This is both one of the most basic pasta dishes, and one of my favorites. Instead of simmering tomato sauce for hours on end, this can be thrown together in a matter of minutes. It's so good, we've actually already written about it before, so why the repeat?
Well, I've never seen a version of this dish like the one I found in Lidia Bastianich's Lidia Italy. It's apparently the most traditional version I've tried, for whatever that's worth. Plus it's delicious.
Instead of simply sauteing the onion in olive oil or bacon fat, the onions are first softened in water, which eventually evaporates. Bastianich claims that this step is "said to make the onions sweeter." I have no clue whether that is scientifically true (Kenji?), but there is no knocking the results here.
This dish isn't just a vehicle for bacon; it celebrates the role of onions. They turn a rich golden brown, and help add another layer of flavor to the sauce.
- One 28-ounce can plum tomatoes
- ½ teaspoon kosher salt, plus a tablespoon for the pasta
- ¾ pound yellow onions, sliced ⅓-inch thick (about 4 cups)
- 4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 4 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
- 6 ounces bacon, chopped
- ½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
- 1 pound spaghetti or bucatini
- 1 cup grated Pecorino Romano
Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add a tablespoon of salt.
Drain the tomatoes in a colander, saving all the juice. Roughly chop the tomatoes into ½-inch squares. Set aside.
Pour ½ cup water into a heavy-bottomed 12-inch stainless steel skillet over medium-high heat. Add the sliced onions. Cook, stirring often, until onions have softened, and water has nearly evaporated.
Add olive oil, garlic, and ¼ teaspoon of salt to the skillet. Stir occasionally, and cook until onions and garlic are sizzling, about 2 minutes.
Move onions and garlic to the side of the skillet to clear a space for the bacon. Add the bacon and cook until they start to render their fat, and then stir with the onions. Add the red pepper flakes, stir well, and let everything cook until bacon is crisp and onions are golden, about 5 minutes.
Add the chopped tomatoes and the reserved juice, along with a cup of water. Season with ¼ teaspoon salt, and stir well. Turn heat to high and bring to a boil, and then turn to medium-low. Simmer sauce, adjusting the heat to make sure it doesn’t boil, until it thickens, about 20 minutes.
With about ten minutes left, add pasta to the boiling water. Cook according to the directions on the box. When it is al dente, remove pasta with a pair of tongs and transfer it to the skillet with the sauce. Toss over medium heat until pasta is coated in the sauce. Add 1/4 cup of the water from the pasta pot if sauce is too dry.
Turn off the heat, and add grated cheese. Divide pasta between the plates and serve.