pasta with roasted tomato sauce and bacon

In the past few weeks, I’ve made three variations on this recipe. The first was great but time-consuming, the second was delicious and will become my fallback recipe, and the third was our ultra-budget version that turned out better than expected. Here is how it all went down …

A few weekends ago, I was reading cookbooks and drinking coffee while Jordan slept in and Willow took up too much space in the bed. (It’s hard to kick something this cute out from under your covers, trust us).

I stumbled across a variation on Pasta Amatriciana—pasta with braised bacon and roasted tomato sauce—in the Zuni Cafe Cookbook. When Jordan woke up, I shared just the recipe title and he was sold. I set out to make this magical pasta. The recipe calls for slab bacon, which you then braise with a variety of vegetables and spices. Well, slab bacon is really hard to find, even at a fine market like Whole Foods. In a stroke of genius, I tied the cut bacon together so it re-formed a slab. Sadly, this does not work. My braised bacon was so bland; all of the smokey, salty flavor had leached into the broth and left the bacon beyond dull. There are few things sadder than flavorless bacon.

Fortunately, Jordan saved the dish by bringing home the back-up bacon. We sautéed that bacon and added it into the roasted tomato sauce, plus some of the braised bacon for texture. It worked well, but was slightly disappointing. The time-energy input did not match the deliciousness output.

The second time I made this recipe, I skipped right to adding sautéed bacon to the roasted tomato sauce. It is so good and so easy.

The last time I made this recipe, we had no bacon at all. We did however have some rendered bacon fat in our fridge. I sautéed the onions for the sauce in that bacon fat, and  like magic, delicious bacon flavor infused the whole sauce. It was unexpected and amazing and so inexpensive. The next time you cook bacon, pour the fat into a small bowl. Fill with the bowl some water to separate the fat from the burnt bits.  Refrigerate this mixture until the fat forms a solid mass on top of the water and carefully scoop the fat off the top. Sauté away, adding delicious bacon essence to whatever you cook!

Pasta with Roasted Tomato Sauce and Bacon, adapted from The Zuni Cafe Cookbook
1 16 oz jar of whole tomatoes
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, sliced
2 T sugar
2 T olive oil or bacon fat
salt, pepper, chili flake
1/4 lb bacon, cut into lardon
1 lb pasta (we used ziti and penne).

*A is a beautiful photo of a technique that I don’t recommend you subject your bacon to.

Heat an oven to 475 degrees. Strain the tomatoes of their juice and reserve that juice. In an oven safe dish, add the strained tomatoes and a drizzle of olive oil. Roast the tomatoes for 20 – 30 minutes, until browned.

In a saute pan, saute the bacon until just cooked through. Remove from the pan and set aside. Pour off the excess fat, leaving a tablespoon or two. Sauté the onion in the bacon fat until translucent. Add the garlic and sauté two minutes more. Add the roasted tomatoes and reserved juice. Add sugar, salt, pepper and a pinch of chili flakes. Cook for 20 minutes and test for seasoning.

Meanwhile, put a pot of salted water to boil. Cook the pasta until al dente. When the pasta is nearly done, add the bacon back into the sauce. Toss the sauce with the cooked pasta and serve with a sprinkle of parmesan.

-Emily