Monday, March 1, 2010

It's in the can. Sort of.

So it feels to me as though things in Sprout-land have come to a stand still lately. My foods have been less complicated and I haven't been devouring a ton of new information, or food for that matter. But the more I thought of it, the more I noticed that I have been focusing on the small details of what makes a dish superb, what techniques make it shine - the whys and hows of cooking basics, I suppose. Let's just say I have been laying a foundation. I'll build the house later.

Pasta being a good basic - however one day I do still plan on making my own - I am sensing that I have gotten a little bit of a handle on building flavour from scratch. I haven't purchased premade pasta sauce in months, and I am not sure that I ever will again - since even when fresh tomatoes aren't in season, we can buy them in a can (yes, I still call that making sauce from scratch, because out of season tomatoes don't measure up to ones canned while in season). For a sauce in a flash, simply "sweat" finely chopped onion in olive oil, and if you want, celery, carrots and garlic, even hot pepper flakes, or any combination of these. After cooking on low heat for 10 - 20 minutes, add a can of crushed tomatoes, then some herbs - I am partial to fresh basil, but here's the beauty of it all - you can add whatever you have on hand. Season with salt and pepper, and you are done my friend!

As you know I hardly ever feel the desire for meat in a meal for it to be complete. Sometimes I add the illusion of a meaty dish by using it as a flavour ingredient, rather than it being a major component. I have taken a liking to pancetta, because a little goes a long way, and it's not nearly as fatty as bacon. Simple food often does not look like much, but don't let looks deceive, because not only is this dish packed with flavour, it also fills the house with that "let's gather in the kitchen and eat" smell that I love so much!

Bucatini in Tomato and Pancetta Sauce
Serves 4 - 6
1 lb bucatini pasta (don't substitute for any other! I mean you could, but bucatini is what makes this dish what it is)
3 tbsp olive oil
1/2 pound pancetta, sliced and cut into strips (here you can do whatever you want, just don't make the pieces too small)
1 medium red onion, finely chopped (or substitute white onion)
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
chili pepper flakes, to taste
1 can (19oz/540 mL) crushed tomatoes
salt, to taste
1 cup finely grated cheese - asiago, pecorino, or parmesan
The sauce cooks in about the same time as the sauce, so start it all at the same time.
While the pasta is cooking, heat up a saute pan to medium - high heat. Cook the pancetta in the hot pan until crisp, about 5 - 10 minutes. Turn down the heat to medium, add the onion, garlic and chili flakes. Saute until onions have softened. Add the tomatoes and a little bit of salt, cook for another 5 minutes.
When al dente, reserve a cup of the pasta cooking water, then drain the bucatini.
Add the drained pasta to the sauce, and if the sauce is not binding, add a little of the starchy cooking water to bring it all together. Allow the sauce and the noodles to cook together for about a minute, then take it off the heat and add grated cheese.
This makes incredible leftovers!

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