I learned to make pasta al’amatriciana from my neighbor, Beppi. He sautes pancetta, lots of sliced onion, then adds canned tomatoes and simmers for about 20 minutes. He adds a bit of parsley and basil at the end. The way Beppi makes it, the tomato sauce becomes very sweet from all the onions, punctuated by the salty, porky undertone of the pancetta. He slices the pancetta very thinly, then dices it so that it practically melts into the sauce.
Sometimes I like to use bacon instead of pancetta–I love the smokey flavor and it’s not as salty as pancetta (depending on what type of bacon you’re using). The other variation between my recipe and Beppi’s is that I like to make the tomato sauce and the bacon/onion mixture separately. I dress the pasta with a bit of tomato sauce, then I top it with the bacon and onions. It’s a nice effect–the sweetness of the onions is more front and center, while the tomato sauce is more of a background flavor. Some bites are sweet and some are smokey. It’s the same idea as sprinkling chili flakes on pasta at the table, rather than during cooking–some bites are hotter than others.
Along with the pasta, I’m making broccoli with onions. Most of us are familiar with broccoli with garlic, but onions are, once again, a sweet counterpoint to broccoli. This is an easy dish, as the broccoli do not need to be boiled before sauteing. Just cook both broccoli and onions together with a splash of water, covered, for about 15 minutes. The broccoli become meltingly tender and the onions give it a great sweetness.
Deconstructed Pasta Amatriciana
1/4 lb smoked bacon, cut into small cubes
2 medium onions, sliced
6 tbls olive oil
1 lb spaghetti or bucatini
1 28-oz can of whole peeled tomatoes, pureed in blender or squashed with hands (you’ll have extra to keep for another use–it freezes beautifully).
salt and pepper
grated pecorino romano for sprinkling
In a skillet, heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil, then add plum tomatoes and simmer until reduced by half (about 10 minutes). Add salt and pepper and set aside.
In a separate skillet, place remaining 4 tablespoons olive oil and begin slowly sauteing the bacon for about 5 minutes, or until it renders some of its fat into the oil. Add the onions and cook slowly for about 10 -15 minutes or until golden and caramelized.
While the onions are caramelizing, boil the pasta in salted water.
When pasta is about a minute shy of done, toss into a skillet containing about a cup of tomato sauce and add a half-cup of pasta cooking liquid and saute for a minute or so until the pasta and sauce are incorporated. Turn into heated shallow serving bowl and top with bacon/onion mixture, as well as a generous sprinkling of pecorino and black pepper.
Broccoli with Onions
2 bunches broccoli, trimmed and left in rather large pieces
1 medium onion, sliced
4 tbls olive oil
salt and pepper
Wash broccoli and leave some water clinging to them.
Un a broad skillet, saute onions for about 5 minutes or until they are slightly golden.
Add the broccoli and 2 tablespoons water and cover. Cook for 10 minutes on medium heat, stirring from time to time. Taste and add salt and pepper.
Uncover and saute until broccoli and onions are tender and slightly golden (another minute or 2).