Tagliatelle al sugo di cipolle e pancetta
by Gianni Tedesco
That’s big flat spaghettis with bacon and onion sauce to you and me. It’s a bit less dense than carbonara but just as nice. It’s also a good dish for learning the basic techniques of italian cuisine which you can apply in a dozen other other dishes by substiting one or two ingredients.
You will need:
- Some pasta, potable water, salt worthy of its salt.
- Some pancetta, I suppose bacon will do, no need to be a snob about it.
- Some cheese, parmigiano reggiano or peccorino romano. I would avoid the fake stuff here and look for the DOP symbol. If you’re in the EU this won’t be a problem.
- Freshly ground black pepper. Which, in italian cuisine, is a spice to be taken seriously - not some black dust added as an afterthought. You want to be able to taste it.
- Some white wine. My tastes are cheap so any old plonk will do.
- A non-non-stick pan. Made of stainless steel by steely-eyed german men.
For two people, 250g of pasta, 50g of cheese and 100-150g of meat should be a feast.
Start by cutting the pancetta in to cubes. Fry them off in a pan until the fat has rendered and they start to brown the bottom of the pan. Grind some black pepper in to the fat and meat. Add in a finely chopped onion and also fry until brown.
Deglaze the pan with a splash of white wine and cook off the alcohol for a minute. There should still be a little fond left on the pan after this. Add a ladleful or two of the pasta water, which should be nice and starchy by this point and make sure to scrape up all the fond from the bottom of the pan.
Grate some parmegiano reggiano cheese in to a bowl and add a little pasta water there too. Fold the cheese and water in to the consistency of a thick paste. This will make it easier to incorporate in to the pasta and sauce without going all clumpy and rubbery.
By this point the pasta should be pretty al dente, a minute or two from done. Dump the pasta in to the frying pan and stir them around making sure to get the sauce coated on the noodles. Fold in the cheese mixture too. It should all emulsify to form a thick and creamy sauce that coats all the pasta.
You will need to taste it at this point. You should have salted the pasta water well and it will now be reducing and getting saltier. Also the cheese and pancetta is salty so you need to be careful when you bring these elements together. Salt cannot be removed once added. Well, you could, but the food won’t be as texturally satisfying after being pumped through an osmosis filter. So what I do is to use less salt in the pasta water than I usually would when cooking this way. Then I can add salt and cheese and adjust the seasoning here to make sure I don’t end up with bland mush.
Once the seasoning is right and the pasta is cooked to al dente, you are ready to serve. Twist the pasta up on a fork or tongs and place on the plate. Add some more black pepper, and sprinkle some grated cheese on top. If you want to be even more fancy you could have set aside half of the meat and arranged it decoratively before luxuriously draping the individual strands of grated cheese atop the dish.
But personally, I like to just eat it right from the pan with a fork while wearing boxer shorts and a white cotton vest.
From here you can sub the onions for eggs, and get carbonara. Or you could skip the meat and onions and use peccorino cheese and end up with caccio e pepe. You could add a small amount of tomatoes for a more fruity variant. Subtract onions from that and go for bucatini all’amatriciana. You could replace the pancetta with tuna and perhaps the wine for parsley and lemon juice and end up with tonno e cippole.
Whatever you chose, at least you can impress your friends and enjoy restuarants a lot less by knowing how to cook pasta properly.tags: cooking - recipes - pasta