A smoky, flavorful pasta dish that’s even better the next day
About ten years ago I first tasted Drunken Noodles. Before that, when I heard the word noodles, I thought of macaroni: spaghetti, penne or maybe elbows. But here are those wide, deliciously moist ribbons nestled in this zesty, flavorful sauce. An addictive balance of tastes and textures. I was converted. Asian noodles were now my jam.
With the exception of the occasional mac and cheese or pasta carbonara (because they’re both the very definition of comfort food, and when done right, each is utterly sublime), my noodles were mostly limited to the Asian cuisine. Pasta, I decided, was boring.
You may be wondering how I could think of that. Pasta is variety. So many different shapes: bucatini, conchiglie, ditalini, farfalle, farfalline, mafalda, pappardelle, spaghetti, spaghettini, spaghettoni. So many different types: semolina, wheat, whole wheat, gluten free, bean, chickpea, lentil, edamame, corn, quinoa and almond flour.
And that’s just the noodles. Next, we have to look at what you put on it. Tomato sauce alone has many variations. So what about sauces made with mushrooms or other vegetables, garlic, seafood or cheese.
Luckily for me, I experienced a gastronomic intervention at Gabriel’s, a historic restaurant in Midtown Manhattan. I ordered their tagliatelle bolognese. The moment the first bite hit my tongue, I wondered if maybe I had died and gone to noodle heaven. It was one of the most delicious things I have ever eaten. The pasta was handmade on site. The sauce was a perfect mix of veal, beef and pancetta combined with tomato and cream.
I was wrong. It wasn’t you, Pasta. It was me. I thought I knew you, but I really only knew an idea of you. Mi perdoni, Pasta, mi perdoni. You are not boring at all. I wouldn’t let you be interesting.
This superstar tagliatelle inspired me to expand my pasta horizons. As I learn to match the right shape to the right sauce, I paired Gemelli with pesto, orzo with butternut squash, linguine with olive oil and cheese, and browned butter ravioli with sage. The other day I tried a variation of tomato sauce that felt a bit like a makeover for an old friend: Orecchiette with Creamy Tomato, Leek and Bacon Sauce, from Toni Lydecker’s “Piatto Unico”, published by Lake Isle Press.
This is Toni’s take on Pasta al Fumo – “smoked pasta” – a specialty of Cartona, a hill town in the heart of Tuscany. The original uses only a few readily available ingredients: bacon or pancetta with tomato, cream and rosemary. Toni’s version adds carrots and a leek and is reminiscent of Gabriel’s deliziosa bolognese – great taste and texture, and aroma to die for.
This is an easy to follow and easy to make recipe. I cut it in half because in my book a pound of orecchiette would make much more than four servings; halving it gave me the equivalent of three large or four small servings, with enough extra sauce for one more. I shared the leftovers with a friend who agreed; this dish is delicious. The sauce improves with age so the leftovers were even better; I added a little hot pepper, which put it on top.
I’m far from ending my love affair with Asian noodles, but then again, noodles don’t present an either/or situation. Pad Thai, Spaghetti Pomodoro, Ramen, Penne Arrabiata, Garlic Udon, Capellini Primavera… you’ll overdose on carbs ten times before you run out of options.
Orecchiette with Fumo
Makes 4 servings | Preparation 20 minutes | Bake 30 Minutes
Click here to print the recipe.
1 medium carrot
3 slices of good quality bacon
1 medium leek (white part plus 1 inch of green), halved lengthwise and washed (see note)
Extra virgin olive oil
1 tbsp finely chopped fresh rosemary leaves or 1 tsp dried rosemary (optional)
1 or 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 carton (about 26 ounces) drained plum tomatoes (such as Pomì) or 1 similar-sized can pureed plum tomatoes, pureed in a blender
1/4 to 1/2 cup heavy cream
Sea salt or kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 pound orecchiette or other short pasta shape
2/3 to 1 cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese
1. Peel and chop the carrot. Cut bacon lengthwise into thin strips; cut crosswise into small squares. Cut the leek crosswise into thin slices.
2. Toss the leek and carrot with enough olive oil to coat the bottom of a pot or skillet large enough to accommodate the pasta later (about 3 tbsp). Cook over medium heat, stirring often, until vegetables soften, about 5 minutes. Add bacon, cook until fat is melted but bacon is not yet crispy.
3. Stir in rosemary (if using) and garlic, cook until fragrant. Add the tomato paste and stir until it blackens. Stir in the drained tomatoes. When sauce begins to bubble, reduce heat to low; stir in cream and season to taste with salt and pepper. Simmer very gently, adding a little water if the sauce thickens too much when cooking the pasta.
4. Fill a large pot about two-thirds full with cold water. Bring to a boil and add a handful of salt. Add the orecchiettes, stir to separate them, and boil until al dente, 8 to 12 minutes. Drain, reserving 2 cups of cooking water.
5. Immediately add the hot pasta to the skillet, stirring well to combine. Add as much pasta water as needed for a sauce consistency (the sauce should coat the pasta thick enough).
6. Stir half the cheese into pasta and spoon into shallow bowls; sprinkle with remaining cheese or sit down.
By pushing through the soil, a leek can trap a fair amount of soil. After cutting the leek in half lengthwise, wash each layer under running water. If the recipe allows, like this one, slice the leek crosswise and place the pieces in a bowl of cold water; the leek will remain on top, while all dirt will flow; after a few minutes, hollow out the leek.
Recipe for “Piatto Unico” by Toni Lydecker, Lake Isle Press, 2011
Originally published at https://www.lakeislepress.com on March 10, 2022.