I have been ordering this dish for years and I still don’t think I’m saying it right. It’s a bit of a tongue twister, but it’s worth the risk of sounding stupid. Because it’s delicious.
The main ingredients that make this dish, at least traditionally, are guanciale (pork cheek), tomatoes, and red pepper flakes. And a good handful of pecorino romano cheese. You can’t have pasta without cheese. You just can’t. And I won’t have it.
Also, I used thick cut bacon for this one instead of guanciale. Not only because that’s another one I can’t pronounce, but because it’s not something I usually keep on hand. Plus, I love FreshDirect’s bacon, so it works.
Note: I used 1 teaspoon of red pepper flakes and that was just perfect for me, and I like spicy food. My mom doesn’t like spicy food so it was a little too spicy for her. So…feel free to adjust the amount of red pepper flakes based on your taste. Start with a 1/2 tsp if you’re unsure.
Note: You can also use pancetta in place of the bacon or guanciale.
- 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- 1/2 lb (8 oz) guanciale or thick cut bacon, diced/cubed
- 1 medium yellow onion, diced
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 tsp dried red pepper flakes
- 2 tbsps tomato paste
- 2 tbsp water
- 1 28-oz can whole peeled San Marzano tomatoes
- 1 lb spaghetti
- 2-3 tbsp of Pecorino Romano cheese, finely grated
- 1 tbsp unsalted butter
- salt & pepper to taste (optional)
- Dump the can of whole peeled tomatoes into a large bowl and squish them with your hands. Make sure your hands are clean, obviously. And just be careful to not squirt tomato sauce all over yourself while doing this. Be gentle. Set bowl aside.
- Heat the olive oil in a deep skillet or saucepan over medium-high heat. This is the pan I use for sauces like this – it’s from T-Fal and it’s AMAZING. Nothing sticks. NOTHING. And I can’t explain it, but the sauces reduce more evenly and come out perfect. I don’t get it either but buy this if you’re a serious sauce person. ANYWAY add bacon/guanciale and cook until crisp. Remove with a slotted spoon and set aside, while leaving the bacon fat in the pan.
- Add the onion and embrace the scent. Stir and cook for 3-4 minutes until softened and beginning to caramelize. Add the garlic and cook for another 2 minutes – be careful to not burn the garlic. Nothing ruins a dish like burnt garlic.
- Add tomato paste and red pepper flakes. The mixture will be a little thick now, so add 2 tbsp of water to deglaze the pan a bit.
- Add the bacon back into the pan and add the crushed tomatoes. Stir together and turn the heat down to low and simmer for 15 minutes or more, uncovered. The longer it cooks, the more it will reduce. So this depends on how you like your sauce too but it should be fairly thick. While this is cooking, make the pasta.
- Set a large pot of salted water over high heat and bring to a boil. Add the spaghetti and cook until al dente. Reserve a cup of the starchy pasta water for the sauce, then drain the pasta.
- Back to the sauce! Add 2 tbsp of the Pecorino cheese to the sauce and stir.
- Add the pasta and the tbsp of butter to the sauce and mix around with tongs. Add the pasta water little by little, stirring each time. You don’t have to use the whole cup of pasta water – I only used about 1/2 cup. You just want to make sure every piece of spaghetti is coated with the sauce and that it’s the consistency you like.
- Serve with more pecorino cheese on top and there you have it! Spicy & comforting perfection.