A POUND OF BUTTER: On The Roman Gift Of Guanciale & Making Awesome “Amatriciana”
by Owen Lightly | If you haven’t got guanciale in your life, it’s high time you did. Made by curing a pig’s jowl in a similar fashion to pancetta, the result is very porky. A common ingredient in Roman kitchens, it is found in many of the area’s classic pasta dishes such as Carbonara, Amatriciana, Gricia and Cacio e Pepe.
When I travelled to Rome a couple of years ago, I asked the help of a local food blogger Eleonora Baldwin, author of Aglio, Olio e Peporoncino to steer me in the right direction of the good shit. I turned to her again for some insight into the place guanciale has in traditional Roman cooking.
“Historically, it occupies an important role in cucina povera, which is peasant cooking on ‘poor’ ingredients that were readily available and inexpensive,” Baldwin wrote via email. “Meat was a luxury item on the poor man’s table, and when it was present, it consisted of less noble cuts of meat like tripe, sweetbreads, intestines, liver, oxtail and kidneys. Otherwise it was used in sparing quantities to give flavor, like the small, fried bits guanciale in pasta sauces.”
Years ago, while looking to expand my Italian cooking repertoire, I started trying pasta dishes out of a Mario Batali cookbook. One of my favourites was bucatini all’Amatriciana: hollow noodles dressed with a guanciale-studded spiced tomato sauce. More than the sum of its parts, this dish is in my top-ten of things to eat on planet earth.
This recipe would likely anger Roman traditionalists – Onions? Heresy! – but it’s served me well over the years.
Ingredients (yields 4 portions)
2 tablespoons / 30 millilitres extra-virgin olive-oil
200 grams guanciale, thinly sliced into ¼-inch strips
1 medium sized / 200 grams red onion, peeled and thinly sliced
4 cloves / 40 grams garlic, peeled and thinly sliced
2 teaspoons / 4 grams chili flakes (this is the spicy
1 796ml / 28 oz high quality canned tomatoes (San Marzano are pretty awesome)
1 package / 500 grams bucatini
¼ cup / 8 grams Italian parsley, roughly chopped
freshly grated pecorino romano cheese
kosher salt, to taste
Heat a large sauté pan over a medium heat, add the olive oil and guanciale and cook until completely rendered and beginning to crisp, approximately 5 minutes. Add the onion and garlic and cook until soft and fragrant, approximately 10 minutes. Add the chili flakes and canned tomatoes (crushing the tomatoes roughly with the back of a wooden spoon in the pan) and cook over low heat until the sauce is slightly thickened, approximately 10-15 minutes. While the sauce is simmering, bring a large pot of water to a boil and season fairly aggressively with salt. Cook the bucatini 1-2 minutes less than the package instructions and strain, reserving a ½ cup of the pasta water. Add the noodles and a few splashes of pasta water to the tomato sauce and toss over the heat for 1-2 minutes, or until the sauce and noodles have nicely come together (not too dry, not too wet!). Add the parsley for the last toss and serve, topping with freshly grated pecorino romano cheese.
(photos by Michael Sider)
Owen Lightly is the founder of Butter On The Endive, a full service catering company dedicated to providing inspired food experiences to its clients. A veteran member of many local kitchen teams (among them Aurora Bistro, West, Au Petit Chavignol, Araxi, and Market), he pens Scout’s new Pound Of Butter food column. Read our interview with him here.