Bucatini all’Amatriciana (Bucatini Pasta with Spicy Tomato Sauce)
I may have previously mentioned that my penchant for chilli has most definitely increased since Buzz Lightyear stormed his way into my life. For as much as he loves pizza, he loves chilli more, with a chilli pizza sitting at the crux of his food fantasy. This obsession of his has led to our tiny balcony garden containing not one, but four chilli plants, one of which has demolished the home of my poor little chives.
This being said, I am beginning to look for chilli in almost everything I eat, and I do not disagree that chilli can be mildly addictive. When growing up, the base of nearly every single meal my mother cooked was olive oil with crushed garlic and chopped chilli. Not so much that you even get a tingle of heat on your tongue, more a subtle hum that sang beneath every dish. My life has thus far travelled along a chilli spectrum and I believe it is only just now that I am starting to appreciate the finer nuances in our little red friends.
However, before Buzz and after my mother’s extensive use of mild chilli, there was always pasta all’amatriciana. I can’t place the exact moment that I tried it, but I remember loving it straight away. Who couldn’t love a sauce that took the best parts of napoli and carbonara before adding a delightful little kick to the tastebuds? Not I, that’s for sure, not then and not now.
There we were, in a beautiful piazza in Florence, looking for somewhere to eat when I saw, scrawled on a blackboard sign “AMATRICIANA”. I think I actually squealed in delight and took not only Buzz but our whole group, and probably a few stray Italians too, on a direct mission to this restaurant that promised gustatory happiness.
There was noone else dining in the restaurant (bad sign) and menus the size of novels that were laminated in plastic. Still, I persevered. Some of us were rewarded, such as Buzz, who got one of the most delicious margherita pizzas I’ve ever tried in my entire life, while others, less so. While it takes a truly ghastly place to ruin pasta in Italy, and luckily this was not one of them, it didn’t give me the same heart-skip love at first sight as the first time we met.
While I would never dream of challenging an Italian at a pasta-making, I was going to give it a red-hot go myself and worst case scenario – I had four chilli plants worth of heat to get it right.
I struggle with telling people the measurements of certain things when cooking. Things like salt and pepper, garnishes like herbs and cheese and in this case, also chilli. Who am I to tell you how salty, spicy or hot you like your meal? Part of the beauty of cooking is the alchemy of it – adding little bits of this and that, tasting as you go, til you reach that magical point where the stars align in your saucepan and you can feel the perfect balance of flavours in a mouthful.
Start off with a half teaspoon of chilli flakes and a pinch each of salt and pepper, keep tasting and adding until you get that little tingle that this spicy tomato sauce needs that’s just right for you. The thing about Amatriciana is it’s lovely and simple, merely a handful of ingredients. What sets it apart is the chilli, so don’t be shy.
Bucatini are like thick spaghetti that are hollow in the middle. They make a wonderful slurping sound as the air catches while you eat. If you can’t find these, spaghetti is a little less traditional, but just as delicious.
Flat panchetta looks like a slab of bacon before it’s sliced, and the outside is rubbed with herbs and spices during preserving. Buying a chunk of this rather than using the pre-sliced panchetta lets you cut the meat into chunky cubes which are profoundly more tasty than their floppy counterparts.
Bucanti all’Amatriciana (Bucanti Pasta with Spicy Tomato Sauce)
180g flat panchetta
half a brown onion, diced
two garlic cloves, crushed
one 400g can of diced tomatoes
half a cup passata
250g bucatini pasta
salt and pepper
fresh grated parmesan to serve
Chop your panchetta into generous sized cubes and throw into a large hot frypan that has a glug of olive oil in it. Cook the panchetta until the fat starts to render and the meat is lightly golden. Add onion and garlic and cook in the fat until softened.
Put enough water in a pot to cook your pasta along with a tablespoon of salt. While this is coming to a boil, to your frypan add chilli flakes (start off with half a teaspoon if you’re new to the heat game), diced tomatoes and passata. Taste, add salt and pepper and extra chilli if needed. When the sauce starts to bubble, turn down to a simmer for twenty minutes.
Once your water has boiled, add your pasta and cook til al dente, 8 – 10 minutes.
Turn the heat off under your pasta, but don’t strain it, instead use a pasta server or tongs to drag the pasta across to your sauce. Mix the pasta in with the sauce, which will thicken from the starch in the pasta water.
Sprinkle with a big handful of freshly grated parmesan, and serve.