Episode 22: Sorta-Pasta all’Amatriciana with Quickest Kale

October 4, 2009

This week, I make perhaps my most standard standby pasta, a mix of onions, tomatoes and bacon–great year-round, and totally doable with just pantry items. On the side, I boil a bit of kale and dress it up with chili flakes and vinegar.


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Shopping list

    Pasta: spaghetti, bucatini, linguine
    Tomatoes: best-quality canned or fresh (grape tomatoes for best flavor)
    Red-wine vinegar
    Olive oil
    Chili pepper flakes
    Pecorino romano or good-quality parmesan

Sorta-Pasta all’Amatriciana

amatriciana 018This is a great dish to cook any time of year, as well as an excellent emergency pantry-only kind of dish–as long as you start considering bacon a pantry ingredient (it does keep in your fridge for a couple of weeks, or in your freezer forever). But as I say in the podcast, this is hardly an “authentic” recipe for many reasons, so maybe it’s more honest just to call it pasta with onions, tomatoes and bacon. Some recipes also call for chili pepper and/or garlic, but I don’t find this is necessary–and then you have some room to make your side dish spicy and/or garlicky.

I use canned Muir Glen or San Marzano tomatoes, or good ripe grape tomatoes, and thick-cut bacon yields chunks with a little bit more texture (Niman Ranch, for instance–I don’t like it just to eat straight, but it has a good flavor for cooking). As for pasta, bucatini–like thick spaghetti, but hollow–is traditional, but hard to find, and also hard to eat because you can’t slurp it up. Standard spaghetti works fine, as does linguine.

Serves 2
4 thick slices bacon
2 medium onions
Glug olive oil
5 or 6 canned tomatoes, or the better part of a pint of grape tomatoes
1/2 lb. bucatini, spaghetti or linguine
1/2-inch wedge or so pecorino romano or good-quality parmesan cheese

Put on a pot of water to boil, and salt it generously.

amatriciana 007Slice raw bacon into 1/2- or 1/4-inch pieces, then cook in a heavy skillet on low heat, stirring occasionally. Some pieces will be crispy, and some will be chewier–this is fine. Remove from the skillet and drain on a paper towel. Pour off all but about 1 tbsp of the bacon grease.

Slice onions in 1/4-inch slices. Cook on medium heat in the pan with the bacon grease and an extra glug or so of olive oil. (If you’re in a hurry, as I am in the podcast, you can get the onions going in a separate pan, with just olive oil, then move them over to the bacon-greased pan when the bacon is out.) Sprinkle on some salt–this helps the onions soften up. Moderate the heat so the onions get soft, but don’t get crispy brown spots. (See Episode #2 for tips–no need to caramelize the onions so extremely for this, though.)

When the onions are thoroughly soft, add the tomatoes and crush them up with the back of your spoon. Let this mixture simmer 10-15 minutes–the tomato juices should thicken up but not cook away entirely. During this time, you can get your pasta boiling, according to the package directions (although check it early, because sometimes those directions are wrong–in the podcast, my so-called 11-minute pasta was done in about 7 minutes). Also grate your cheese–you want a couple of big handfuls.

Add the bacon back to the tomato-onion mixture and stir well. When the pasta is al dente, drain it, reserving a mugful of pasta water. Toss the pasta in with the tomato sauce, adding a bit of pasta water if necessary to make a more liquid sauce. Toss in a handful of the cheese and stir to combine. Serve the pasta in bowls, topped with the remaining cheese.

Quickest Kale

amatriciana 012Kale is one of those workhorses of winter, sturdy and good for you. The easiest way to prepare it is simply to boil it briefly, then sprinkle it with vinegar and chili. As I say in the podcast, you could also wilt it in a pan–see Episode #15’s Wilted Arugula with Pine Nuts, but cook it for several minutes longer, until the stems are tender. Curly kale tends to have smaller stems and cook a little faster–and looks nicer on the plate–but regular kale is fine too. Beet greens will also work nicely.

Serves 2
Medium bunch kale, curly or otherwise
Red-wine vinegar
Crushed red chili (Aleppo pepper is nice)

Set a large pot of salted water to boil (as in the podcast, you can use the same water you’re boiling for pasta). Rinse kale well and trim off any parts of the stem that look ragged or split.

Drop the kale in the boiling water, in a steamer basket, if you have one. Poke the kale a bit to make sure it’s all submerged. Boil until the stems are tender–this could be as little as 3 minutes, or quite a bit longer. In any case, you want to try to get the kale out of the water before it loses its bright-green color and turns a duller olive green.

Drain the kale well and spread the leaves out on a serving plate. Sprinkle with vinegar, salt and red chili flakes. You can serve it hot, but it’s also satisfying closer to room temperature.

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