Saturday, October 17, 2009

Shells with Pancetta and Tomato Sauce

Becky and I have been in Siena for close to two months now, and I'm just getting around to posting about our culinary adventures.

>insert sad and slightly apologetic emoticon image here<

For me, I guess the biggest adjustment (cooking-wise) to the environment here as opposed to that of Los Angeles, is the regionality (it's a word now) of the ingredients. Everything here is very Italian: the meats, veggies, beverages, baked goods, spices (actually, the lack thereof) bleed Italian. You walk into a grocery store and you are simply overwhelmed with the Italian-ness of your surroundings. It's a little hard to explain, especially after living in LA where there is really no primary demographic. Not that this is necessarily a hindrance by any means. Quite to the contrary, actually. By drastically reducing my spice collection (I went from 40+ different spices in LA to just two here in Siena: black peppercorns and red pepper flakes) I have been able to focus more on the flavors of the ingredients that give a dish its sustenance. This pasta dish is a good example. By using only three primary flavors (pancetta, tomato and balsamic vinegar), you can create a quick and easy lunch for a couple people in less than half an hour.

  • 1 small red onion, finely chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1/2 c. pancetta, cubed
  • 4 tomatoes, cored and quartered
  • Black pepper
  • Red pepper flakes
  • Balsamic vinegar


  1. Sautee the onion and garlic in extra virgin olive oil for a couple minutes
  2. Add the pancetta and cook until browned
  3. Toss in the quartered tomatoes (skin side down) with a half cup of water
  4. Season with black pepper and red pepper flakes, to taste
  5. After a few minutes, you will be able to slide the tomato skins off using a wooden spoon - compost the skins
  6. Add a little balsamic here - not too much, maybe ~1/8 cup or so
  7. Reduce heat to simmer, stirring occasionally for 10 - 15 minutes
  8. When the tomatoes are tender, you can mash them with the back of the wooden spoon to encourage sauceification
  9. At this point, you can boil your pasta of choice - I use small shells because they hold the sauce well
  10. Strain the pasta when al dente and toss in with the simmering sauce
  11. Serve with a fresh grating of parmesan cheese and a couple pieces of bread to soak up the extra sauce

1 comment:

  1. I was beginning to wonder when we would hear from you! You can have your red pepper flakes and black pepper (well actually I made a course garlicky puree of broccoli over polenta last night for dinner and only used red pepper flakes and black pepper) but I am way into pimenton these days, the smoked Spanish paprika, which my sister tells me, you won't find in Sienna.
    Keep cooking and Hi to Becky!