Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Spaghetti con Pancetta, Pecorino e Pepe Nero - Spaghetti with Pancetta, Pecorino Romano & Black Pepper

When I was a very small girl I wasn't fond of red sauce on my pasta so Nana would make mine with what I thought was just butter and freshly grated Parmesan cheese. When I tried making this myself a few years back, I found it to be dry, sticky and not the greatest flavor. I have learned the secret that Italian housewives use when making a simple pasta dish with only a few tablespoons of butter, oil, pancetta, or vegetables, and that is adding a bit of the starchy pasta water to the skillet, which in cooking down moistens the pasta and thickens the sauce.

This dish is called Spaghetti all'Amatriciana Bianca in Roma by those born and raised there. They claim that this dish is most authentic to the red sauce version. In the Roma version you would use dried red pepper flakes, adding them when you do the pancetta to add not only spice but heat to the dish. Whether you choose to use black pepper or dried red pepper flakes in this dish, the pepper is the key ingredient. Without it the pasta is on the bland side.

Ingredients Needed to Make This Dish:

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/4 pound thickly sliced pancetta, cut into small strips
Kosher salt to taste
1 pound spaghetti or bucatini
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
1/4 cup freshly grated pecorino romano cheese or 1/3 cup freshly grated parmigiano
Freshly ground black pepper to taste

Heat olive oil and butter together in a skillet over medium heat.

When the butter foams add the pancetta. (If you chose to use dried red pepper flakes, add them now as well. Start with a pinch and go from there to taste.) Cook gently, over medium heat (or lower if browning too fast), until the pancetta is lightly golden, 2 to 3 minutes or so.

Bring a large pot of water to boil; add 1 tablespoon salt and the spaghetti. (I use Barilla Plus multi grain spaghetti.) Cook, uncovered, over high heat until the pasta is cooked al dente (tender but firm to the bite). Scoop out 1/2 cup of the pasta cooking water and reserve. Drain the pasta and add it to the skillet.

Stir in the reserved pasta water, parsley, and cheese. Mix over low heat until the pasta is well dressed with the sauce. Taste and season with salt if necessary (the pancetta is already quite salty) and add your black pepper to taste. You will use more than you normally would put in most dishes. Serve piping hot with a bit more cheese.


  1. Oh boy....you know I love to have pasta this way...darn...now I have to make it :-) Hee!!!

  2. This version is a bit different than the Carbonara version you make. There are no eggs in this pasta dish. Give it a try. It's very flavorful and moist.