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As we inch closer to the end of summer, I have started to switch my focus from easy to make, mostly raw recipes, to comfort foods that are perfect for gathering around the dinner table on a crisp autumn night (they do happen in California) with good company and delicious wine.
When my husband and I first began dating, I quickly realized his love of pasta. He spoke excessively about his mother’s spaghetti and lasagna, and seemed to order pasta at every date, even if we were at a Michelin-rated restaurant. While I enjoyed pasta (I don’t think I could live without carbs), my relationship with pasta was nothing like his, and I took it upon myself to try different twists on classic pasta dishes.
When I was eight or nine, I remember one of the neighbors babysitting me one night while our parents were at an adults-only party. I remember sitting in the kitchen in awe of her cooking abilities as she expertly boiled the water, cooked the pasta (macaroni shells), and made a “custom” sauce of jarred pesto sauce and marinara she’d brought from her own home with a literal tonne of red pepper flakes. The red pepper flakes proved to be too spicy for my former snowflake-self, but for years I remembered the not so subtle flavors of tomato and dried red pepper flakes. I later learned this was an unintentional twist on the classic Italian arrabbiata sauce, which is made up of tomatoes, garlic and onions.
FUN FACT: arrabbiata means angry in Italian, which is perfect considering the subtle heat from red peppers most commonly used in arrabbiata sauce.
Over the years, before I knew the pasta I’d been making since I was 12 was actually a traditional pasta that originated in Rome, I’d played around with various cured meats trying to find the perfect balance of saltiness to combat the sweetness of the tomatoes and the spiciness of the red pepper flakes. After trying bacon, prosciutto, ham, and even some random salami I stole from my dad, I eventually settled on pancetta. As I practically ate myself sick over the years on cured meats, I decided I liked pancetta the best because of the subtle use of pepper to cure the meat. I also prefer to use thin slices of pancetta over the cubed chunks sold in grocery stores; the various sizes of the diced and sliced pancetta draws my attention. While I enjoy getting consistent flavors in each bite, there’s just something about getting a crunchy piece of pancetta in my forkful of pasta.
While this recipe yields enough for six servings, I love making it because leftovers are a guarantee, so neither my husband or I have to worry about what to have for lunch the next day. (Usually I get three meals out of this: two dinners and a lunch served with a side salad.) Plus it’s an excuse to open up a tasty bottle of Sangiovese from one of the local wineries (there are over 250 to choose from 🤯 so finding the right bottle can sometimes be tricky!)
Similar to other cooked tomato recipes that I’ve shared (Quick Grilled Tomato Bruschetta), Sangiovese (or Chianti) isn’t overpowered by the acidity in the tomatoes. The bottle my husband I enjoyed is no longer available from Odonata, however, also we regularly open up a bottle of Sangiovese from Niner Wine Estates ($30).
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 1/4 cup pancetta, diced
- 1 medium yellow onion, diced
- 2 large garlic cloves, minced
- 1 teaspoon roasted red pepper flakes
- 1-28 ounce can whole plum tomatoes
- 1 pound dried penne pasta
- 1/2 cup romano cheese, freshly grated
- 1/4 cup fresh Italian parsley