From My Italian Kitchen: An Easy Pasta Dish

 My kitchen in Lucca.

My kitchen in Lucca.

As the end of my most recent six- week stay in Italy approached, it was time to look around my kitchen and plan a meal based on the staples I had on hand. What I found was some dried pasta, a package of cubetti (cubed pancetta), a couple of cans of crushed tomato, a little bit of leftover white wine, and some good Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese. Time to get cooking!

I love a good pasta Amatriciana and that's what inspired this dish. I have to confess though that this version is not 100 percent authentic. To be authentic I would have used guanciale (pork cheek) rather than pancetta. Guanciale has more fat and a more intense flavor; pancetta is still a good substitute and it's also what I use at home, where guanciale is not available.  

The traditional pasta used in Amatriciana is bucatini, a thick hollow strand - sort of like a spaghetti straw. Instead, I used the small penne pasta (pennette rigati) that I had on hand. The ridges do a nice job of holding onto the sauce and I find pennette much easier to eat! Lastly, an authentic Amatriciana uses pecorino cheese, which is a sharp and tangy sheep's cheese. I love its taste, but Parmigiano-Reggiano (milder and made from cow's milk) is what I had on hand and so that's what I used.  Despite all of those substitutions, I still ended up with a very tasty pasta dish!

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Here's the recipe. Because I was cooking in Italy, I've listed Italian measurements with the approximate American conversation in parentheses.                             -post by JMB

Almost Amatriciana   (4 servings)

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2 teaspoons olive oil

200 grams pancetta cubetti (6 oz) 

1/4 medium onion, red or yellow, chopped

420 grams of crushed tomato (14 ounces) 

2 tablespoons white wine (optional) 

Dried peperoncino (crushed red pepper) 1/4 - 1/2 teaspoon

350 grams pennette rigati pasta (12 ounces) 

Grated Parmeggiano-Reggiano (or pecorino) cheese, about 1/4 cup, plus more to grate on top of finished pasta

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To prepare: 

Bring a large pot of salted water to boil.

Saute pancetta in olive oil until cooked and just beginning to crisp.  

Add onion and sauté until translucent, about 5 minutes. 

Add crushed tomato, wine, and crushed red pepper. Simmer on low for 10 minutes.

While sauce is cooking, add pasta to boiling water and cook until just tender, about 10 minutes. Drain.  

Return pasta to pot, pour sauce over pasta and toss well. Add grated cheese and toss again. 

Serve with additional Parmigiano-Reggiano grated on top. 

Buon appetito!