A: Making pasta is never as difficult as it seems (even making fresh pasta, for that matter). But bucatini all'amatriciana is as simple as it gets. A classic combination of hollow pasta strands, guanciale and spicy tomato sauce.
Like all good things in Italian cookery, the origin and correct preparation of bucatini all'amatriciana is passionately disputed. Tomatoes or no tomatoes; onions or no onions. But almost all agree on the noodle of choice: bucatini. The word "bucatini" literally translates to "pierced," a reference to the hole that runs the length of the noodle. That characteristic gives the noodle a distinctive bite and absorbancy.
Some pasta shapes are intimately associated with a particular condiment. In no dish is that more true that bucatini and the sauce of Amatricia.
The bulk of the flavor in the condiment is from the guanciale, the unsmoked salt-cured meat of the guancia -- the cheek -- of a pig. Guanciale has a rich, distinctly porcine flavor and buttery texture that is at the same time rich and light. If you have trouble finding guanciale, easily substitute pancetta or regular American bacon.
Traditionally, Italians use dry chili flakes to heighten the spice. I sometimes double up with Latin chilies and jalapenos because I like it especially spicy. Hard to go wrong.
Makes 8 first course portions or 4 big main course portions.
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
12 ounces thinly sliced guanciale, pancetta or good bacon
1 red onion, cut lengthwise in half and then into 1/4-inch-thick half-moons
3 cloves garlic, sliced
1 1/2 teaspoons hot red pepper flakes
2 cups basic tomato sauce
1 pound bucatini
Freshly grated Pecorino Romano
Bring 6 quarts of water to a boil in a large pot, and add 2 tablespoons salt.
Meanwhile, in a 10- to 12-inch sautÃ© pan, combine the olive oil, guanciale, onion, garlic and red pepper flakes; set over low heat and cook until the onion is softened and the guanciale has rendered much of its fat, about 12 minutes.
Drain all but 1/4 cup of the fat out of the pan (and set aside to cook your eggs for tomorrow's breakfast). Add the tomato sauce, turn up the heat, and bring to a boil, then lower the heat to a simmer and allow to bubble for 6 to 7 minutes.
While the sauce simmers, cook the bucatini in the boiling water for about a minute less than the package directions, until still very firm; drain.
Add the pasta to the simmering sauce and toss for about 1 minute to coat. Divide the pasta among four heated bowls and serve immediately, topped with freshly grated pecorino.
(Mario Batali is the owner of Babbo, Lupa, Otto and other renowned restaurants. His latest book is "Molto Batali," published by Ecco.)