I know the discontinuation of Google Reader is old news, but a few weeks ago I finally migrated my RSS feeds over to Feedly and have been playing catch-up with some of my favorite food blogs for inspiration. Anywho, last week Adam at The Amateur Gourmet posted an apparently popular recipe for bacon, chickpea, and spinach pasta and I, remembering the bacon I have leftover in the fridge after making a boatload of onion compote for the barbecue, was inspired to make my own bacon pasta for dinner. Unfortunately I had neither chickpea nor spinach on hand, so as much as I love Lidia Bastianich, I had to pave my own path that night. A half-eaten bag of arugula, also a casualty of the Copycat FO Burger, called out to me (as did its friend Canned Tomatoes sitting in the pantry) and before I knew it, the dish really came together.
It’s hearty and rustic without really using much meat, and it was an easy, comforting weeknight dish that yielded 4 meals. Plus, these new cellentani (also known as cavatappi) from Barilla were fun to eat and perfectly held the light tomato-bacon sauce. You can substitute any shaped pasta of your choosing; I imagine penne or ziti would also work well.
3-4 strips of applewood smoked bacon (the fancy thick-cut slices are ideal)
4-5 cloves of garlic, minced (I used 6. It was awesome.)
1/4 cup sweet onion, diced (or about 1/4 to 1/2 of a medium-sized onion)
Optional: Dried red pepper flakes, a few shakes
1 14.5-ounce can of whole tomatoes, hand crushed (you can also use canned diced or crushed tomatoes)
1 teaspoon dried basil
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 16-ounce box of dried pasta (you might not need all of it – I used about 3/4 of the box and saved the leftover plain pasta for another dish)
1 generous handful (about 1 cup) arugula, washed and dried
Step 1: Boil just enough water to cover the pasta by an inch or so (you’ll want to save the nice and starchy pasta water for the sauce later). Salt it and cook the pasta according to package instructions.
Step 2: Meanwhile, cut the bacon slices into 1/2-inch strips (in case you’re curious, these are also known as lardon). Heat a skillet over medium-high heat.
Step 3: Render the fat from the bacon pieces, stirring periodically to brown both sides of each piece.
Step 4: When the bacon is sufficiently browned but not quite shriveled to a crisp, add the garlic and onion and red pepper flakes, if using. Saute until the onions are translucent, about 5 minutes. Depending on the size and shape of your pasta, this will be about the time when you’ll need to — RESERVING the pasta water — drain (and rinse, if you have to) and set it aside. Hold onto the pasta water, at least a cup or two of it.
Step 5a: Crush the tomatoes by hand if using whole tomatoes.
Step 5b: Add the crushed tomatoes and about a ladle or two’s worth of pasta water. Lower the heat and let the sauce simmer for about 10 minutes to cook down and thicken.
Step 6: I sprinkled in a bit of granulated sugar at this point, not more than a teaspoon, to balance the acidity. Add the dried herbs and continue to simmer.
Step 7: Stir the sauce periodically. If you feel it is getting too thick, add more pasta water. The sauce should resemble a spaghetti sauce but preferably a bit less viscous.
Step 8: When the sauce resembles a good ol’ spaghetti sauce, add about half to two-thirds of the pasta. Stir well. Add more pasta water or pasta or both until you’ve hit a ratio of evenly coated, tomato-y pasta. Just be careful not to thin out the sauce too much at this point and again, you will probably not use up all of the cooked pasta.
Step 9: Just before serving, pile on the arugula and mix in, letting the steam from the hot pasta wilt the leaves. You’ll want to do this last because actually cooking the arugula will make it bitter.
A sprinkling of fresh cracked black pepper and this is ready to serve.
Buon appetito — a rustic-tasting dinner that can be thrown together in as little as 30 minutes! When I first made this, Martin was working late, so I kept the sauce on a constant simmer and periodically added pasta water as needed over the course of about 20-30 minutes. My total prep and cooking time was about an hour because I wanted to toss in the pasta closer to serving time. Still, not bad for a weeknight and if you’re just cooking for 2 like we are, this means plenty of leftovers for lunch. And in case you were wondering, microwaved arugula is a bit bitter but certainly edible. If you can, bring along some fresh sprigs and mix them in after nuking the pasta and sauce only for best next-day results. Cheers!