Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Spicy pancetta pasta, Penne Amatriciana

Blogger unhelpfully ate this post, with the comments too. Thankfully, I had a cache of it, so here it is again. 

To take a bit of a departure from my usual "oh so good, yet so healthy, plus vegetarian!" shpiel, here is a fatty, gorgeous, meaty pancetta pasta, Penne Amatriciana, which has such deep flavours, that even though I've made it countless times, I always go "oh god" everytime I take my first mouthful. It's the incredibly simple ingredients that make it, red onion with pancetta being a winner, plus some red wine, rosemary and chilli.
This one is a real crowd pleaser as well. If you're ever trying to get people round for a non-fussy Italian-style dinner with some garlic bread and salad and 5 bottles of red, this is a perfect, utterly PERFECT main.
I first saw the recipe, I think, on Saturday Morning Kitchen when I was a student, and I can't remember where I scribbled down my version from, but I've used it ever since four years ago and time and time again it's been perfect. The original invited you to let the sauce thicken for 40 minutes. 40 minutes!! That's way too long! This version is much quicker and still insanely delicious. Seriously, invite your friends round for dinner, make this, be popular. I recommend it.

Penne Amatriciana (serves 2)

Just double the quantities for 4, etc.
  • 200g penne pasta
  • Half a pack of pancetta from a supermarket (100g), or lardons or even a few rashers of smoked bacon chopped
  • 1 large red onion or 1.5 small ones (peeled and chopped)
  • One tin of chopped or plum tomatoes
  • 1 tbsp (ish) of dried chilli flakes
  • 2 tbsp dried rosemary
  • A handful of grated Parmesan cheese (or two handfuls if you like it extra cheesy-creamy)
  • A good few glugs of red wine

Note - I understand completely if you don't feel like buying a bottle of wine just to make a meal, but honestly, the difference it makes, plus having some wine to drink while eating this makes it outstanding for a simple plate of pasta. However, I've made this several times without and it's still wonderful.
Heat up a pan on a fairly high heat, and chuck in your pancetta dry. The fattiness of the meat, as it melts, will mean that there's more than enough oil in your pan to cook your onions later. Cook it for a while and don't be impatient, this is as crisp as the pancetta will get, so you may as well let it get quite well cooked. What you're looking for is the golden edging appearing around the outside of the chunks.

Once that's done, turn down your heat to medium and add the onions. Keep an eye on them at first, see if they're looking like they might burn, adjust the heat accordingly and then stir every now and then over the next few minutes until wonderfully soft and approaching translucent.
Mix in your chilli flakes next - depending on how spicy you like it, obviously, you can add less or more. I use the amount shown in the picture for two and it's just about right. Not too hot, but not too bland either. Awesome stuff.This is the part I really screwed up the first time I made this - so be ready! Have your tin of tomatoes open, and ready, so you don't have to fuss with opening it up. Then turn the heat up super high, add your glugs of wine, and it should hiss as it goes into the pan. Stir rapidly with a spoon and you can see the alcohol evaporating off, which is what we want, and make the sauce quite liquidy. After a short period, 30 seconds, although you can judge yourself, quickly add the tomatoes, give a good stir, and turn down the heat so the sauce simmers briefly.
Add rosemary - quite a lot, maybe double the amount of chilli that you used. The pungent rosemary is one of the main flavours in this, so don't be afraid to add a lot. Then stir. Now, bring the sauce up to boiling point, then turn down and let thicken. The thickening is really crucial, it's the sticky oily goodness that makes this sauce which you can't appreciate if the tomatoes are still watery and runny.

I put my pasta on at this point, in well salted water, and let boil. You can grate your Parmesan now if you like. When the sauce has thickened enough, add the parmsean, then mix through with the pasta. Serve with some red wine, and if you're feeling like being fancy you can garnish with some parsley or basil.

As you can see it goes down a treat. The wine bottles in the background have candles in them - promise!


  1. Amatriciana is just about my favourite pasta sauce - this looks so tempting.

  2. Oh thanks Foodycat - hope you do make it, it's really wonderful!


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