To my utter delight and joy, I was gifted recently with Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking by Marcella Hazan. This book is like the Italian equivalent of Mastering the Art of French Cooking by Julia Child and is, as expected, utterly and irrefutable awesome. It now holds a place of high esteem in my cookbook shelf and is currently my muse for the next bevy of dishes winging their way out of my kitchen.
My first inspiration is this pasta, a seemingly simple tomato sauce composed of tomatoes, pancetta, and chiles packing a wallop of flavor and deliciousness that is not soon to be forgotten. I first read about this in the last edition of Cook’s Illustrated, only in that rendition, they used bacon and red pepper flakes. Now, as you well know, pancetta is now my one true bacon love…so when I eagerly flipped through the pages of Essentials and found this recipe, I was easily swayed and sold!
Originally developed in the roman town of Amatrice, this sauce would not be complete without bucatini, a thick, hollow spaghetti. Also known as perciatelli (which is how we were able to find it in the local supermarket), this shaped pasta is the perfect vehicle for this sauce…providing enough body of starch and surface area for the cheese and tomato bits to adhere to.
And that’s just it. This is not your typical pasta sauce here folks. It’s not thick, it’s not runny, and it’s not overly tomatoey. Your pasta is not going to be inundated with sauce, but more lightly coated in this simmered ambrosia, allowing you to really enjoy every simple ingredient that it’s comprised of. It doesn’t get any better than this!
Adapted from Marcella Hazan’s Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 tablespoon butter
1 medium onion, chopped fine
A 1/4 inch thick slice of pancetta, cut into 1×1/2 inch strips
1 1/2 cups canned imported Italian plum tomatoes, drained and diced
Chopped hot red chili peppers, to taste (we used 4)
3 tablespoon freshly grated Parmigiano-reggiano cheese
2 tablespoons freshly grated Pecorino romano cheese
1 pound bucatini pasta
Boil pasta in salted water according to package instructions for al dente.
Put oil, butter, and onion in a saucepan over medium heat. Saute onion until it becomes a pale gold color, then add the pancetta. Cook for about 1 to 2 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the tomatoes, chili pepper, and salt, and cook in the uncovered pan at a steady, gentle simmer for 25 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Toss the pasta with the sauce, then add both cheeses, and toss thoroughly again. Serve