Finally I made bucatini all'amatriciana. It was so good we ate it twice in one week. I admit it just looks like some spaghetti with tomato sauce and cheese but it is so much more. And the key ingredient is good fatty cheek - guanciale.
If you have that you can't go wrong. See the wonderful fat marbled with a touch of meat. I started with a recipe in Saveur Cooks Authentic Italianand laughed when I read "Romans insist on using guanciale but pancetta works fine and probably only a Roman could tell the difference". Even funnier is the photograph of pancetta - one of those rolled ones, practically devoid of fat. Well all the flavour in this dish comes from the fat. If you can't buy cured cheek, purchase the fattiest pancetta you can and perhaps add some cured back fat or lardo (more about lardo later).
You can see in the frying pan just how much fat is being rendered - the fat is the sauce. I have about 175 g of diced cheek here. Unlike the Saveur recipe I had no need of olive oil.
Next add some chopped plum (Roma) tomatoes, about 5 tomatoes or 2 cups. I didn't bother to peel them but I did remove the seeds. Then I added about 1/2 teaspoon of hot red pepper flakes and let it simmer away until it was slightly thickened. The tomatoes provide the acid to balance the fat.
In the meantime I cooked my bucatini saving about 125 ml of the cooking water. Now the recipe also has 2 tablespoons of grated Parmesan cheese and 1 cup of Pecorino-Romano. The grated Parmesan and a little of the Pecorino are added and simmered in the sauce. Don't add the cheese until you are ready to add the cooked bucantini and cooking water. If you do, it will end up stuck to the bottom of your pan. Add the rest of the cheese when you serve it.
There is enough sauce for 400 g of pasta so it feeds 4. I froze half the sauce, but it only lasted 5 days in the freezer.
Why is this dish called amatriciana? It is named after the town of Amatrice, a mountain town on the border of Abruzzi and Lazio in Italy. The town has a spaghetti festival in August that celebrates this dish. Bucatini is after all just a hollow spaghetti.