Thanks to finicky microclimates, I’m grappling with the concept that tomatoes are a fall crop this year. That Caprese salad is a regional Californian specialty. For crying out loud, it’s the end of September and only now are there enough garden tomatoes that we’re no longer rationing. And for my money, crisp air and early fall nights don’t set the right mood for most summer favorites. See, I’m feeling kind of high maintenance lately, having been spurned by the summer garden. I want something fresh but also more substantial.
So I went to the cookbooks and came back with Amatriciana, a simple and spicy sauce tossed with hollow pasta like bucatini. The improvised strategy was to cook the sauce quickly enough to preserve fresh tomato flavor while gaining fortification from cured pork, hot chile pepper, and cheese. And it worked. The pasta was fabulous, just right for the changing season, and a snap to prepare.
A quick scroll through the Web suggests that everybody else cooks their own variation on the Amatriciana theme. Most simmer the sauce much longer, and some sprinkle in sturdy herbs like rosemary. Not to be outdone, the Times earlier this year wrote that Amatriciana is inauthentic without guanciale, aka the fluffy pork cheek fat that’s all the rage in the chicest restaurants. It makes every difference, their experts opined. We do have a bit of guanciale from our half-pig, but I’m not feeling that high maintenance just now. For weeknight dinners at our table, simple provides plenty of sustenance.
Recipe: Pasta all’Amatriciana
½ onion, minced / 2 oz pancetta, salt pork, or lardo, cut into matchsticks / ½ pound fresh tomatoes, diced / pinch hot pepper / grated Parmesan cheese / 2 tbls fresh basil, torn / salt, depending on saltiness of pancetta / hollow dry pasta for 2, such as penne
Heat heavy saucepan over medium-high heat. Swirl in oil when hot and saute onions for 3-4 minutes, until softened but not browned. Add pancetta and cook until rosy color is gone, about 2 minutes. Add tomatoes and hot pepper to taste, then turn heat down to medium-low. Meanwhile, cook pasta until al dente and drain. Tomatoes should be just shedding their skins; pick these out if you wish. Check sauce for saltiness and correct if needed. Toss pasta and sauce, sprinkle Parmesan and basil on top, and serve. Feeds 2.