There’s no Italian dish more ubiquitous than pasta al pomodoro. Despite its status as a classic, we thought it could use a hearty upgrade for winter. Inspired by Amatriciana, this winterized sauce features easy-to-find bacon (in place of the traditional guanciale) for added depth and richness. You can use Parmesan instead of pecorino, but we prefer the sharp flavor of the sheep-milk cheese. Serves 4
28-oz can whole peeled plum tomatoes
1 Tbsp olive oil
6 slices bacon (about 1⁄3 lb), cut into ½-inch pieces
1 large yellow onion, sliced ¼-inch thick
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
¼ tsp red pepper flakes
1 tsp kosher salt
1 lb short pasta, such as rigatoni or penne
½ cup grated pecorino Romano
In a blender or food processor, purée tomatoes with their juices until smooth. Set aside.
In a large skillet, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add bacon and cook until browned and crisp. Use a slotted spoon to transfer bacon to a plate.
Cook onions in the bacon fat until softened but not yet golden, about 5 minutes. Add garlic and red pepper flakes; cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add puréed tomatoes and salt. Return bacon to the sauce and simmer until reduced and jammy, 30-40 minutes.
Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Season generously with salt (you want it to taste like sea water). Cook pasta until just barely al dente. Drain, reserving 1 cup of cooking water. Combine pasta, sauce, and pecorino, and stir 1-2 minutes, adding pasta water a few tablespoons at a time, as needed, to loosen the sauce. Serve with more cheese, if desired.
Is there really a noticeable difference among the brands at the supermarket? While the ingredients are fairly standard across brands (the gold standard is just durum wheat and water — no preservatives), production is not. Look for pastas that are bronze-die extruded (it’s typically printed somewhere on the package). Sauces cling better to the rough exterior, resulting in perfectly sauced pastas. Our favorite brands: De Cecco and Garofalo.