Weekly Winner: Pancetta-Pasta-Pecorino Perfection

pancetpastaI am well aware of the fact that I have been sorely lacking in the posting department lately, and I apologize for that.  Life has indeed gotten in the way.  The good news with all that is that I now have quite a backlog of recipes to feature!  Hopefully that means November will be chock-full of tastiness.

I will start with this 5-ingredient winner of a pasta dish.  Yep, that’s right — only FIVE make this amazing dish.  How is this possible you ask?  Well, two out of the five ingredients are absolute powerhouses of flavor:  Pancetta and Pecorino Romano.  You don’t need much else if you’re starting with those two!

Pasta Alla Gricia or Rigatoni with Pancetta and Pecorino Romano apparently comes from Rome.  This particular recipe for the dish; however, comes from Cook’s Illustrated.

Five ingredients and 30 minutes, people — there really is no excuse for not making this.

Pasta Alla Gricia (Rigatoni with Pancetta and Pecorino Romano)

Ingredients:

8 ounces pancetta, sliced 1/4 inch thick

1 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil

1 pound rigatoni

1 tsp coarsely ground pepper, plus extra for serving

2 oz Pecorino Romano cheese, grated fine (1 cup), plus extra for serving.

Procedure:

  1. Slice each round of pancetta into rectangular pieces that measure about 1/2 inch by 1 inch.
  2. Heat pancetta and oil in large Dutch oven over medium-low heat, stirring frequently, until fat is rendered and pancetta is deep golden brown but still has slight pinkish hue, 8 to 10 minutes, adjusting heat as necessary to keep pancetta from browning too quickly.  Using slotted spoon, transfer pancetta to bowl; set aside.  Pour fat from pot into liquid measuring cup (you should have 1/4 to 1/3 cup fat; discard any extra). Return fat to Dutch oven.
  3. While pancetta cooks, set colander in large bowl..  Bring 2 quarts water to a boil in large pot.  Add pasta and cook, stirring often, until al dente.  Drain pasta in prepared colander, reserving cooking water.
  4. Add pepper and 2 cups reserved cooking water to Dutch oven with fat and bring to boil over high heat.  Boil mixture rapidly, scraping up any browned bits, until emulsified and reduced to 1-1/2 cups, about 5 minutes.  (If you’ve reduced it too far, add more reserved cooking water to equal 1-1/2 cups)
  5. Reduce heat to low, add pasta and pancetta, and stir to evenly coat.  Add Pecorino and stir until cheese is melted and sauce is slightly thickened, about 1 minute.  Of heat, adjust sauce consistency with remaining reserved cooking water as needed.  Transfer pasta to platter and serve immediately, passing extra pepper and extra Pecorino separately.

Weekly Winner:  Picture Perfect Pasta (made better with Pork!)

As I continue my quest to find different twists on the typical basil-pine nut pesto, I came across this dish. First of all, it was the magazine photo that got me. I was sold before I even knew it was a pesto. I mean this is one seriously pretty dish, isn’t it?? Then come to find out that this spaghetti is tossed with a tomato and walnut pesto. Now you’ve got me hook, line and sinker. Seriously? Is there anyway this could get better? Well, yes — add Italian Sausage!

While the original recipe from Bon Appetit for Spaghetti with Tomato and Walnut Pesto is totally vegetarian, I’ve got a hubby who’s coaching marathon training and needs meat! At least, that’s my story and I’m sticking to it. This had nothing to do with the fact that I am constantly looking for reason to add pork products to any dish!  It was all for him, I swear!

So while deciding to try this luscious pasta last Friday, I decided to call an audible on two points: first (and most importantly) was the addition of Italian sausage. Second, I always have a huge selection of various pastas in my pantry and really love fettuccine, so that got swapped for the spaghetti.  The end result (regardless of what pasta you use) is, gorgeous, creamy, pasta perfection – with pork!

Spaghetti with Tomato and Walnut Pesto

Serves 4

Ingredients

⅔ cup walnuts

2 pints cherry tomatoes, halved

2 tablespoons plus ⅓ cup olive oil, plus more for drizzling

Kosher salt

6 oil-packed anchovies, coarsely chopped

2 garlic cloves, coarsely chopped

1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest

¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

½ ounces Parmesan, finely grated (about ½ cup), plus more for serving

1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

12 ounces spaghetti [or fettuccine]

½ cup (packed) basil leaves

1/2 pound mild Italian sausage — my addition

Preparation

Preheat oven to 350°. Toast walnuts on a rimmed baking sheet, tossing once, until slightly darkened, 8–10 minutes. Let cool.

Heat broiler. Toss tomatoes with 2 Tbsp. oil on a rimmed baking sheet; season with salt. Broil, tossing once, until tomatoes are blistered and have released some of their liquid, 5–7 minutes. Let cool.

Pulse anchovies, garlic, lemon zest, red pepper flakes, and ½ oz. Parmesan in a food processor until finely ground. Add walnuts and half of tomatoes, then, with motor running, stream in ⅓ cup oil; process just until combined. Season with salt. Transfer pesto to a large bowl and stir in black pepper.

Cook pasta in a large pot of boiling salted water, stirring occasionally, until al dente. Drain, reserving ½ cup pasta cooking liquid.

[Meanwhile, sauté Italian sausage in a bit of olive oil until well browned.]

Transfer pasta and sausage to bowl with pesto and add a splash of pasta cooking liquid. Toss, adding more cooking liquid as needed, until sauce coats pasta. Add basil and remaining tomatoes.

Divide among bowls; top with more Parmesan and black pepper and drizzle with oil.