On my second trip to Italy, I spent a week on the Isle of Ischia in the Bay of Naples. It was a destination that I had planned to visit for 2 days and was reluctant to leave after a mere 7. One of the highlights of that trip was going down to Porto each evening for a meal beside the sea. At a small seaside cafe I had my first taste of pasta all-Amatriciana and the taste is forever associated with that beautiful island. It's difficult to find bucatini, an extra-long pasta tube that looks like a drinking straw on steroids, but I happened upon a box of perciatelli and decided it would do. While neither as long nor as thick as bucatini, the perciatelli reminded me of long-ago Sunday dinners and my father. We would typically eat the Sunday meal at 2:00--good thing since it took most of the afternoon to work off the extra calories and that stuperous feeling that comes from too many carbs (did I really say that? can there be too many carbs? ever?).
This dish requires a minimum of ingredients and time, so don't wait until Sunday to try it. If you absolutely can't find bucatini or perciatelli, you could use linguine, but don't use anything other than pancetta or the sauce simply won't be the same.
2 tbs extra virgin olive oil
6-8 oz of 1/4 inch thick slices pancetta cut into 1-inch long strips
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1/4-1/2 tsp dried red pepper flakes
2 small cans diced tomatoes with juice
salt and pepper
1 lb perciatelli
1/3 cup freshly grated Pecorino Romano cheese
Bring 6 quarts water to a rolling boil in a large pot.
Meanwhile, heat oil in a large skillet until shimmering. Add the pancetta and cook, stirring occasionally, until lightly browned and crisp, about 8 minutes. Transfer with a slotted spoon to a paper-towel lined plate and set aside. Drain all but 2 tbs fat from skillet and add the onion. Saute until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the red pepper and cook just to release the flavor, about 30 seconds. Stir in the tomatoes and season to taste. Simmer gently for 15 minutes.
Cook the pasta to the al dente stage. Drain and return pasta to the empty pot. Add pancetta to the sauce, then add the sauce to the pasta and toss over low heat to combine, about 30 seconds. Add the cheese and toss again. Serve immediately.
Food that is associated with happy memories is the best and this dish was a winner on all counts. Calling to mind childhood meals with my parents, both of whom are gone, is comforting and poignant at the same time. Reminiscing about my wonderful week in Ischia makes me long to return there soon. This is a simple dish, but a lusty one. Try it!