Recipe courtesy of John Early

Rigatoni all 'Amatriciana all 'Early

A NOTE: I do not claim to possess centuries worth of Amatrice culinary traditions or techniques, but I can say with confidence that I am absolutely bonkers for this flavor profile. I have dedicated much of the last 3 years to perfecting this recipe to my liking in my kitchen, neglecting many career opportunities and family members along the way. Which is all to say: this may not be a purist's all 'Amatriciana, and you should keep making it and adjusting it until it suits you. After a few tries, it will become second nature, and you will bring your dinner companion to their knees. I say "companion" (singular) because I strongly suggest making this for two people, at least in the beginning. With less pasta, it's much easier to control the emulsification process and to serve it to your lover piping hot.
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  • Level: Easy
  • Total: 25 min
  • Active: 25 min
  • Yield: 2 servings
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Ingredients

4 to 6 ounces diced pancetta, guanciale or bacon (see Cook's Note)

About 3 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes (see Cook's Note) 

1 to 2 teaspoons freshly cracked black pepper

1 pint fresh cherry tomatoes, halved

Kosher salt

8 to 10 ounces rigatoni (about half a box of pasta)

1 cup reserved pasta water (absolutely essential)

1 1/2 cups freshly grated Pecorino Romano (see Cook's Note)

Directions

  1. Put a large pan with high walls over medium-high heat. (The high walls are so you don't have to worry about the rigatoni flying out when tossing vigorously at the end. I use a Dutch oven.) Once the pan is very hot, put pancetta in (no oil!) to brown some for about 45 seconds. Turn heat down to medium and cook for another 5 to 6 minutes, until you render most of the fat out and the pancetta is looking crispy and golden brown. Remove pancetta with a slotted spoon and set aside, leaving fat in the pan.
  2. Melt 2 tablespoons of butter in the pan. Add the crushed red pepper flakes and the black pepper. Swirl the pan around for about 30 seconds to let the pepper toast in the fat and butter.
  3. Add the halved cherry tomatoes and toss them until they are coated. Spread them out evenly in bottom of pan so they can cook in a single layer. Let them cook for about 8 to 10 minutes, stirring occasionally until they shrivel and a silky, buttery tomato sauce starts to form and simmer. If sauce gets too gummy or tomatoes start sticking to pan, add a little more butter. If it dries up while waiting for pasta to cook that is fine. You can take tomatoes off the heat and revive it with pasta water later.
  4. As tomatoes are cooking down, bring a big pot of water to a boil. Once it's boiling, add a lot of kosher salt. Like at least 4 tablespoons or a handful. More than you think! Add the rigatoni and cook until al dente (usually about 2 minutes before suggested cook time). It will cook more in the sauce. Reserve at least a cup of the starchy pasta water for thickening your sauce. Drain pasta.
  5. Stir in about half a cup of the pasta water to tomatoes and turn heat back up to medium high. Bring it to a gentle boil and let it cook down for about one minute, stirring frequently to emulsify and make your sauce even silkier.
  6. Add the rigatoni, reserved pancetta, and final tablespoon of butter to the pan and toss vigorously to coat the pasta in the sauce and the butter is melted. Add about a quarter cup of pecorino and a healthy splash of pasta water and toss for about 20 seconds until the cheese is incorporated. Repeat this until you've added about a full cup of the pecorino and the pasta is coated in a gorgeous glossy sauce. This is where you have to feel it out. If it gets clumpy, add more pasta water. If it seems too watery, keep tossing, it will thicken I promise you! Divide in bowls, dust with more pecorino and serve immediately.

Cook’s Note

Guanciale is beautiful and complex but sometimes tastes a little gamey to me and it's much harder to find than pancetta. Bacon is also a gorgeous substitute, but it will make it all a little sweet. Pancetta is perfectly salty and tangy to me. Grind your whole jar of crushed red pepper flakes to a powder in spice or coffee grinder for best results in this and all recipes. Blitz the Pecorino Romano in a food processor to make it as fine as possible. This will prevent clumping in the end! It's worth it.

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