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The best ever Penne all’ Amatriciana

Perhaps the definitive recipe for the Italian dish?

(Words by)
Tom Parker Bowles
(Photography by)
Joseph Sinclair Parker

This is one of my favourite recipes of all time, nabbed from The first River Cafe cook book, but slightly changed. It was one of the first dishes I cooked after leaving university, and was a stalwart when having girls over for dinner. It took a couple of hours, smelt wondrous, and tasted divine. It also gave time for a few glasses of wine. This was all about seduction via the stomach.

In a true amatriciana sauce, you’d use guanciale, but smoke pancetta, or even bacon works fine. You can up the chilli level if needed, but this is an easy dish that never fails to delight. I’ve been cooking it for years now, and it’s very much a comfort staple — and much needed succour for these strange times.


  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 600 g/1 lb 5 oz smoked pancetta, cut into strips about 5 mm/¼ inch thick and 4cm/1½ inches long
  • 4 red onions, finely chopped
  • big pinch of dried peperoncino or dried chilli flakes or 2–5 dried bird’s-eye chillies, finely chopped
  • 3 large sprigs of rosemary, stripped and finely chopped
  • 250 ml/9 fl oz red wine
  • 4 x 400 g/14 oz cans chopped tomatoes
  • sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 125 g/4½ oz Parmesan, grated, plus extra to serve
  • 500 g/1 lb 2 oz dried penne
  1. Heat the oil in a large heavy-bottomed saucepan over a medium–high heat and fry the pancetta until crisp. Reduce the heat to medium, add the onions and cook for about 10 minutes, until soft. Add the chilli and rosemary and cook for 2 minutes.
  2. Chuck in the wine and increase the heat to burn off the alcohol; stir to deglaze the pan. Add the tomatoes and check the seasoning.
  3. Turn down the heat to very low and cook, lid off, at a very slow blip for 2½–3 hours, until the sauce is thick and dry. Stir more frequently towards the end of cooking as the sauce thickens. Add grated Parmesan.
  4. Cook the penne according to the packet instructions. Drain and mix with the sauce (don’t overwhelm with sauce; the pasta should have equal billing) and serve immediately. Grate over some more Parmesan if you like.

Looking for more ‘seduction via the stomach?’ Here’s how to make the Mandarin Oriental’s Boulevardier…

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