This is a hearty pasta dish with a unique balance of flavors that should warm up any night. The onions and bacon add a very savory flavor.
The portions in this recipe will serve 2 hungry people, 3 people who've eaten breakfast and lunch, or 1 professional boxer.
-Half a box of Penne pasta
-Half a jar of tomato sauce (something simple, please; no giant chunks of mushroom)
-One onion (Vidalia onions work well)
-2 strips of raw bacon (If you'd rather pretend you're fancy, use some pancetta.)
-1 cup chicken broth. (Veggie-types could use vegetable broth)
-Sun-dried tomatoes, preferably ones from a jar soaked in olive oil (dry is ok)
-Mozzarella cheese. Whole is preferred, but shredded is fine.
Water takes a famously long time to boil, so don't start anything else until you've brought a pot of water completely to boil.
It's always good to add a bit of salt and some olive oil to your water before boiling it. Salt will add flavor and the sodium makes for better absorption, olive oil adds flavor and texture, and it will keep the water from boiling over (yay surface tension!).
I also add some dried basil flakes to the water. Pasta is a sponge and will absorb any flavors from the water.
When the water reaches a boil (estimated time: 8 years), add the half-box of Penne pasta.
The pasta will need to boil for 12-14 minutes, which is just enough time to put the sauce together. Once you've poured the pasta in the water, immediately proceed to the next step.
You'll need a large pan for this, a wok or electric frying pan with tall sides works best. In the photos, I'll be using an electric frying pan. Put your pan on medium heat and add a small bit of olive oil (not enough to cover the bottom of the pan).
The first thing that will go into the pan is the onion, so we'll first string the onion. To do this, cut the very top and bottoms off of a whole onion, then slice it in half from the top to bottom. You can now easily peel off the dry papery skin.
Now align one onion half and start slicing all the way through sideways, starting at the top.
Slices should be just a few millimeters thick.
This will make little semi-circle onion slices that you can break up into half-rings by separating the inner segments.Do the same with the other onion half. And you should now have a nice pile of onion-C's.
Congratulations, you've stringed an onion.
Next step is to sweat the onion. To do this, put your onion slices into the pan along with a sprinkle of salt. Move the onions around gently to be sure that they're all coated with oil and won't stick to the pan. Leave them alone for now.This is sweating an onion. The juices inside the onion will start to release and the onions will change from crisp and brittle to sweet and flaccid; just like you would after an hour in the sauna.
The next thing we do is render the bacon. Aren't you enjoying all these fun new words? Be sure to throw them into casual conversation from now on to insinuate your culinary prowess onto your friends.
Place the two strips of bacon on top of each other and cut them into planks. In England, one might call this step cutting into soldiers or "soldiering." Also, they call elevators "lifts."
Since you probably don't do enough aerobics, you might want to throw away the end planks/slices as they'll probably be all fat. You could also throw out any slices that appear to be more fat than meat.
Don't get too carried away with plucking the fat out, as the fat will cook out and provide lots of flavor to the sauce. The only other lipids going into this dish is the olive oil you put in the pan, and that wasn't very much.
Add the bacon to the pan, stirring it up a bit. Notice how the onions are starting to lose their mass? Rendering bacon is just like sweating onions, only with bacon instead of onions.
Now would be a good time to add some seasonings to this little sauté?
Add a sprinkle or two of dried basil and a grind of black pepper or whatever Italian spice blend you came up with.
Make sure that you're stirring occasionally, you don't want anything to burn or get stuck to the pan.
Although, if something did get stuck to the pan you would detach it with some kind of deglazer like, I dunno, chicken broth?
Take a moment to notice how lovely this all smells, because in a second it's just going to smell like chicken.
Measure one cup of chicken broth (as I said, if you think that by not eating chicken products you're going to have any effect on the world, use vegetable broth; making sure to realize that the gelatin used to make your vitamin gel caps comes from boiled cow bones)Never buy broth or stock from a can, get the cartons (they even make them in handy one-cup sizes) and try to find a low-sodium one if you can. They used to put way too much salt in broth, and it's better to just decide for yourself how much salt to use. Broth makers are getting better about that, though. Make sure that you keep unused broth in the refrigerator.
Louis Pasteur used broth as a catalyst in his experiments with mold and bacteria. He discovered that broth which wasn't exposed to open air wouldn't grow mold, and thereby that it was specific bacteria that caused mold, and not the air itself. So make sure you close the lid on your broth.
When you add the broth, also add some sun-dried tomatoes. They come in all sizes and cuts, so it's hard to say exactly how many to use.
Add the broth and the dried tomatoes to the pan, giving it a stir. If the broth doesn't come to a boil quickly, turn the heat up a bit until it does. It may look like soup now, but the broth will boil out and condense (thicken).If your pasta isn't done boiling yet (12-14 minutes haven't passed), turn the heat down until the pasta is ready. Don't turn off the heat, as you still want the broth to be condensing..
If there's still a long time until the pasta will be done keep the pan going until the broth gets to about this thickness, then turn off the heat until the penne is done.
When the pasta is finished cooking, take a few sample specimens and poke them with a fork to be sure they have enough give. Strain out the water and set the cooked pasta aside for now, as the sauce isn't done yet. It's not even the right color yet. In fact, it looks kind of gross right now. Let's take care of that.
I suppose you could say this is cheating, but it's quick and easy.
(If you want to make your own tomato sauce, get a large can of whole peeled tomatoes, crush them by hand and simmer them over low heat with dried oregano and basil. If too thin, add tomato paste. If too thick, add some of the juice from the can of tomatoes)
Since you probably aren't going to be doing that, crack open your jar of tomato sauce. As mentioned above, try to go with something simple like "Tomato and Basil" and avoid complicated sauces with a bunch of extra ingredients and chunks of things, definitely stay away from that sauce with meat in it. All I had on hand was "Roasted Vegetable" which was a bit more busy than I would have liked, but no sense running to the store just for some sauce.
As a general rule, I avoid "brand name" sauces like Preggo or Ragu. Most grocery stores have a section of smaller label brands, some of which may be local and many of which are organic. These typically have more flavor and are cooked in smaller batches with more love.
Add half of the jar to the onion-bacon-broth-salt-tomato-spice mixture (or as much/little as it takes to mix everything into a tomato-y emulsion) Mix this all up for a while to get the sauce (which may be room temperature or chilled if it came from the fridge) up to tempurature.
Now that everything's mixed up, we have what looks to be an actual pasta sauce!
Add a few kicks of hot sauce here if you want. I like tomato sauces to have a bit of heat, and tabasco is the easiest route. You could alternatively add some crushed red pepper for some heat.
If you wanted to, you could perform all these steps alone and put this sauce in a plastic container and leave it in the fridge for up to two weeks or freeze it for darn near forever.
(To revive frozen pasta sauce, remove lid from container and place in a few inches of simmering water (or run under really hot water) until things loosen up enough to pour sauce into a small pan or pot and bring to temperature over medium-low heat.)
If you wanted to add some more meat to the mix, you could add some pre-cooked Italian sausage, sliced into discs and then into semicircles, at the same time as the tomato sauce, or uncooked sausage at the same time as the bacon.
Putting Things Together
Pull your cooked pasta from wherever you left it.
If you don't happen to be a fan of penne and prefer rod pasta, you could use a thick string pasta like fettuccini or tagliatelle, nothing thinner because the sauce has so many objects in it.
Rigatoni and ziti are other types of tube pasta that would work alright as well.
Dump the pasta on top of your sauce in the pan and give it a good mix around.
If the pasta has been sitting out for a while, turn up the heat and keep tossing the pasta while it heats. Don't let it sit still for too long.
If you're using whole mozzarella, cut two decent sized slices and cut them in half.
Mozzarella cheese is one of my favorite kinds. Shredded mozzarella is great for nachos (mixed with some colby-jack), and whole mozzarella is good for pastas like this and for melting. Real mozzarella was first made with milk from the water buffalo, though now it's mostly made from cows'. If you want mozzarella made from buffalo milk these days, you have to look specifically for "Buffalo Mozzarella" or "Mozzarella di Bufala Campana", which is only produced in two specific towns in Italy. If you tried to market a cheese made in America as Mozzarella di Bufala Campana, you would be breaking international PDO laws.
Put the mozzarella on top of the pasta in the pan, and mix it up so it melts evenly. If you do this, the cheese will integrate with the sauce and it will become somewhat stringy (as in, if you pull some away it will string like when you pull a slice from a hot pizza). If you don't want this to happen for some reason, just leave the cheese alone and make sure that each plate you serve gets some cheese.
Use tongs (not a spoon) to move servings to plates. Top with some more dried basil and ground pepper if you wish.
Tomatoes contain cell structures with are alcohol soluble, which means that the only way to unlock some of the flavor in tomatoes is to add alcohol. If you're the drinking type, it's common to take a sip of wine before every bite of a tomato-heavy food. Also, most recipes featuring tomatoes call for the seemingly-arbitrary addition of wine, which is just to unlock those flavors. If you have cooking wine (red), add a splash of it to the sauce before you add the pasta and let it simmer for a while so that some of the alcohol will dissolve away (once the alcohol-soluble flavors are unlocked, they're unlocked). If that isn't an option, you could add a splash of balsamic vinegar instead. Many tomato sauces are already cooked with some alcohol for this purpose, so I didn't add that as a necessary ingredient.
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