Home Food and Drink Bucatini All’ Amatriciana: When In Rome Eat Like A Roman

Bucatini All’ Amatriciana: When In Rome Eat Like A Roman

written by Penny Sadler

I asked my companion (he lived in Rome), to take me somewhere that only the locals go, because one thing you can be sure of,  local residents eat the best food in the city. They do not hang out in the crowded over-priced, and not very authentic restaurants where many tourists unwittingly end up.

One night in Rome, we ate dinner at a trattoria (restaurant) that was full of locals dining– nary a tourist in sight. And that’s another tip for finding good food when traveling,  if possible, get off the tourist path.

The owner was there so I asked him for a suggestion, I wanted to try something traditional, a typical Roman dish. “Do you like pasta?” the owner asked.

“Of course,” I replied, with a look that said what kind of question is that?

“With cream sauce or a red sauce?”

“Definitely red.” Any pasta with red sauce is fine with me.

“Perfetto, you should try the bucatini all’amatriciana, one of the most typical Roman dishes.” The owner spoke in Italian and my dinner companion, Silvio, translated. Bucatini all’amatriciana is considered a classic Roman dish, even though it actually originated elsewhere in the region of Lazio.

Now, you probably want to know if I liked it – was it good? Heck if I remember, that was seven years ago. I’m pretty sure I liked it because if I didn’t I’d remember that! Besides, what’s not to like about pasta, tomatoes, pork, and cheese?

What I do remember is how happy I was; I finally felt that after two weeks in Italy I was experiencing just a little bit of the la dolce vita that I’d heard so much about. I think it’s pretty evident from the photo below that I had a great time.

When in Rome Eat Like a Roman Bucatini All'amatriciana

“Blondie” and the Roman Trattoria owner.

What is bucatini all’amatiriciana? Bucatini comes from the word buco, which means hole, and bucato, which means pierced. Bucatini is a pasta that looks similar to spaghetti but is a long noodle with a hole in the center, like a noodle straw. It’s very common in the Lazio region, especially in Rome. The sauce (amatriciana) is very basic. It’s a tomato base flavored with pork jowl, onion, and grated pecorino romano cheese. Simple and delicious.

I’ve written a lot about Rome, but not much about the food of Rome. This month I’m doing something new: participating in an Italian food, wine, and travel group chat. Everyone in the group will share their articles, and we will host a twitter chat on the 4th of July. You can follow along on twitter at #ItalianFWT. Each month, this group explores a new region of Italy. The region we are exploring in July is Lazio, best known for the city of Rome. It’s the perfect time for me to join in, as I’ve been to Rome many times.

To make this even more fun, I decided to actually cook (yes, I cooked) bucatini all’amatriciana, and invited my young friend Max (who also happens to be an amazing bass player), to try it out. I know I can count on Max to be brutally honest.

Now one cannot eat an Italian meal without a bit of wine to accompany the food.
I tried to find a nice red wine from the Lazio region to go with the sauce. As it turns out, Lazio doesn’t export a lot of wine. What is readily available is Frascati, a light and very drinkable white wine from the region of Frascati, about twenty miles from Rome. Since it’s summer where I live, Frascati is a nice wine option: it’s light and slightly fruity, with a mild acidity. A great wine for sipping on a hot day or to drink with a meal, as Max and I did.

Bucatini All'amatriciana When in Rome eat like a Roman

All’Amatriciana with rigatoni noodle paired with Frascati. A match made in Rome.

I’m currently reading Eating Rome… it’s pretty obvious what the book is about. I used the recipe that author Elizabeth Mincelli shares in the book. I did make some adaptations, however. I went to three grocery stores and could not find any bucatini pasta, so I bought rigatoni. I also could not find any pork jowl, so I just used good old bacon. Bacon makes everything taste good, as we all know. I added a bit of garlic, because I like it. I also goofed up and got parmesan cheese, instead of pecorino romano. Even with all these adaptations, it tasted pretty darn good, according to Max.

Here is Ms. Mincelli’s authentic recipe:

3 thick slices of guanciale (pork jowl) chopped into small cubes (you can substitute pancetta or unsmoked bacon)
2 T. of extra virgin olive oil as needed
1 small onion chopped
Hot red pepper flakes (optional)
1 – 28oz. can whole peeled San Marzano tomatoes and their liquid
1 lb. of bucatini
1/2 c. grated Percorino Romano cheese or more as needed

Place the guanciale in a medium saute pan over medium heat and let it cook and sizzle until just starting to brown. It should give up quite a bit of fat. Turn off the heat and using a slotted spoon scoop the guanciale bits up and set aside. If there isn’t a lot of rendered fat left in the pan add a bit of olive oil. Turn the heat back on, add the onion, and cook until quite soft but not browned. At this point you add a bit of red pepper flake if you like to give it some kick. Add the tomatoes and their liquid to the pan along with reserved guanciale and let the sauce bubble away for at least half an hour. It should reduce quite a bit and thicken. If you think it’s getting to thick add a bit of water.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil, add the bucatini and cook until al dente. Drain the pasta reserving a cup of the water and transfer it to the pan with the sauce. Stir to combine and cook briefly over gentle heat just to meld the flavors. Remove from the heat and stir in the cheese. If the sauce seems to thick add a bit of the reserved pasta water. Serve with extra cheese on the side at the table.

Now that you know how to eat like a Roman… Mangia!

Bucatini All Amatriciana When in Rome Eat like a Roman

Cin cin!

Want to learn more about Rome?

Read: 6 Favorite Moments in Rome

Learn even more about the region of Lazio – read these great article by my fellow bloggers and Italophile friends.

Vino Travels Food and Wine Pairing of Lazio: Saltimboca alla Romana with Casale del Giglio Petit Verdot

Italophilia – Visit Ariccia with Buona Sera Mrs. Campbell

Orna O’Reilly – A Foodie Easter in Rome<span

Cooking Chat – Orzo, Salmon and Pesto Paired with a Frascati

Food Wine Click – They’ll Drink Anything in Rome

Rockin Red Blog – Live Like Caesar

Enofylz Wine Blog – A Taste of Lazio

Christy’s Palate – Living La Vita Lazio

The Palladian Traveler – Civita di Bagnoregio: The Dying Town

Girls Gotta Drink – Eat Like a Roman (With a Roman): Unusual Things to do in Rome

If you’re seeing this early enough make sure to join us live TODAY on twitter at 11am EST at #ItalianFWT. Tell us your food, wine or travel stories of Lazio.

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Milena Yordanova February 22, 2017 at 7:03 am

I love pasta! Bucatini all’amatriciana is my favourite Roman dish. I am making it tonight! 🙂

Penny Sadler February 22, 2017 at 7:21 pm

Hey Milena, thanks for the comment. Enjoy!

KareninCalabria July 29, 2016 at 1:25 am

I LOVE this dish! Both the pasta shape, as I like the feel and taste of the thick-holed bucatini, and the delicious sauce. But the amatriciana pairs well with all pastas, in my humble opinion. And the picture with the bare table and the rigatoni looks so real! I would also like to add that you look happy, but that Roman trattoria owner looks even happier!

Penny Sadler July 31, 2016 at 8:21 pm

Thank you! He was a character!
The table is in my home and I do my best to keep things real.

michelle August 7, 2015 at 4:02 am

Lazio has some great reds as well as the excellent Frascati. And they do export a lot! Principe Pallavcini for just an example exports to 25 countries (50% of the the total of the wines the produce). Check out for example Casa Romana (Bordeaux style blend) and Amarasco (Cesanese Varietal- an indigenous grape from Lazio)!

Penny Sadler August 8, 2015 at 4:47 pm

Thanks for the suggestions. I look forward to trying them!

Ana O July 10, 2015 at 5:21 pm

I adore pasta! All’Amatriciana is a wonderfully simple and flavoursome sauce.

Penny Sadler July 11, 2015 at 4:52 pm

Me too!

Ishita July 6, 2015 at 8:31 am

How cool, Penny! 🙂 Looks and sounds delish 😀

Penny Sadler July 6, 2015 at 11:12 am


Diana July 5, 2015 at 10:57 am

Great job! I made this recently for my Roman father-in-law….it came out good…yours looks delicious!

Penny Sadler July 5, 2015 at 10:59 am

You’re kind! Thank you!

Jennifer Martin (Vino Travels) July 5, 2015 at 10:49 am

So glad you participated and took a food/wine challenge ; ) It can be challenging to find some of the same ingredients here.

Penny Sadler July 5, 2015 at 11:00 am

It was. Thanks for inviting me to participate.

Brenda July 4, 2015 at 6:08 pm

Makes me want to go back to Italy. Rich is always up for that. Maybe soon.

Penny Sadler July 5, 2015 at 9:06 am

Glad to hear that! Go when I go! 🙂

Christy @ Confessions of a Culinary Diva July 4, 2015 at 1:14 pm

Welcome to the group Penny! Great post and story. I’m also reading Eating Rome, and have this recipe earmarked – it actually would have made the post if I could have found a better wine pairing for it!

Happy 4th of July!

Penny Sadler July 4, 2015 at 1:19 pm

thanks Christy! Yes well, I was already committed to make it even if I drank a wine from another region. But I wanted to try the frascati and glad I did.

Michelle Williams July 4, 2015 at 10:34 am

Welcome to the group! Great post. The dish sounds delicious (I like the use of bacon) and your trip to Rome a few years back sounds great. I cannot wait to read more about your upcoming trip!

Penny Sadler July 4, 2015 at 11:05 am

Thanks Michelle. I can’t wait to go back. It’s been two years too long!


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