Bucatini all’amatriciana is a pasta dish served with lightly spiced tomato sauce topped with guanciale, a cured pork sausage similar to pancetta, but made from the hog’s cheeks, not its belly. Simply add pepper and Pecorino Romano cheese and you have an amatriciana sauce. This typically Roman sauce resembles arrabiata, only with more guanciale and less peperoncino.
Although one finds amatriciana topping a variety of pastas, it is most traditionally served with bucatini. Resembling elongated macaroni, bucatini are slightly thicker than spaghetti and have a tiny hole in their centre. That’s quite fitting since “bucatini” literally means “small hole” in Italian.
Coiling them around a fork, as one does with spaghetti or linguini, is remarkably challenging with bucatini, which is why many consider them the most unruly of pastas and the most difficult to consume! Despite this, they are well worth the trouble, especially when combined with amatriciana sauce to produce one of Rome’s most delectable pasta dishes.
Pasta alla gricia
This dish bears a resemblance to an all’amatriciana, minus the tomatoes. It might actually be the all’amatriciana’s direct ancestor, harking back to a time before the 18th century, which was when the tomato was popularized in Italy. This dish is composed of guanciale, Pecorino Romano and pepper – a perfect example of a dish not needing to be overly complicated to be tasty.
Tonnarelli cacio e pepe
Cacio e pepe is another example of a pasta dish that amazes by its simplicity. Combine pasta with pepper and high-quality Pecorino Romano cheese, a cheese made from sheep’s milk, e basta: you have a Roman mac’n’cheese!
With cacio e pepe being so minimalistic with respect to ingredients, their quality becomes particularly important, especially when it comes to selecting a good Pecorino Romano. After having matured eight months or more, this cheese’s texture resembles Parmigiano Reggiano in that it becomes hard and amenable to grating. Its rind is whiter than Parmigiano Reggiano and it tastes slightly saltier and spicier.
As with Pecorino Romano, the respectable chef must be picky about peppercorns, which are left coarsely ground in a cacio e pepe. The sauce is best served over tonnarelli, which is as long as spaghetti, only thicker and somewhat more “square.”
Still, making an excellent cacio e pepe requires more than just good ingredients, since these must also be deployed in the proper proportions and prepared following a capricious series of steps. Despite its deceptively simple appearance, cacio e pepe is a dish that requires a degree of mastery to really pull off.
Pasta alla carbonara
Carbonara is also quite typical of Rome. While many assume that its tantalizing velvety consistency comes from added cream, there is none in a traditional carbonara. In fact, its creamy texture comes from a mixture of fresh eggs and cheese.
A simple carbonara begins with pancetta or guanciale, to which is added Pecorino Romano (or a mixture of Pecorino and Parmesan), pepper and eggs. Carbonara is often served with spaghetti, although one often finds it topping other types of pasta as well.
Rigatoni con la pajata
A true Roman specialty, here is a pasta dish that can be unsettling for those not in the habit of eating intestines. Pajata, which also refers to the offal of an unweaned calf, is almost always served in tomato sauce. During cooking, the milky substance imbibed in the pajata leaks out and curdles, decorating the dish with a cheesy texture similar to that of ricotta.
Gnocchi alla romana
We are generally familiar with gnocchi made from potato. But, did you know that Rome has its own version of gnocchi, made from durum wheat semolina, not potato? In addition, these gnocchi alla romana are puck-shaped and different from the more familiar egg-shaped balls with bevelled streaks. The Roman version is thought to predate the more commonly known gnocchi recipe, which only became popular after potatoes were introduced to Italy.
Rich, heavy and delicious, a well-made gnocchi alla romana requires the pasta balls being set in a baking dish in a slightly layered fashion before being topped with butter and Pecorino Romano cheese. The dish is then baked until hot, its cheeses rendered molten and golden.