What's the recipe you turn to on a busy weeknight, when you haven't thought ahead and shopped for groceries, and you must make do with pantry staples?
In my house, the answer is, without a doubt: pasta alla amatriciana.
There's been a slow evolution to my pasta alla amatriciana. I started off using Marcella Hazan's recipe but after many years of making it, I've adapted the proportions to suit my preferences. I'm afraid the changes are quintessentially American: I've substituted bacon for pancetta, and upped the amount (um...we like pork); instead of using parmesan and romano I just use whichever I happen to have; and I add way more tomatoes than Marcella's recipe calls for, for two reasons: 1) I don't like using a fraction of a can of tomatoes and then having to drum up another use for the leftovers and 2) I like pasta with more sauce. I understand that this is not the way Italians eat their pasta, but in case you hadn't figured it out, I am totally not Italian. And as a Chinese-Swedish-Finnish California native, I don't feel too bad saying that my amatriciana sauce, authentic or not, is pretty damn good.
Here's the recipe, my friends. If you don't eat pork, skip the recipe altogether: there's just no point in making this sauce without it.
Pasta alla amatriciana (alla Hungry Dog)
1lb. pasta (I like penne)
1 onion, chopped
2 T. vegetable oil
5 slices bacon, chopped
1 28-oz can plum tomatoes, chopped up
2 dried chilies (the ones I usually have on hand are arbol chilies)
1/2 c. grated parmesan, plus more for serving
Heat oil and butter in a saute pan over medium heat. Add onion, and cook gently for about 5 minutes, until translucent. Do not let it brown.
Add bacon and cook, stirring, for about 1 minute. The bacon should not get crispy.
Add tomatoes, a hefty sprinkling of salt, and break the two chili peppers into the sauce, releasing the seeds. Chuck the pepper husks in too. Give the whole pan a good stir. Once the sauce is simmering at a medium simmer, let it go for 20-25 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Meanwhile, bring a large pot of water to a boil. Cook pasta to al dente, and drain.
Fish the dried chili pepper husks out and taste the sauce for seasoning. Add more salt if necessary, then toss with the hot pasta. Add cheese and toss again.
Serve with additional grated cheese and a bottle of red.