We posted this recipe back in November of 2017, but it bares repeating because it is one of our favorites and I am going to make it tonight. If you can’t find pancetta you can substitute bacon.
Start boiling the pasta after the onions have softened so that you have some starchy pasta water for your sauce. Putting the pancetta in the freezer for about 30 minutes will make it easier to slice. If you cannot find pancetta, bacon will work. To reduce the smoky flavor of the bacon (pancetta is not smoked) blanch the bacon in boiling water (heat water to boiling, add bacon, turn off heat, wait 5 minutes, remove bacon) dry bacon and slice into 1/4 inch pieces.
This is traditionally made with Bucatini, which is a thicker pasta like spaghetti, but it has a hole in it. If you can’t find Bucatini you can certainly substitute spaghetti or even penne.
1/3 pound pancetta in 1 piece, partially frozen
2 tablespoons robust extra virgin olive oil
1 onion, thinly sliced
red pepper flakes
1 tablespoon chopped fresh Italian parsley leaves
1 1/2 pounds canned tomatoes, preferably imported Italian
3/4 pound spaghetti or bucatini
Freshly grated Parmesan (recommended: Pecorino Romano)
1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat.
2. Meanwhile, unroll the pancetta. Cut it into 1-inch long chunks, and then slice each chunk thinly across the grain.
3. Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over moderately low heat. Add the pancetta (or blanched bacon if using) and cook until it renders some of its fat, about 5 minutes. Do not allow it to crisp. Add the onion and cook until soft, about 10 minutes. While the onion is cooking, add the pasta to the boiling water.
4. Add the red pepper flakes and parsley to the onion mixture and cook briefly to release their fragrance. Add the tomatoes and 1/4 cup of the pasta water. Simmer to let the tomatoes break down into a sauce. You can help them along by mashing them a bit.
5. When the pasta is just shy of al dente, pull it out of the pot with tongs and add to the sauce and cook briefly so the pasta absorbs some of the sauce, then transfer the pasta to a warmed serving bowl or individual serving dishes and shower with the pecorino. Serve immediately.