As far as Roman pastas go, spaghetti carbonara gets a lot of credit but I’m telling you — this pasta is what dreams are made of. It’s tomato-y, cheesy, and has juuuust enough of a kick.
I first discovered this dish at one of my favorite Italian spots in NYC — Sandro’s on the Upper East Side near my first apartment. The dish blew me away and after going there a few times, we decided to try and see if we could make it ourselves.
We were actually surprised at how easy it was. This isn’t a dish that requires any skill or mastery and our first attempt at making it turned out amazing. I haven’t been back to Sandro’s since.
We tried a few different recipes and tweaked it until we felt like it was perfect. Here’s how we make it:
1 medium yellow onion
4 ounces guanciale or pancetta
4-5 cloves garlic
1 28 ounce can of San Marzano tomatoes
1/2 - 1 cup parmesan reggiano
Chili pepper paste or red pepper flakes
1/2 lb pasta
Chop both ends off of onion and cut in half lengthwise. Slice into half-moons. Heat frying pan over medium-high heat. Add onions and about 1/3 cup water — enough to almost cover the onions.
Let onions simmer in water until all water is evaporated and onions are translucent. Add 1-2 tablespoons of olive oil and cook until onions are beginning to brown. Move all onions to one side of the pan and add guanciale and garlic to other side of pan. Add a couple pinches of salt to onions. If using red pepper flakes, sprinkle over onions and guanciale. Cook until garlic and guanciale have browned and crisped.
Meanwhile, pour the can of tomatoes into a bowl. Try to fish out as many of the whole tomatoes as possible and cut them lengthwise into strips. Add tomatoes and all juice to the frying pan and stir. Add salt to taste, keeping in mind that the cheese will add salt as well. If using red chili paste, add now to taste, starting with about 1/2 teaspoon.
Turn the heat down to medium-low. Continue to simmer sauce for about 20 minutes or until it has cooked down by half. While the sauce is simmering, cook the pasta. Add cheese to sauce, starting with 1/2 cup and adding more if necessary.
Traditionally this dish is served with bucatini, which is round and long like spaghetti but has a hole in the middle of the noodle. We make our own but I think you can buy it dried from Italian markets. We’ve also done this sauce with rigatoni and it tastes great. Also just a tip - I’ve noticed that the amount of cheese I need for the sauce depends on the freshness of the cheese. The fresher the cheese, the less you need to get the sauce to have that perfect cheesy kick.
Here’s some photos of the process: