As much as I love my cooking, it’s always nice to have someone else cook for you. It’s even better when you have a Chef cook for you. You get to learn something new, sit down, relax and you know the food is going to be fabulous.
I was lucky enough to spend an afternoon with my friend Chef Sam de los Santos (formerly of Cocello and Spiaggia) and bear witness to this extremely creative take on the classic Roman pasta dish spaghetti all’amatriciana. In his version he literally bakes the pasta creating Baked Amatriciana. But let’s get one things straight this ain’t no baked mostaccioli. It’s incredibly beautiful and perfect for a late Sunday afternoon.
This pasta comes from the region of Lazio in Italy and is named after a town called Amatrice, which is about an hour outside of Rome. It has very few ingredients so the ones you buy for this dish have to be superb. As they say (whoever they are), simple food is the most difficult food. Traditionally Amatriciana includes:
- guanciale (cured pork jowl)
- onions (some say they have to red onions)
- canned tomatoes (San Marzano I.G.P. if you prefer)
- chile flakes
- pecorino Romano
- olive oil
When I traveled to Rome I literally ran to the first restaurant I could find and ordered a plate of bucatini all’amatriciana. It was spicy, porky, savory and simply addictive. I think had amatriciana almost everyday in Rome except when I ate cacio e pepe (but that’s a whole other story).
Just to be clear, Italians are serious purists. When I was in culinary school in Florence, my Chef instructors would get in arguments if it was “proper” to add parsley to a dish or not. Screaming feuds would happen if the onions should be yellow or red. Do you cook with spaghettone or bucatini? Holy cow! Calm down people! So I say screw tradition from time to time. Being a Chef allows you to take some poetic license and always make “a play” on the classic. Which is exactly what Chef Sam does.
One key component for this dish to be successful is buying the right kind of pasta. Chef Sam uses angel hair “nests” to create the right texture and shape. (Check them out by De Cecco.) He toasts the nests on both sides until they are golden brown in extra virgin olive oil. Did I mention you don’t need to boil the pasta? Yep! It actually cooks in the pan and you end up with soft, al dente pasta on the bottom and crispy and crunchy pasta on top. It’s a really nice textural contrast and definitely something unique. (Like I said earlier…poetic license).
Chef Sam also uses good ole American thick-cut bacon instead of guanciale and adds some anchovies. I know sometimes people are a bit squeamish about anchovies but they are there to add an extra depth of flavor and umami. Trust me, it’s totally worth it.
The real essence of this dish is creating an extremely flavorful base. As I stated earlier, there is bacon and anchovies…yum. Then Chef Sam adds fresh chiles, pickled chiles, basil, onions and garlic. So you have the fat and crunch from the bacon, the tang from the pickled chiles, spice from the fresh chiles, herbal notes from the basil and the sweet and acidic finish of San Marzano tomatoes.
Okay we got crispy angel hair nests and an intense flavor base. Now Chef Sam puts in all together. He lays down the angel hair nests on top of the bacon/onion/chile/basil concoction. Then he takes the hand-crushed San Marzano tomatoes and a little chicken broth and nestles the sauce around the pasta. You want some on top but also underneath the nests. You just need to work it a little bit. You got it! Chef Sam makes sure there are enough tomatoes on the bottom so the pasta can absorb the moisture and become soft and also leaves some tomatoes on top so they get caramelized. Check out the photos.
Then he pops the pan in the oven and it just bakes away. He garnishes with even more Italian goodness…pecorino Romano, extra virgin olive oil, basil and yes, more anchovies!
I’m pretty sure you’ve never had any “baked pasta” like this one.
- 3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- 1 pound angel hair nests (I like De Cecco)
- 4 slices of thick-cut bacon, cut into ½” pieces (you can also use guanciale or pancetta)
- 5-6 anchovy filets
- 1 medium onion, finely diced
- 1 garlic clove, minced
- 2 chiles (fresno or serrano), thinly sliced
- 2 tbsp pickled peppers (such as banana peppers), sliced
- 20 basil leaves, torn
- 1 (28 oz) can of San Marzano whole, peeled tomatoes
- ½ cup chicken broth
- 2 oz of shaved pecorino Romano
- Preheat the oven to 350°F
- Heat a large cast iron pan over medium-high heat
- Add 1 tbsp of olive oil
- Place the angel nests in the pan and allow them to toast/brown on one side. Flip nests over and brown on the other side. Remove from pan once finished.
- Next add the bacons slices and 2-3 anchovy filets
- Cook bacon until crispy (about 7-10 minutes) and anchovies have been broken down
- Remove bacon from the pan but leave about ½ tbsp of bacon fat
- Add the onions and sauté for 7-10 until softened.
- Add garlic, chiles, pickled peppers, 2 anchovy filets and torn basil leaves.
- Sauté for another 3-4 minutes.
- While vegetables are sautéing, crush the canned San Marzano tomatoes while keep them chunky and season with 1 tbsp of olive oil, salt and pepper. Set aside.
- Add bacon back to the pan and then lay the toasted angel hair nests on top of the onion/bacon mixture
- Add the crushed San Marzano tomatoes and chicken stock. Make sure to get some sauce underneath the pasta and some of top
- Place in the preheat oven and bake for 15 minutes
- The pasta is done when the top is golden brown and crunchy and the bottom of the pasta nests are soft and cooked through
- Garnish with 1 tbsp of olive oil, shaved pecorino Romano (use a vegetable peeler for longer big slices), 10 pieces of torn basil, 2 anchovy filets and freshly ground black pepper