Updated: Jun 24, 2020
½ lb pasta (I like to use Rigatoni or, if you can find it, bucatini)
1 28oz can of whole tomatoes (San Marzano or a good California brand, no salt or basil)
1 14 ½ can of whole tomatoes (same thing. We are using a little extra tomato here to make sure that there is enough sauce for the pasta)
½ lb pancetta (Note: You can and should use Guanciale if you can find it. It’s cured pork jowl and is absolutely incredibly)
Pecorino Romano (Not going to give you an amount here. You should get a block of it and use it to taste)
½ cup of pasta water (you’ll make this along the way!)
1–1 ½ tsp red chili flakes (use more the spicier you want it, the fresher the better!)
Kosher salt (to taste)
Maldon salt (only to be used at the end on top)
Black pepper (freshly ground)
1 tbsp unsalted butter
Notes before you begin:
Aggressively salt the pasta water. It should be almost too salty to drink. Remember, only a little of this will actually get into the pasta itself and will exponentially bring out the flavor.
Pour the whole canned tomatoes into a bowl and crush them with your hands or a hand blender. If you are using your hands, crush the whole tomatoes while they are submerged, otherwise they will explode and spray red juice everywhere (I learned this the hard way so many times).
VERY IMPORTANT: Taste and salt the tomatoes to your liking after you crush them. Each can of tomatoes is salted differently. They might not need salt, but you want to taste them to make sure. You want the tomatoes to be bright and a little floral.
We are adding a lot of salt in different places here (the pasta water, the tomatoes, on top, etc). Remember to add slowly and keep tasting your food. You can always add salt, you can’t take it out.
Bring the water to a boil and add the pasta. Make sure the water continues at a rolling boil after adding the pasta — basically, keep it on high heat or whatever heat keeps a lot of large bubbles in the pot. However long the box says to cook the pasta, take off two minutes and start tasting a piece every twenty seconds. The pasta should be al dente (a little chewy) but you should still cook it to your taste.
Right before straining the pasta, take a pyrex measuring cup or a mug and set aside a ½ cup of starchy, salty, perfect pasta water.
As soon as you strain the pasta, drizzle with olive oil and gently toss in the strainer. This will prevent it from sticking together as much.
In a medium saucepan over medium-low heat, throw in the pancetta (or guanciale). Cook it stirring occasionally until the fat is rendered out, pooling in the pan, and the meat begins to brown around the edges (7–10 minutes). About six minutes in, add some fresh ground black pepper (7–10 twists of the pepper mill).
Clear a little pool in the rendered fat and add the red pepper flakes and coat in the fat. Let the flake sit for 30 to 45 seconds to allow the spicy oil to seep into the fat. Then thoroughly stir the mixture together for the last minute or so of cooking.
Pour in half of the reserved pasta water. Turn the heat up to medium and stir or whisk gently as the mixture comes up to a boil. It should create a cloudy, off-white mixture. This means that it is emulsifying (The starch in the pasta water to combine the water and fat, which you otherwise cannot do) and creating the base of the sauce.
NOTE: If you wanted, you could just add the pasta to this, cook it for about a minute, and toss it together to make sure all the pasta is coated. Throw on some Pecorino Romano and boom, you have what’s called Pasta alla Gricia. Check out the recipe HERE!
Once the sauce is emulsified, turn the heat down to medium, add the tomatoes and stir together. At this point you can cook this for anywhere from ten minutes to an hour. It’ll already be rich, but the longer you cook it the deeper and more intense it will get. Make sure to stir every-so-often to make sure it does not burn on the bottom.
After a minimum of ten minutes, add the pasta to the sauce, along with another splash of pasta water and the butter. Stir together making sure every piece is coated. After about two minutes of constant stirring, take off the heat.
Serve and make sure to get some pieces of pork in each bowl. Grate Pecorino, grind some coarse black pepper, and sprinkle a little Maldon salt over the top. Enjoy!