Okay, I'm not really chowing down on raw rounds of pancetta....but I want to! But when I chop 'em up, cook 'em until they render a little porky juice (I used to drizzle a little bacon "juice" on my old basset hound's kibbles. Sounds so much healthier that bacon fat, don't you think?) and get that crispy edge, they provide untold pleasure. I could eat Marcella's glorious spaghetti alla carbonara perhaps every week if w would put up with it. Scrambled into eggs....the perfect way to start my day. Sprinkled like meaty, smoky croutons on top of a salad....heaven.
I recently picked up a new pancetta supply from local food wholesaler Provvista Foods here in PDX. A beautiful five pound round of the best pancetta I have yet tasted, Venetian Brand, made appropriately enough in Toronto, Canada (?!). It has an exquisite balance of smoky, salty, and baconey flavors and a perfect meat/fat ratio that only skilled Italian...um, I mean Canadian, charcuterie masters can attain. I slice it into five or six ounce portions, wrap them up and freeze them then pull it out as needed.
I am always looking for new ways to bring porky deliciousness into my world, and last night when I needed a quick, easy pasta I consulted epicurious while I was at "work", and came up with this gem. It had to be fast, because I was simultaneously cooking tonight's dinner of braised lamb shanks (more on that soon!). Two dinners cooking at the same time in one night....that is my kind of multi-tasking! In any event, this is one to try because it is fresh, light yet substantial, and gives you a nice hit of tomato and basil goodness, one of the world's greatest food combinations. A perfect family meal, or a nice pasta course at your next dinner soirée.
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Penne with Pancetta & Tomato-Cream Sauce
Using the fresh-tasting canned diced tomatoes eliminates the chopping step.
Makes 4 servings.
1/2 cup chopped pancetta or bacon (3 ounces)
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 141/2-ounce cans petite diced tomatoes in juice
1/2 cup dry white wine
1/2 cup whipping cream
3/4 cup torn basil leaves, divided
1 pound penne
Cook pancetta in large skillet over medium heat until crisp, about 10-12 minutes. Using slotted spoon, transfer pancetta to paper towels to drain. Add olive oil and garlic to pancetta drippings and sauté 30 seconds. Add tomatoes with juices, wine, and cream. Bring sauce to boil; reduce heat to medium and simmer until sauce is slightly reduced, about 10 minutes. Stir in 1/2 cup basil. Season sauce to taste with salt and pepper.
Meanwhile, cook pasta in pot of boiling salted water until tender but still firm to bite. Drain pasta and divide among 4 plates. Spoon sauce over pasta. Sprinkle pasta with pancetta and remaining 1/4 cup basil and serve.