Right now we are at the height of our tomato season. I really need a tomato break. Pasta served with a simple butter, cheese, and pasta water sauce really fit the bill today. Excellent served as a generous side dish with grilled eggplant slices as the star of the meal... or perhaps a side of sliced tomatoes from your garden.
What to assemble:
1 pound whole wheat gemelli pasta (any twisty pasta will do)
8 oz. thick cut Applewood Smoked Bacon*, cut into chunks with the bulk of excess fat removed - get the leanest bacon you can find)
1/2 onion, chopped
8 oz mushrooms, sliced (use your favorite mushroom)
4 garlic cloves, minced or crushed
1 pound green beans, steamed to crisp tender
1/4 t fresh cracked black pepper, or to taste
1/8 t crushed red pepper flakes (I use more)
4 T butter
2 cups Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese (divided use)
How to proceed:
Measure and prep all the ingredients. Line them up as listed in the directions like nice little soldiers awaiting orders. Mindful preparation is critical for a dish like this as many of the steps overlap.
How to continue:
This part is really is ongoing during the entire cookery stage because the sauce is prepared simultaneously with the pasta. Bring a large pot of water to a boil and cook the pasta until it is firm to tooth (al dente). Reserve three cups of the cookery liquid. Then drain and return the pasta to the pot. You can use salt in your pasta water, but it's really only necessary if you are a salter of foods. The rest of us will have plenty of salt from the bacon and cheese.
Steam or nuke the green beans to crisp tender and let them sit until they are called for. Green beans are very patient things. I do this step while the bacon is cooking.
Start the bacon well before starting the water for the pasta. Bacon drippings stand in for the usual oil or butter in the caramelizing process. Time it so you have time for the onions and mushrooms to cook for about 30 minutes. This is a rare instance where I will caramelize at a higher heat so the caramelizing process is accelerated. Bacon drippings can take the heat.
About halfway through the onion and mushroom cookery, turn on the heat under the pasta water.
To cook the bacon, heat a large skillet over medium high - any skillet with tall sides is good. When it is hot, add the chunks of bacon. Stir. Remember, you are using medium high heat instead of medium, so don't walk away from the stove. Keep a damp towel handy in case the bacon spits. After about 10 minutes, add the onion and mushroom. Continue to stir every two - four minutes until the vegetables brown well - about 25-30 minutes. Put down that spoon. Yes you. The veggies need to stay in contact with the pan a few minutes at a time or they will never brown. Add the garlic and cook 2 minutes longer. Add the black and red pepper flakes and stir.
It is possible you will need to put this pan on hold (off heat or on very low heat) while watching for the water to boil for the pasta (yes, the watched pot will boil, I tested that). It's better for the bacon mix to be on hold rather than rushing to catch up with the water and ending up with inadequately browned onion and mushroom.
Pay attention to the boiling water - and add the pasta when necessary. Set the timer so you know how when to check the pasta. Stir.
When the pasta is merrily boiling away, return the bacon mixture to medium heat. Add the butter (if your butter was allowed to come to room temperature this part goes faster). Stir til it melts and bubbles.
With a large Pyrex style measuring cup, remove the pasta water to a handy bowl. Drain pasta into a colander. Return pasta to the big cookery pot. Dump the steamed green beans into the pot of cooked pasta.
Add about 1 1/2 cups of the reserved pasta water to the bacon mixture and simmer about five minutes. Don't worry, the pasta will stay hot.
Add 1 1/2 cups of the Parmigiano-Reggiano to the simmering bacon water. The butter is what turns the water into sauce - so don't skip it and do not use margarine (blech). The sauce will not be thick like tomato sauce, but it will thicken a bit.
Add the bacon sauce to the pot with the pasta and green beans. Stir to mix. Taste and adjust seasonings. Taste again and marvel at how good sauce can be when it is made with water. Add more of the reserved pasta water if it seems dry.
Serve with the reserved 1/2 cup cheese and more pepper (both black and red) at the table. A nice salad of fresh garden tomatoes and spinach rounds the meal off very well. Enjoy with your favorite friends and family members.
You could reduce (or increase) the bacon, but I do not believe the dish can stand as is without it. You'd have to make other adjustments in seasonings or proportions. If you want to eliminate the bacon, I'd suggest adding well sauteed strips of peppers - a variety of types from red to yellow to green would work well.
Very good reheated and served the next day.