We don’t serve much dried boxed pasta – spaghetti, penne, etc. – at the restaurant. This isn’t because it’s inherently lesser in quality than fresh pasta like fettuccine and ravioli (it’s definitely not!), but its long cooking time makes it hard to fit into the context of our multi-course meals, modest kitchen, and decision to work without employees.

When we’re cooking for ourselves and the family, high-quality dried pasta can be just the thing, especially at the end of a long, busy day. Even we can’t always find time to spend an hour preparing dinner. The most important thing when buying dried pasta is to make sure to buy imported Italian brand. Although there is a wide range of quality, even in Italy, Italian-made pasta is far more likely to cook correctly than domestic. I’ve always taught this in my classes, but my conviction was strengthened recently when I had no choice but to cook a famous domestic brand and ended up with gluey mess impossible to properly toss with its sauce. The brand De Cecco is available at almost every supermarket these days, and though it’s not absolute top quality, it’s very good and readily available.

When I was first learning to cook from Marcella Hazan‘s wonderful books, I loved one of her sauces made with slow-cooked onions. A heaping mass of onions are placed in a covered pot and slow-cooked for an hour, then quickly browned over medium-high heat and tossed with parsley and parmigiano. It’s a great sauce, and wonderful for vegetarians.

I hadn’t made it in probably 10 years, but something got me to thinking about it the other day. But I didn’t have an hour, and I also had some lovely home-made pancetta in the fridge as well. I decided to make this variation, and I’m so glad I did! This is one of those sauces that cooks so quickly you can begin it after putting the pasta in the water to boil.

Spaghetti with Pancetta and Onions (Serves 2)

  1. Begin by by dicing about 25 grams (¼ cup or so) pancetta, the best quality you can get hold of.
  2. Brown in a little olive oil and then add about a cup of thinly sliced onion and ½ teaspoon or so hot pepper. I cook exclusively with sweet onions, but it’s not make or break.
  3. Stir everything around and add a generous pinch of salt. Salting correctly really is the most important part of cooking after all. Reduce the heat to low and cook for about 10 minutes.
  4. When your pasta is nearly ready (100 to 120 grams for two people, cooked al dente in luxuriously salted water), raise the heat to high on the onions and cook until they’re lightly browned but not too dark. Add a tablespoon or two of the pasta cooking water to loosen things up. Add some parsley, chopped or whole.
  5. Drain the pasta and immediately add it to the sauce pan, quickly tossing the pasta with the sauce to make them one.
  6. Garnish with parmigiano-reggiano and a little benediction of fresh olive oil, and serve immediately!