Once again faced with a surfeit of tomatoes, I leafed through Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything for ideas and found an unassuming little recipe for Pasta all’Amatriciana.
Who knew that pasta and just a few basic ingredients could transform into a fabulous dish that was so much more than the sum of its parts? My daughter and I literally stopped talking just to eat and savor the meal – not a typical occurrence! The key was balance - the saltiness of the bacon, the sweetness of the onion, the brightness of the tomatoes, and what they now call the the fifth taste: "umami" or savoriness, the umami of the Parmesan cheese. Try this dish - it's simple and awesome.
Pasta all’Amatriciana adapted from Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything
1/2 lb. flat long pasta (I didn’t happen to have any on hand, so I took manicotti and had my granddaughter smash it with a rolling pin – it was fine, good even)
1/4 pound of bacon, sliced into ½ inch x 1 inch pieces
1 medium onion, sliced
2 cups diced fresh tomatoes (use all the seeds and “gel”, that’s where there’s tons of flavor. Also, Bittman says you can substitute canned whole, then diced)
½ cup or more of freshly grated Parmesan cheese or pecorino Romano (use a microplane if you have one. PLEASE don’t use the green can of already grated cheese – it will go from amazing to meh.)
Freshly ground pepper
Boil a large pot of water for the pasta, salt heavily so it tastes briny.
In a large sauté pan, (I used my trusty 12 inch cast iron one), saute the bacon over medium heat until crispy. Remove and set aside. Add the onions and sauté over low heat until translucent and soft, about 10 minutes. Add the tomatoes and simmer gently for 5 minutes, or until the pasta is ready.
Toss the pasta in whenever the water boils, and cook until al dente. Dip out a half cup of pasta water just before draining the pasta.
Add the drained pasta to the saucepan, mix and simmer slowly a minute or two. Taste for salt and pepper. Strew with the crispy bacon, add a smidge of reserved pasta water if needed to loosen the sauce, more if necessary. Fold in the cheese. Feast.
In Sunday’s New York Times, both How to Cook Everything, and The New Best Recipe from the Editors of Cook’s Illustrated were cited as being the replacements for the old standard The Joy of Cooking. I agree!
All of these titles are available in our Library – take them out and find something easy and wonderful – you won’t be sorry. Incidentally, the subtitle for Bittman’s How to Cook Everything is 2,000 Simple Recipes for Great Food - I’m betting with this book you can always find something tasty to make with what you have on hand. Bittman typically lists lots of variations.