From The Splendid Table's How to Eat Supper: Recipes, Stories, and Opinions from Public Radio's Award-Winning Food Show by Lynne Rossetto Kasper and Sally Swift, Clarkson Potter, © 2008.
You can buck up the personality of a bowl of pasta by merely switching the order of how grated cheese and tomato sauce are blended with the noodles. Bring in smoky flavors and a snap of chile, and you have a modern improvisation.
This cheese trick comes from Naples, where cooks make simple tomato-sauced pastas more substantial by tossing the pasta first with the grated cheese, then the sauce.
Serves 4 as a main dish.
15 minutes prep time; 15 minutes stove time. Sauce can be made 1 hour before serving.
1. Have the salted water boiling.
2. Lightly film a straight-sided 12-inch sauté pan with oil, add the bacon, and set over medium-high heat. Sauté until the bacon is golden. Remove it with a slotted spoon to paper towels to drain. Pour off all but about 3 tablespoons fat from the pan.
3. Return the pan to the heat, stirring in the onions, salt, pepper, and red pepper flakes. Reduce heat to medium. Sauté the onions until they soften and start to color, 5 to 8 minutes.
4. Blend in the garlic, cooking for 1 minute, then add the tomatoes. If using canned ones, crush them as they go into the pan. Blend in the cooked bacon. Bring the sauce to a lively bubble and cook until it is thick, 7 to 8 minutes. Stir the sauce to keep it from sticking. Remove from the heat, taste for seasoning, and cover the pan. The sauce can wait on the stovetop up to an hour. Bring it to a bubble before adding to the pasta.
5. Drop the pasta in the boiling water, cook until tender but still at little firm to the bite, drain, and turn it into a serving bowl. Toss with the 1 cup of cheese until it clings to the noodles, then toss with the sauce. Serve hot with additional cheese at the table if desired.
Andrea Reusing is the creator of the restaurant Lantern in Chapel Hill, N.C., and author of the book Cooking in the Moment: A Year of Seasonal Recipes. In this installment of The Key 3, she shares with Lynne Rossetto Kasper the techniques behind three of her favorite recipes: Turnip Soup, Overnight Braised Short Ribs and Tomato Salad.