We talk a lot about the beauty of simplicity of dishes. One of my favorite examples of this philosophy is bucatini all' Amatriciana. Ideally, the ingredient list is guanciale (salted, cured pork cheek), San Marzano tomatoes, pecorino romano sheep's milk cheese, a bit of heat through red pepper flakes, and black pepper.
Other variations including substituting pancetta for the guanciale and adding white wine or onion to the dish.
I chased a few plates of the all' Amatriciana last month in Toronto, a couple of weeks before the tragic earthquake that impacted Amatrice, the birthplace of pasta all' Amatriciana.
Restaurants from all over have responded to the need to help those affected by the tragedy … through serving this amazing dish. Hopefully, you were able to take advantage of the deals from restaurants. If not, people still need your help. Make the dish yourself and contribute based on how much you ate.
The top dish was from Gusto 101 on Portland Street just north of King Street in Toronto. This was the most authentic and best tasting of the three versions I had in Toronto. The description: "house made guanciale, tomato sauce, black pepper, pecorino." Simple. The guanciale was by far the best of the pork I had in the dish on the trip. A bit of spice but not too much and a lovely blend of pecorino romano and black pepper.
I could have had this dish several more times during the trip. The ambiance was the least Italian by far of the three places — somewhat loud with a mostly non-Italian menu — but the food is what matters.
Enoteca Sociale on Dundas Street West featured bucatini all’Amatriciana with guanciale, tomato & chili. The guanciale didn't mix in well with the rest of the dish so you had to go out of your way to mix in the pork. There was less pasta than the first plate. I'm sure the dish technically had chili of some kind, but my tongue could not spot any heat in the dish. The bucatini wasn't al dente.
This was a pretty good plate of pasta, but it didn't have the feel of the dish.
Campagnolo, also on Dundas Street West, served a housemade spaghetti all-amatriciana. There were perhaps 2 pieces of guanciale in the whole dish. Like the second plate, there was no heat to be found. No meat or heat? Not a treat.
Breaking down the plates by price, Campagnolo was the most expensive followed by Gusto 101 and Enoteca Sociale. I would gladly have paid the Campagnolo price for the Gusto 101 pasta dish but glad I didn't have to do so. The housemade guanciale and the proper heat level made that dish a joy.
Helping out the earthquake-damaged areas of Italy is a very worthy cause. But use this time and opportunity to learn more about the dish.
Whether you eat it in a restaurant or try to make it at home, here are some tips to get the best dish possible.
- The dish is really about guanciale, which is not pancetta. If you can't find guanciale, use a really good pancetta. Use a healthy amount; make the pork count in the dish.
- Bucatini can be hard to find. Spaghetti is a good substitute, but again, pick a quality spaghetti.
- White wine, onion, and garlic are ways to add to the dish. Ideally, try it with as few ingredients as possible. The beauty of the dish lies in simplicity.
- Find good pecorino romano cheese. No green cans. No pre-shredded parmesan. No asiago. Use the sheep milk cheese.
photos credit: me