For a long time I have wanted to be the kind of person who could have people over for dinner at a moment’s notice. I have wanted to be spontaneous with my hospitality. But to be honest, this goes against the core of who I am in one way: a planner. I meal plan and write grocery lists every week. I can’t function without it. So if I want to be spontaneous with my hospitality, it requires of reworking of my meal planning logistics, and rearranging of menu, and inevitably a quick stop by the store.
But a few weeks ago, the magic happened. A few weeks ago, we were having friends over for dessert and drinks, and some of the friends that were coming over asked us if we wanted to go to dinner beforehand. We didn’t really want to; it was supposed to be a kid-free evening, but we didn’t have a sitter for Evelyn since she’d be going to bed about the time everyone arrived, and to be honest we had spent too much money going out to eat in recent weeks. So I said the magical words, “We’re having pasta, so why don’t you just come over for dinner and I’ll throw some extra noodles in the pot.” They brought over some roasted vegetables, and what resulted was a spontaneous dinner with friends that required no extra effort on my part.
That is one of the best things about pasta: that you can adjust your amounts so easily. I think the actual best thing about pasta might be the cheese, or in this case it might be the bacon. Or actually, let me rescind all statements and say this: the best thing about pasta is how easily it can come together, and how, with the right recipe, you can spend about 15 minutes at the stove and sit down feeling like you could be in Italy.
Few things are better than a good pasta dish with bacon. Pasta alla gricia is so simple to make, but has such a sophisticated flavor (the sage is key there). Pecorino is the cheese to use here; it is sharper than Parmesan, but if Parmesan is all you have it will still be delicious.
- 1 lb. spaghetti (or other pasta of your preference)
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 8 oz. guanciale (or more realistically, bacon--about 8 slices), cut into 1/2 inch pieces
- 4-5 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
- 1 handful fresh sage, chopped
- 3/4 cup freshly grated Pecorino Romano
- Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil, cook the pasta according to package directions.
- While the pasta is cooking, heat a large skillet over medium heat. Add the olive oil and bacon while the pan is still cold, and let the bacon cook until it is beginning to brown. When it is just turning brown, but not quite done, add the garlic and sage and continue to cook for another 1-2 minutes. If this is down before the pasta is done, just take the pan off the heat temporarily.
- If there seems to be an over abundance of bacon fat, drain some of it away. You should have just enough that it is very generously coating the bottom of the pan (you want enough to coat the noodles), but not too much that it is like a swimming pool of bacon fat. Of course, how much you leave is your personal preference.
- When the pasta is done, drain it, reserving a cup of pasta water. Lower the heat of the skillet to low. Add the pasta to the skillet with the bacon. Add the cheese, and then toss it all together. If the pasta seems dry, add just a bit of pasta water to loosen it. Serve immediately, topped with more cheese if you'd like.
Adapted from Extra Virgin