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Pasta with Braised Bacon and Roasted Tomato Sauce

(recipe, Judy Rodgers)


Our version of the much-loved dish from Abruzzo, pasta all'amatriciana. Since the traditional signature ingredient, guanciale (tender pig-cheek bacon), is not available to us, we blanch and slow-cook a piece of slab bacon, which renders much of the fat and mellows strong cures. Consider braising a larger chunk of bacon than you think you will need; you can use the extra for other recipes or wherever you ordinarily use bacon. I like the tender leftover bits and scraps fried in the same pan with eggs, with a trickle of the bacon-braising juices spooned over the top. You can prepare this multipurpose bacon up to a week in advance, which is a boon. But for those times when braised bacon is not an option, make this dish with little strips of thickly sliced bacon. (Brown them while the pasta boils, then drain off most of the fat, stir in the peppery tomato sauce, and simmer together for a minute or two.) We always make this sauce with canned tomatoes — roasting them concentrates their flavor and gives them a fleshy texture. Pasta all'amatriciana is traditionally made with bucatini (also called perciatelli), but penne, penne rigate, and spaghetti are good alternatives. Offer freshly grated pecorino romano or pecorino sardo to garnish; the salty, feral flavor is a good match for this aggressive sauce. Parmigiano-Reggiano would taste out of place here.


    Braised bacon (makes 1/2 to 3/4 pound)
    1. ¾ to 1 lb. slab bacon, in one piece, skin removed
    2. 1 small carrot, peeled and coarsely chopped
    3. 1 stalk celery, coarsely chopped
    4. 1 small yellow onion, thickly sliced
    5. 1 bay leaf, crumbled
    6. ½ cup dry white wine
    7. ½ cup dry white vermouth
    8. ½ cup chicken stock or water
    Roasted tomato sauce
    1. 2½ cups drained canned whole tomatoes, juice reserved
    2. ½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
    3. 8 oz. sliced yellow onion (about 1 medium onion)
    4. 6 garlic cloves, coarsely chopped
    5. 1 tsp. freshly cracked black pepper, plus more for serving
    6. 1 bay leaf
    7. Salt
    8. Sugar, if needed
    1. 1 lb. bucatini, penne, penne rigate, or spaghetti
    2. Freshly grated pecorino romano or pecorino sardo, to taste


    1. Prepare the braised bacon: Preheat the oven to 300 degrees. Place the bacon in a wide pot and add cold water to cover by a few inches. Set over medium heat, bring to a simmer, and cook until the bacon softens a little, 5 to 10 minutes. Drain and rinse. (This process will draw out some of the sweet-salty brine and, more importantly, rehydrate the bacon, to produce a tender, succulent result.)
    2. Place the bacon fat side up in a shallow flameproof baking dish just large enough to hold it and the vegetables in a single layer (a 1-quart gratin dish should work; cut the bacon into 2 pieces if necessary). Add the carrot, celery, onion, and bay leaf, and moisten with equal parts of the wine, vermouth, and stock, adding enough to come to a depth of ½ inch. Place over medium heat and bring to a simmer. Cover with parchment paper and then with foil, dull side out. Transfer to the oven and bake until meltingly tender, about 2½ hours.
    3. Uncover the baking dish, raise the heat to broil, and leave just long enough to color the surface, 3 to 5 minutes. By now the bacon will have rendered about 30 percent of its weight, most of it in fat. Leave to cool completely in the baking dish, then skim or scrape off and discard the rendered fat. Strain and save the braising liquid to flavor beans, soups, or braised greens. (I usually discard the braising vegetables as too strong and too cooked to be of interest.)
    4. If not using the bacon right away, cool completely, then replace in a clean baking dish, add the strained liquid, cover, and refrigerate.
    5. Prepare the tomato sauce: Preheat the oven to 500 degrees. Halve the tomatoes and place, cut side down, in a shallow roasting pan or gratin dish that holds them in one crowded layer. They shouldn't be stacked, or they will steam and stew rather than dry out and color. Add any juice they released when you cut them in half, plus enough of the reserved juice to come to a depth of ¼ inch. Drizzle with a tablespoon or two of the olive oil.
    6. Roast until the tomatoes char slightly and are bubbling around the edges, about 15 minutes. Use a dough cutter to very coarsely chop the tomatoes in the roasting dish.
    7. Shortly before the tomatoes are done, in a 12-inch skillet cook the onions in about 3 tablespoons of the olive oil over medium-high heat until they begin to color at the edges, about 3 minutes. Reduce the heat and stir in the garlic, pepper, and bay leaf.
    8. When the onions are just beginning to soften through, stir in the warm tomatoes and another few tablespoons of olive oil. Salt lightly to taste, and add a pinch or two of sugar if you find the tomatoes too tart. Add a spoonful of the reserved tomato juice if needed to keep the tomatoes saucy. Simmer briefly, just long enough to combine the elements, but without sacrificing their textures and individuality. Set aside.
    9. Cook and sauce the pasta: Cut the braised bacon into strips about ¼ inch thick and 1 inch long.
    10. Drop the pasta into 6 quarts rapidly boiling water seasoned with a scant 2 tablespoons salt (a little more if using kosher salt). Stir, and cook until al dente.
    11. Meanwhile, brown the bacon strips in a 12-inch skillet or 3-quart sauté pan over medium heat, stirring as needed, until both sides are slightly colored, a few minutes at most. If the bacon seems dry, add a trickle of olive oil. Stir in the tomato sauce. Simmer together for a minute or so.
    12. Drain the pasta well and fold into the tomato sauce. Offer the pecorino and additional black pepper.


    Culinate editor's note: If the braised-bacon step seems daunting, make only the roasted-tomato sauce, then sauté some diced bacon and add it to the warm sauce. Serve over freshly cooked pasta with freshly grated cheese.