20 October 2011

Pasta alla Amatriciana : bacon & tomato loveliness

Glorious colour - before we added the sprinkle of Parmesan.
Oh, I was so impressed with this recipe.

It has all the hallmarks of a great family meal.  Pasta, tomatoes, bacon - what's not to like there?  If you add in the fact that there are no additional vegetables for son & heir to attempt to pick out of his meal, then it's a winner.

Mind you, it's not the sort of meal I'd be wanting to serve up every night (for fear of son & heir contracting scurvy through lack of green vegetables, if nothing else), but it is perfect for those nights when you just want something that everyone is going to eat and not complain about - and, wonder of wonders, it is really simple to make.

I found the recipe on Chow.com and it is attributed to a Chef called Robert Sietsema.  Now I have to admit that I've never heard of him, but then that's probably because I'm not a) Italian or b) American.  If this recipe is an example of his food, then he's obviously a good egg.

Now, in his version, he used Bucatini pasta (which is like spaghetti but has a hole through the middle) and cured pork guanciale (Italian bacon, prepared with pig cheeks) and I'm sure it was completely sublime.  However, as I don't have access to either of those (not for an affordable price, anyway), I opted for good old Spirali pasta (although I'm sure spaghetti would do fine) and got some of my local butcher's bacon.

Incidentally - and as a total aside - I'm a bit disappointed in the butcher's bacon, as it seems to be including an increasing amount of water.  I was under the impression that bacon was to have its water content decreased by law fairly soon, if not currently.  If so, then the bacon I bought for this pasta dish was very definitely exceeding its water quota.  Having put it into a hot pan - and increased the heat to allow for the coldness of the bacon - it just boiled in its own juice for a good 3-4 minutes until the water had cooked off.  Very disappointing, although the flavour is still as good as ever.

Just look at that colour - amazing!
As I mentioned in a previous blog post, I've been using Tarantella tinned tomatoes in preference to other brands.  The difference really is marked and if you can a) afford to buy them and b) can find them, it's well worth changing. Their tomato puree is so gorgeous that it is tempting to have a little taster straight from the jar - and I can't say I've ever been tempted to do that with tomato puree before!

I was particularly intrigued, with this recipe, in that he used white wine, honey and paprika.  I was under the impression that "alla Amatriciana" implied the use of chilli.  Granted, the peppers used in paprika could be termed a form of chilli but I have to admit that, as the type of paprika wasn't stipulated (i.e. sweet or hot), I guessed it was probably hot.  Now not having any of the hot kind, I thought that the use of cayenne pepper would probably suffice, so that's what I went for.

Which brings me around to the schoolboy error that very nearly killed the dish.

You see, my paprika and cayenne are both in the same kind of jar.  So, I gaily plopped in what I thought was a teaspoon of paprika.  Thank god, I hadn't mixed it in when I suddenly went cold all over and thought (for no good reason, it has to be said, so maybe I recognised it looked different in the pan) "oh *bleep* that was cayenne!".  And it was.  Cue much hurried scooping out of the powder which hadn't sunk beneath the waves (together with some of the sauce).  I sat there, brain going like a steam train, trying to work out what all this meant for the future of our dinner.  Then I mixed the remainder in and crossed my fingers.  I tasted and it wasn't too bad.

I had yet to add the honey and paprika, so added them both and tasted again.  Yes, it was frisky, but no, it didn't knock your hat off.  *phew*  Saved!

So there you are - it just shows how easy it is, when the jars look the same and the contents are almost identical!

Everyone liked this dish, with clean plates all round - so I'd call that a success.

UPDATE!  It is now July 2015 and we've since discovered that hubby is sensitive to cayenne pepper, so I now substitute a pinch of red chilli flakes for the cayenne.  The end result is just as lovely and we'll definitely be using chilli again in future.  So, if you have similar issues with cayenne - help is at hand!   I also added in a couple of homeless mushrooms, with no adverse results.  Oooh, the possibilities are endless.  *chuckle*


Ingredients :

A pack (400-500g) of smoked back bacon
1 medium onion, finely chopped
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
150ml dry white wine

400g can chopped tomatoes in juice (I bought plum & chopped them myself)
1 heaped tbsp tomato puree
1 dessertspoonful runny honey or to taste

1 tsp dried basil
1 tsp paprika 
a hearty pinch of cayenne pepper (or red chilli flakes)
fine grated Parmesan cheese, for sprinkling
250-300g pasta (spirali or spaghetti).

Method :

1.  Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.

2.  In the meantime, heat a large frying pan over high heat. When the pan is hot, reduce the heat to medium, add the bacon and cook until the fat is translucent.

3.  Add the onion and olive oil and sauté until the onion is translucent but not browned, about 4 minutes.

4.  Add the wine and simmer until the alcohol has burned off and the wine has reduced by about half, about 2 1/2 minutes.

5.  Add the tomatoes, purée and basil and bring to a boil, then keep at a lively simmer until the sauce has thickened slightly, about 10 minutes.

6.  Season with salt (being aware of the salt already in the dish from the bacon), honey to taste, paprika and cayenne.  Stir to combine.

7.  Once the water boils, add the pasta and cook to the manufacturer's instructions - usually around 7-9 minutes.

8.  Once the pasta is done (with still a little chewiness in it, not completely soft) drain, add to the sauce, and toss until the pasta is well coated.

9.  Divide the pasta among individual bowls. Top each with a sprinkling of Parmesan and serve.  (If serving to children, you may well find they prefer cheddar, rather than parmesan).


  1. This recipe made the difference between my hubby saying "it's too acidic" and "mmmmmn - good pasta!". So I reckon that there's definitely something to be said for this approach to Pasta Amatriciana! :)


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