Weekend Cooking: Chef Anne Burrell’s Bucatini all’Amatriciana

When it’s time for a family party, I’m usually assigned the role of “soda girl”, a task requiring little more than making my way through the aisles of the grocery store, loading a cart with assorted 2-liter bottles.  Honestly, this is for the best, as even my most casual acquaintances know that cooking is not my forte.

Compounding my culinary shortcomings is the fact I’m one of eight cousins–all female–and they are all gifted and talented in the kitchen, garden, athletic field, and/or craft room.  I…am good at reading.

My cousin J, my junior by a mere 88 days, is a domestic virtuoso. This girl makes Marta Stewart look like a slouch.  From what I can tell, J thrives on about twelve seconds of sleep a night, and is able to effectively parent her three adorable (and very active!) kids, plant and harvest a garden, can her own sauces, vegetables, compotes, and jellies, bake cookies and breads, whip up elaborate dinners, and act as class mom, all while wearing fashionable 4-inch heels.

Attempting to look like serious thespians in this photo--J and I were performing a play in my backyard. We both had the same hairdresser and rocked those Bardot bangs! (J on left, me on right)

A few months ago, J gifted me with a copy of her favorite Food Network chef’s new cookbook.  Anne Burrell, famous for her shock of bleach blonde hair and love of bacon, recently published Cook Like a Rock Star, a collection of recipes that even the most daft cook (read: me) could manage.

I want to cook like a rock star, too!

J loves Anne because her recipes aren’t complex and (typically) require food that she has in her pantry.  Flipping through the book, I was struck by the gorgeous staging and photos, but it was Anne’s humorous asides in the ingredient lists and instructions that kept me turning pages.

When I originally planned this post, I had set my heart on a fried zucchini appetizer.  My fear of frying is almost as dire as my fear of being trapped in a car without an audio book, but I set to work making the fritters.  Unfortunately, there was a small ‘grease splatter incident’–only a few flames–and I’ve been assured my arm hairs will grow back and the scarring will be minimal.

I wanted to cook like a rock star...not a flame thrower.

Undaunted, I shifted gears and began preparing the dinner I’d planned, also from Anne’s cookbook.  The photo of the Bucatini all’Amatriciana had me drooling before I even read the recipe.  When I finally took a gander at the ingredient list, a single word leapt off the page at me: GUANCIALE.

Now friends, I may be a third-generation Italian-American, but have spent enough time in language classes at Parliamo Italiano to recognize the word PIG JOWLS when I see it.  Can we say deal breaker?  I was prepared to dismiss this recipe until noticing that pancetta (pork belly) could be subbed for pig’s cheeks.  Ant and I don’t really dig on any swine aside from bacon, but even we could handle bacon’s Italian cousin, pancetta.  Game on, Chef Anne!

Please ignore the garlic in this ingredient image--he photo-bombed my picture and doesn't belong in the recipe! Crushed red pepper flakes are in absentia. Also, I though I had fresh Parmesan but didn't. I subbed semi-fresh grated--it worked.

The recipe came together quite easily and it really was delicious.  The sauce is so flavorful with a hint of heat and the crispy pancetta crumbled on the top was an added treat!  I already have plans to make this pasta again soon, and if I can make it, surely you can, too!

A simple and hearty meal--perfect for Sunday dinner. Thanks to my 'Southern' Cousin for the great pasta bowls!

 Chef Anne Burrell’s Bucatini all’Amatriciana (my notes in red)

Serves 4 to 6; Time: 1 1/2 hours

  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • 8 oz. guanciale (or pancetta) cut into 1/4-inch strips
  • 4 onions, cut into 1/2-inch dice (I only used 1 medium onion)
  • 1/2 to 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper
  • Kosher salt (I used Kosher salt but accidentally photographed Sea Salt)
  • 2 28-oz cans San Marzano tomatoes, passed through a food mill (or squished in my clean hands)
  • 1 pound bucatini or perciatelli (I used perciatelli–it’s a similar thick spaghetti with a hole in the center)
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmigiano, plus extra for garnish
  • Big fat finishing oil (I had no idea what this was and omitted it)
1.  Coat a large saucepan with olive oil; add the guanciale (or pancetta) and cook over low heat until it’s brown and crispy and has rendered a lot of fat (6-8 minutes). Remove the pork and set a third of it aside for garnish–I like to call these bits “the crispy critters”.
2.  Bring the pan and the remaining fat to medium heat, add the onions and red pepper, and season generously with salt.  Cook until the onions are soft and aromatic, 8 to 10 minutes.
3.  Add the tomatoes and two-thirds of the pork, and bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and cook the sauce for about 1 hour, tasting periodically and adding salt as needed (trust me, you will need to reseason).
4.  Bring a large pot of well-salted water to a boil.  Add the pasta and cook for 1 minute less than the instructions on the package suggest.  Taste it: It should be toothsome with just a little nugget of hard pasta still in the center–this is al dente.
5.  Ladle about 2 cups of the sauce into a bowl and set it aside as an insurance policy; you want the perfect ratio of pasta to sauce and while you can always add it back, you can’t take it out once the pasta is in the pan.  (Nat’s note: I skipped this step.)
6.  Drain the pasta, add it to the pan of sauce, and stir well.  Cook the pasta in the sauce, adding more sauce if needed, for another 1 to 2 minutes; the pasta will begin to absorb the sauce and it will cling to the pasta in a lovely little hug.  Add the cheese and a drizzle of big fat finishing oil and toss until it’s a homogeneous mixture.  Divide among serving bowls, top with more Parm, and give each a sprinkle of the crispy critters (other third of pork).
7.  Open your mouth, dive in, and enjoy!

Thanks so much to Candace over at Beth Fish Reads for hosting Weekend Cooking!  Many thanks and much love to my ‘younger’ cousin J for the great cookbook.


  1. J sounds like a wonderful cousin and the recipe sounds delicious!

  2. That looks and sounds really yummy!

  3. You & J are adorable! Lucky duck too getting this cookbook – I was eyeballing it at the store recently and it looks terrific. As does your gorgeous photo Nat! Pass me some crispy critters, will ya?!

  4. Yum! FYI, Trader Joe’s has pancetta already cut up into little bits (uncrisped critters). Will definitely try this.

  5. That looks yummy. What a fun cookbook!

  6. I am really confident in the kitchen and I almost never deep fry — hot spattering grease is not my friend. I’ve never actually singed arm hairs . . . but it could happen.

    I have a sister-in-law who puts Martha to shame. I gave up trying to even come close years ago.

    THe cookbook looks like a winner.

  7. Congratulations, Chef Natalie! (on the pasta, not the singed arm hairs)

  8. seriously, i might have a career in either cooking or burning down kitchens. 🙂 this pasta was SUPER good, tho. try it!!

  9. I had to laugh because I’m the one in my family that brings the soda! This recipe looks and sounds yummy!

  10. I’m not usually into cooking posts but this was a fun one — it had funny (the photo), danger (the fire) and deliciousness (the thing you made).

  11. This looks like a delicious pasta recipe!

    Thanks for the post.

  12. Pancetta and pasta…that’s a no-brainer! I can attest that this Anne Burrell recipe is awesome! I happened to catch her show when she was making this, and I had to try it that weekend (also substituting pancetta for the cheeks). Now I just need to find some cute pasta bowls! I hope you’ve recovered from your “incident”!

  13. I want this cookbook! Maybe I should see if the library has it first…

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