This is the meal I make when I have no time and not much of a plan. It’s my version of fast food: a more healthful, less expensive and better-tasting choice than takeout.
The ingredients can vary (based on my pantry), but the basics are the same: pancetta, onion, vegetable, herbs and pasta. The base of the dish is the pancetta, a staple in my kitchen. A little bit adds just enough flavor and fat to sauces, pastas, vegetables and bean dishes. It also freezes beautifully, and the slices are so thin, they defrost in no time.
To finish the dish, I use whatever fresh herbs I have. Ideally, I like to use basil, but I often find myself throwing in some parsley. I toss the cooked vegetable mixture with pasta, a generous grinding of black pepper and some Parmesan cheese passed on the side to finish the dish. No one will know you were improvising.
- Salt (for the cooking water, plus 1/8 teaspoon or more to taste)
- 8 ounces dried penne pasta
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 4 ounces (12 thin slices) pancetta, cut into 1/4-inch dice
- 1 medium onion, preferably sweet, such as Vidalia or Mayan, cut into 1/4- to 1/2-inch dice (1 cup)
- 1 pound zucchini, preferably 4 small ones, cut into 1/2-inch dice
- Leaves from 6 stems basil leaves (3 tablespoons), chopped
- Freshly ground black pepper
- Freshly grated Parmesan cheese, for serving
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over medium-high heat. Add the penne and cook according to the package directions. Drain and hold in a colander.
Meanwhile, heat the oil in a large (at least 12-inch) skillet or shallow braising pan over medium heat. Add the pancetta and cook for 2 to 3 minutes, stirring, until the pieces start to turn translucent but not brown. Add the onion and cook for 3 to 4 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the pieces soften.
Add the zucchini and the 1/8 teaspoon salt (or to taste) and stir to incorporate; cook for 10 to 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the zucchini is tender. Add 2 tablespoons of the basil and the pepper to taste.
Combine the cooked penne with the vegetable mixture in a large serving bowl, preferably warmed. Garnish with the remaining tablespoon of basil. Serve warm, with Parmesan for passing at the table.
From Nourish columnist Stephanie Witt Sedgwick.
Tested by Stephanie Witt Sedgwick.
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