"Whenever I go into a restaurant, I order both a chicken and an egg to see which comes first"

Monday, November 28, 2011

Recipes - Penne all’ Arrabbiata with Bacon

Many people think that ‘arrabiata’ comes from an Italian or Latin word for ‘Arab’ but as French linguists say, they are faux amis  (false friends)– a very good guess since the words are similar, but as dissimilar as you can get.

In fact ‘arrabiata’ comes from the Italian word for anger – la rabbia, and by extension, hot with passion, and by further extension, just plain hot.  My Penne all’ Arrabbiata is a tomato-based pasta sauce with bacon, onions, red pepper, and celery, and a lot of hot pepper flakes. You can look online and find a wide variety of recipes called ‘Arrabbiata’, everything from anchovies to meat as long as it is hot; but the most innovative recipe, I think, is the one I give here.  I am not sure where I got the idea for using bacon,but it works. It is delicious, and a very nice change from the garlic-olive oil-basil-tomato sauce which was the basis for a classic Italian “gravy” as the goombas from The Jersey Shore and my old haunts, Down Neck in Newark, New Jersey called the thick, all-day sauce that was slathered on ‘macaroni’…which was called ‘macaroni’ in Newark, Neptune, and Bayside.

I have nothing at all against what I have always called ‘guinea’ sauce, an all-day sauce with the above ingredients plus pork.  Actually, the original guinea recipe which originated with my grandmother, had three types of meat which were simmered in the sauce – pork, veal, and beef; usually cuts of pork and veal shoulder and bracciole, a flank steak stuffed with parsley, garlic, and parmesan cheese, and tied up into a roll.  This sauce, which I watched cook all day, the aromas getting more intense as the sauce reduced and thickened, was a 50’s gourmet delight.  Few people cook this way these days – far too much fat, thought, and preparation time -  but the combination of the meats, especially chosen for their high-fat flavor, and the spices and cheese in the bracciole was ambrosia.

Arrabbiata sauce is itself hearty, thick, and intensely flavorful but does not need the all-day treatment.  The combination of bacon, onion, celery, and red pepper is a totally different taste from traditional Italian red sauces; but still quintessentially Italian. The recipe calls for no garlic (can you imagine??), and no red wine; for both will distort the very different complementary taste of smoky bacon and tomatoes.

For this recipe and for all my tomato-based recipes, I use San Marzano canned tomatoes (the best brand is Cento, available in supermarkets – classic, rich, and very low sodium).  They are delicious, and Wikipedia describes them as follows:

The story goes that the first seed of the San Marzano tomato came to Campania in 1770, as a gift from the Kingdom of Peru to the Kingdom of Naples, and that it was planted in the area that corresponds to the present commune of San Marzano. They come from a small town of the same name near Naples, Italy, and were first grown in volcanic soil in the shadow of Mount Vesuvius. Compared to the Roma tomatoes with which most people are familiar, Marzano tomatoes are thinner and pointier in shape. The flesh is much thicker with fewer seeds, and the taste is much stronger, more sweet and less acidic. Many people describe the taste as bittersweet, like high-quality chocolate. Because of their high quality and origins near Naples, San Marzano tomatoes have been designated as the only tomatoes that can be used for Vera Pizza Napoletana (True Neapolitan Pizza).

My recipe is as follows:

* 6 strips bacon

* 1 medium onion, chopped

* 2 lg. stalks celery, chopped

* 1/2 red pepper, chopped

* 2 Tbsp. olive oil

* 1 can San Marzano tomatoes

* 1/2 can tomato paste (preferable one with low sodium, like Contadina)

* 1/2 cup grated Parmesan

* 1 lb. penne rigate (this is the ribbed penne which I prefer for some reason over the smooth penne.  You can also substitute rigatoni)

* [dried oregano and/or basil].  I always instinctively reach for the oregano and basil when I am cooking an Italian dish; but I really think that this one is good on its own.  However, when you taste the sauce after it has cooked down, and you personally think something is missing, don’t hesitate to add some oregano and/or basil flakes.

- Fry the bacon strips until very crisp, remove, cool, and crumble

- Fry the celery, onion, and red pepper in the bacon fat and added olive oil until soft

- Add the tomatoes and tomato paste, stir well, breaking up; the tomatoes

- Add the crumbled bacon

- Cook for approximately 3 hours, stirring occasionally.  The sauce when done should be thick, but not dry.

- Boil the penne in a large pot with lots of salted water until done, about 12 minutes.  NOTE:  A lot of environmentally friendly cooks reduce the amount of water.  However, pasta does best when boiled in copious amounts of water in a very large pot.  The room and the extra water lets the individual pasta pieces tumble and cook evenly without getting gummy.

- Plate the pasta and dress with the sauce

- Add chopped parsley as a garnish, along with grated pepper

- Sprinkle the grated parmesan and serve.

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