I married an Italian guy (doesn't that sound like the name of a sitcom?) so pasta comes close to being a religion in my house. A few years ago he got me a copy of The Silver Spoon, which was translated into English in 2005. This tome is considered the "bible" of Italian cooking, and if you were to get married in Italy (and hey, I'd get married again to get married in Italy) you'd get this book as a wedding gift.
The Silver Spoon begins with an introduction that states, "Eating is a Serious Matter." I believe it, weighing in at 1,263 pages the book contains different recipe sections for fresh pasta, dried pasta and gnocchi. I haven't cooked a lot from this book but what it has taught me is that pasta doesn't need to be complicated by a lot of fussy components or heavy sauces. Some of the best pasta dishes are ones that utilize a few notable ingredients and can be prepared simply and quickly.
Pasta with Parmesan, Pancetta and Peas is one of the easy, delicious recipes I make when I need a quick and comforting dinner. It utilizes pantry and freezer staples to create a deeply satisfying dish.
16 oz box of spaghetti or thin spaghetti
1 cup reserved pasta water (you won’t use all of this.)
8 oz of pancetta, diced (or substitute bacon or turkey bacon, but pancetta is best.)
2 TBS olive oil
16 oz bag of frozen peas, defrosted (or substitute fresh if they’re in season.)
6 oz of freshly grated Parmesan cheese, plus more for garnishing if desired
salt to taste
Cook the pasta according to package directions. Drain the pasta and reserve one cup of the water.
Pancetta is sometimes referred to as Italian bacon. It's a pork product that is cured with salt and spices, but not smoked. You can find it in the deli case of well stocked grocery stores. Just tell your counter person how much you want and they'll cut off a chunk from the large cylinder in the case. I've been able to find Columbus pancetta in most grocery stores and it has preformed well in my recipes.
While the pasta is cooking, dice the pancetta and put it into a medium pan. I like using a cast iron pan because it heats evenly and promotes browning. The oven is my method of choice for cooking splattery pork products. I hate cleaning up a greasy stove top and this method keeps the mess contained in the oven. I also don't have to watch it as closely. Heat the oven to 400 degrees slide the pan in for about fifteen minutes, stirring once or twice to prevent burning.
You can, of course, do this on the stove top. Using a cast iron, stainless steel or non-stick pan, brown the pancetta over medium heating, stirring as needed to prevent burning.
When the pancetta comes out of the oven it will look like this. All crunchy and golden brown. This are little pieces of porky heaven, so beware of pancetta poachers. If you turn your back for too long, you'll find yourself missing a good number of porky bits.
I really like freshly grated Parmesan cheese. It has so much more flavor than the stuff that comes pre-shredded in plastic tubs. Get yourself a microplane grater and start buying your Parmesan in chunks. You won't be sorry and any leftover shredded cheese will keep well in the refrigerator and still have more flavor than the tub stuff.
Heat the 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large pan over medium high heat. Add the peas and salt lightly, then sauté for about two minutes. Don't overcook the peas! They turn a really unappetizing gray green if they go to long in the pan. You want your peas nice and bright for this dish.
Add the cooked pasta and pancetta to the pan. Add just enough of the reserved pasta water to loosen up the pasta and stir until all the ingredients are well mixed and heated through. Discard the unused pasta water.
Sprinkle in the grated Parmesan cheese and incorporate it into the mixture. Take a taste and add more salt if needed.
You’re ready to serve! Plate each portion of pasta and top with additional Parmesan cheese if you'd like. This will give you four really big servings or six reasonably sized servings. Enjoy! This is a dish you can't go wrong with.