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Pasta with Tomato, Bacon & Hot Pepper: $20 at Babbo, $3.50 at Your House

121Bucatini all’Amatriciana is one of my all-time favorite dishes. Like, “last-meal” favorite. It’s simple — pasta with tomatoes, onions, bacon & hot pepper — yet so full of flavor. How could it not be with that ingredients list?! And the best part, it’s a sophisticated meal that comes quick and cheap.

I first tried Bucatini all’Amatriciana at a high-end Italian restaurant here in the States. It’s a regular offering at Mario Batali restaurants. Even Iron Chef Cat Cora has a version (thanks for sharing, Elizabeth!). Though this dish is favorite of celebrity chefs and a staple at the fanciest Italian restaurants, it’s actually a humble dish that comes via casual trattorias in Rome. And it’s those roots, as a favorite in modest, affordable Roman eateries, that make Bucatini all’Amatriciana an easy meal to bring into your home kitchen.

Here’s an approximate cost breakdown of this fabulous 30-minute meal:

$2.00 Bucatini, 1 lb
$5.50 Pancetta, 1/2 lb (this is even less expensive if you substitute regular bacon; only do this if you must)
$1.00 Fresh hot peppers
$3.50 High quality (e.g., San Marzano) canned tomatoes
$1.00 Large red onion
$0.50 Head of garlic (you won’t use the whole thing)
$5.00 Pecorino (you’ll only use a fraction of this, I estimated $0.75 worth)

You’ll also need some olive oil, salt and pepper, which you probably have on hand. Now, add that up, divide by 4 and check it out: $3.50 per person. If you share with six people (totally possible with a 1lb of pasta, depending on what else you serve), and your’e at $2.40 per person.

Hello! This is a pasta so scrumptious that some restaurants dish it out for $20 a plate!!

You’ll notice that my recipe calls for fresh hot peppers. While I may not be a celebrity chef, this is my secret and it is key (albeit a tiny bit more expensive than hot pepper flakes). I’ve made this dish a million times, with everything from the usual pepper flakes, to jalapenos, to hard-to-find heirloom hot peppers and I’ve come to conclusion that habaneros are your best bet of the more accessible peppers.

Don’t be scared of the habanero (or scotch bonnet, if that’s easier to find). If you very thoroughly seed and devein just one, the heat is totally manageable. And the slightly citrusy flavor that it will impart takes this dish to the next level. If you’re sharing with little ones sensitive to spicy food, stick with just 1/2 a pepper. It’ll still be worth it.

And, while we’re at it, though not as big a factor, I think that red onion makes a difference, too.

Give it a go and tell us what you think. Feel like you’re eating restaurant food? Does it even matter? Or it just too good to care?!

Bucatini all’Amatriciana

serves 4-6

Ingredients
1 lb bucatini (perciatelli or, if you can’t find either, spaghetti work well)
2 Tbs olive oil
1 extra large red onion, cut into 1/2”³ slices
2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1/2 lb pancetta (or guanciale or plain old bacon) cut 1/4”³ thick, diced
1-3 hot peppers, thinly sliced (or 1/2 1 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes)*
1 28-oz can high quality whole peeled tomatoes
1/2 cup grated Pecorino cheese, plus extra to top
salt and pepper

Directions
1. Put a large pot of salted water on medium-high heat (about 6 qts water to 2 tbs salt). Bring to a boil and cook pasta until al dente. Drain, saving about a mug full of cooking water. Set pasta and reserved cooking water aside.

2. Heat olive oil in a large skillet. Add onions and garlic. Sauté over medium heat until transparent.

3. Create a space in the middle of the skillet by pushing onions and garlic to the side. Spread the pancetta in the open space and cook until it starts to brown.

4. Mix together pancetta, onions and garlic, and add peppers. Keep sautéing until everything turns a nice golden brown color.

5. Add tomatoes to onion mixture, breaking each one up with your hands. When all of the tomatoes have been added, pour the sauce from the can into the skillet. Add salt and pepper to taste (don’t be shy with the salt). Cook for about 15 minutes, until sauce thickens and all the flavors pull together. This is not meant to be a heavy sauce, rather it should give a nice coating to the pasta.

6. Toss pasta in the skillet with sauce over low-medium heat. Add cheese, an extra drizzle of olive oil and as much cooking water as you need to extend the sauce so that it coats all of the pasta. Keep tossing until all of the pasta is well dressed and heated throughout. Taste and adjust seasoning to get it just right—you may want to add more olive oil, cheese, salt and/or pepper. Enjoy!

*Note: The amount of pepper you use and whether you seed and de-vein the fresh ones depends on how spicy you like your food. Also, the type of pepper you use will impact the taste of your sauce, so play around. I’ve used everything from red jalapenos to (fewer) scotch bonnets.

*Photo by Scott Partee, used under Creative Commons license

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