Orecchiette with Bacon and Tomato Sauce

You know how the simplest things are often the best things?  Today’s recipe – Orecchiette with Bacon and Tomato Sauce from the March 2010 issue of Everyday Food – is one of those things.  You take four core ingredients (bacon, red onion, canned tomatoes, pasta), mix them with a few pantry staples and seasonings, and end up with a dish that’s out-of-this-world delicious.  Plus, it’s ready in just 30 minutes, which makes it perfect for weeknights.

First, I had to cook the bacon.  In a medium saucepan, I heated 1 tablespoon of olive oil over medium-high heat.  I added 4 slices of bacon (cut into 1/2-inch pieces) and cooked until it was browned and almost crisp (about 4 minutes).  Next, I added 1 medium red onion (halved and thinly sliced) and cooked until it was softened (again, about 4 minutes).  I added 2 minced garlic cloves (I’ll admit I almost always use the jarred stuff, so about 2 teaspoons) and 1/2 teaspoon of red pepper flakes and stirred until the mixture was fragrant (about 1 minute).  Finally, I added 1 can (28 ounces) of whole peeled tomatoes, broke them up in the pan with a wooden spoon, and seasoned with coarse salt and freshly ground pepper.  I brought the sauce to a boil, reduced it to a simmer, and cooked until it was slightly reduced (15 minutes).  (Give the sauce a quick taste at this point to make sure it’s seasoned to your liking.)

Meanwhile, I cooked 1 pound of orecchiette (use another short pasta if you can’t find it) in a large pot of salted water.  The recipe said to stop cooking it one minute before the recommended cooking time; since I’m at a higher altitude and pasta always takes longer, I used the full recommended cooking time.  I drained the pasta, reserving 1 cup of cooking water, and put it back in the pot.

I poured the sauce and the pasta water over the pasta in the pot and returned it to the stove top; I cooked the mixture over medium-high heat until the sauce thickened and coated the pasta (2 minutes).  To serve, I topped each portion of pasta with grated Parmesan and chopped parsley.

Orecchiette with Bacon and Tomato Sauce

This pasta is so simple but so delicious.  The orecchiette was cooked perfectly, and there was just the right amount of sauce with just the right thickness.  In terms of flavor, there was a hint of smokiness from the bacon and from the charred bits of onion, sweetness from the tomatoes, and a bit of heat from the red pepper flakes. The Parmesan and parsley brought everything together nicely.  I would absolutely make this one again.

In the interest of full disclosure, one of the main reasons I even tried this dish was because the leftovers formed the base for another dish: Pasta and Cheese Frittata.  I wish we had just enjoyed the leftovers as is, unfortunately, because the frittata was a disappointment.  I started by following the instructions precisely.  When things started to smell pretty browned (at the 3-minute mark!), I turned the heat down a notch.  When things started to smell borderline burned at the 5-minute mark, I turned the heat down another notch.  I finished out the recommended 6 minutes of stove top time and put the frittata in the oven for 4 minutes to brown the top.  I was hoping against hope that the underside of the frittata would be fine, but I knew better; when I inverted it, it was pretty much burned.  I should have looked more closely at the photograph included with the recipe…  You know if a food stylist sets up a photo with an item that is practically charred, your results probably aren’t going to be better.  I’m not sure, though, that I could have turned down the heat from the beginning and ended up with a fully-cooked frittata.  Beyond being burned, the frittata itself wasn’t really great in terms of flavor or texture, so I don’t plan to try it again using a different technique.  Oh, well!

TIPS:  If I perceive that a recipe has more oil or butter than necessary, I typically cut it down a bit.  For this recipe, I took about a tablespoon of rendered bacon fat out of the pan before I added the onion.  There was still plenty of oil for cooking, but I managed to cut about 110 calories and 12 grams of fat from the dish.

Recipe link: Orecchiette with Bacon and Tomato Sauce

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