After debating writing a post about the food culture, or lack thereof, in this country and how our holiday traditions around food are really all about spiral hams and baking lots of cookies, I decided nobody wants to read that right now, right? And, actually, I am really not that cranky. My holiday meals are all planned and (almost) all shopped for, the cookies are covered with frosting and sprinkles, and I am having a nice day listening to my kids practice their Christmas dance performance (each time they come up asking if they can perform it for me, I ask, “Is it short and well-rehearsed?” Which usually sends them scurrying back downstairs for a few more minutes). It’s cold outside but not snowy white, and it is definitely feeling a lot like Christmas.
So, when a friend asked me about a recipe I had recently been raving about, I decided to post it for you readers. Consider it a gift. This is a traditional dish from the outskirts of Rome. It is also one of the simplest, most delicious pasta meals I’ve ever had. It would make a fabulous Christmas dinner, if you’re not already planning on the spiral ham. Or it would make a great Sunday supper for Boxing Day. If you’re feeling ambitious (or if Santa brings you that Atlas Pasta Machine you’ve been wishing for), making the fresh pasta is fun and kids get really into it. If not, buy some fresh linguine.
Enjoy and have a merry, cheer-filled, and delicious holiday!
Fresh pasta (linguine or spaghetti, 4 oz. per person)
Pancetta (Italian pork belly) or thick uncured bacon, cut into small cubes or strips
San Marzano tomatoes (or peeled fresh Roma tomatoes; 3 oz. per person)
Freshly grated Pecorino or Romano cheese
Salt & pepper
Crush the tomatoes using a food mill or food processor. Cook the fresh pasta in a large pot of salted water until al dente (probably only about 2 – 3 minutes for fresh pasta). Drain, but reserve a cup or so of the pasta water. Set aside. In a large skillet, heat the olive oil (1 – 2 tbs.) and cook pancetta until slightly browned but not crispy. Add the tomatoes and cook until they are slightly darker and thicker. Add the cooked pasta and toss to coat with the sauce, remove from heat. If it seems too thick, add a little of the reserved pasta water. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Divide onto plates and top with lots of grated cheese.
Fresh Pasta by Hand
(This requires a pasta machine; when I say “by hand” I mean no food processor for making the dough.)
1 large egg
1 cup flour
On a flat work surface, make a mound out of the flour and use the (uncracked) egg to create a depression (about 4″ in diameter) in the hill that goes all the way to the bottom (sort of like a volcano). Crack the egg into the hole and, using a fork, begin mixing the flour into the egg. Just swirl the fork in one direction, gradually incorporating very small amounts of flour into the egg as you go. It probably won’t take all the flour; eventually, when the fork is doing you no good, pick up your ball of dough and begin kneading by hand. Move the rest of the flour out of the way. The best way to knead pasta dough is to fold it in half, then put it on the work surface and use the heel of your hand to squish it down, and then repeat. If it’s sticky, dust with a tiny bit of flour. This takes a while, so grab a glass of wine before you start and relax. Your dough is ready when it loses its grainy texture, is not at all sticky, and is very white and light. Roll the dough into a log and cut it into 3 pieces; flatten slightly and feed into the pasta machine, starting with the widest setting and working it through all the settings to the thinnest. You can then cut the pasta by hand (more rustic) or use the fettuccine cutter on the pasta machine. Sprinkle a sheet pan lightly with cornmeal or semolina flour and store the pasta on it in nest-like piles. Do not rinse fresh pasta after you cook it.