Growing up, I always loved Italian food. Well, I loved what I was exposed to, which was Americanized Italian food. My mom made some delicious spaghetti and lasagna, and she still does. However, our sauce always came from jars, such as Ragu and other brands. For a long time I didn’t even know there was anything different. It wasn’t until recently that I discovered how great pasta can be when made at home, and how not-so-good those pre-made sauces can be. Don’t get me wrong though: I love a good home-cooked meal from my mother. She’s a good cook, but for a lot of Americans, I think jarred sauce such as that is a go-to, and it’s easy and quick.
Last month I discovered that I can use cans of San Marzano tomatoes imported from Italy and make proper use of olive oil, garlic, and other seasonings, to make some excellent pasta that didn’t need pre-made sauces. It helps to live near a place like Jungle Jim’s, where you can get almost any kind of food from any kind of cuisine all over the world (seriously, this store is awesome, and a lot of fun, and with a craft beer and wine selection to die for).
This dish uses some fresh cherry tomatoes, rather than San Marzano, but I was very happy with how it turned out. I do need to work on my presentation, perhaps, but I wasn’t really going for a professional menu photo anyways, I guess. I hope others find it enjoyable as well. I’m open to suggestions. Read on for more!
- 1 lb Orecchiette pasta
- 1 lb Cherry tomatoes (halved)
- 3 Garlic cloves (smashed)
- Pancetta (diced)
- 4 Tbsp Olive oil
- Fresh basil leaves
- Parmesan (fresh, grated)
- Pecorino Romano (fresh, grated)
- Salt (to taste)
- Pepper (to taste)
- Red pepper flakes (optional, to taste)
Bring a pot of water to boil for the pasta, salted (preferably with sea salt). While that heats up, warm 3 tablespoons of olive oil in a pan over medium heat. Smash 3 cloves of garlic and add them to the olive oil. Cook for about 10 minutes to infuse the oil with the garlic’s flavor and scent. It should smell amazing at that point. Once the garlic is browned and the oil fragrant, you remove and discard the garlic from the pan.
Next add the pancetta to the olive oil and cook on medium for just a couple of minutes. When the water is boiling, add the pasta and boil until al dente, stirring occasionally. After cooking the pancetta for a couple of minutes, add the halved cherry tomatoes to the pan. Cook until the tomatoes begin to shrivel, then reduce to low heat and cook a few more minutes until tomatoes soften.
When the pasta is finished, drain it (never rinse the pasta), reserving a bit of pasta water for possible use later. Add the drained pasta to the pan with the tomatoes and pancetta. Add a tablespoon of olive oil and mix everything together. Add salt and pepper to taste (again, preferably sea salt) and, optionally, a bit of crushed red pepper flakes if you want a bit of spice to it. Add fresh basil leaves (I usually rip them up into dime- to penny-sized pieces, roughly) and grate some fresh pecorino romano cheese over the pasta. If you’re like me, you’ll add a lot of cheese here. Grate a bit of parmesan as well, if you like, then mix everything up again before serving.
Serve the pasta with another sprinkling of pecorino and a garnish of some basil leaves. For a side, I recommend asparagus, coated in olive oil, salt, and pepper, and baked for 20 minutes at 350º.
Obviously the times in this recipe aren’t too precise and there are some refinements that can be made but I enjoyed making this dish and eating it was even better. My wife and I really loved it and I’ll be making this again. I’d love to hear any suggestions for improvements or ideas for experimentation; just send them to my email.