon and two-thirds the length, with a pink streak of flesh running down slightly off-center. I had assumed it was the same sort of thing as lardo or prosciutto bianco, but as I learned from Heat, there are many different cuts of pork and cured pork products. Guanciale actually comes from the jowl. My butcher sliced it into whisper thin slices, while I went next door to pick up some dry bucatini from the Pasta Shop. When I got home, I tasted a slice and felt intimidated. It was very, very salty – enough so that I would hesitate before serving it on a charcuterie platter to guests. In addition, it just seemed like the recipe called for a lot of it. But since I had already purchased, I figured I might as well continue with the recipe.

I made the tomato sauce ahead of time last weekend, measuring out what I would need and saving the rest. It’s a pretty simple recipe – the only point I would add is that it still seemed pretty loose by the end of its suggested cooking time, so I let it simmer uncovered for another 15 minutes. On Wednesday, I browned the guanciale in two batches, draining the fat in between. It smelled wonderful cooking, and very different from pancetta or bacon. It was more, well, porky smelling – like chiccharones or cracklins. I did not use “half of the fat” from the cooked guanciale to saute the vegetables – there was already an awful lot of cured pork fat in this dish, I have to draw the line somewhere. Also, I was worried that the dish was going to be too salty. I wound up using whatever remained in pan after I poured off the fat. Bucatini, by the way, looks like regular spaghetti in the photo, but really, it’s about twice the diamater of spaghetti and has a small pinhole running down the center. I never boil (add enough salt to the pasta water so it tastes like seawater) my pasta until it’s done – I “finish” cooking it in whatever sauce i’m using. When I added the tomato sauce to the vegetables and guanciale, it seemed pretty dry, so when I tossed the pasta (al dente) into the sauce, I added a ladleful of pasta water.

The verdict? It came out pretty well. Zack loves spicy food and bacon, so he loved this dish. The acid from the tomato sauce really worked to balance out the salt. When you’re adding the pepper flakes to this dish, it smells and tastes like it’ll be very spicy, but as they cook, the pepper flakes mellow, and also balance out the salt. I think I’ll be making this dish again – maybe I’ll try it with pancetta next time.

Next up: The lune!

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