“Mad Dog” Penne with Cream
Penne all’Arrabbiata con Panna
I enjoy it when the Italian language takes the meaning of one word and uses it to explain another. The “spicy heat” in this dish is reflected in the word “arrabbiata,” which means “to go mad” when applied to dogs and “to be angry” when applied to people. To increase your “rage” or the “foaming of the dog,” add dashes of pepper sauce to your plate at the table until you scream — or howl at the moon!
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
2 ¼-inch-thick slices (approx 5 ounces) pancetta, cut into ¼-inch cubes (smoked pancetta — pancetta affumicata — is preferred) ∗See note below recipe.
1 small onion, thinly sliced into half rounds
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1 (28-ounce) can whole, peeled Italian plum tomatoes (preferably San Marzano), placed in a bowl and crushed by hand, reserving all of the liquid [Wondered if there is an actual difference between Italian San Marzano tomatoes and American plum tomatoes? Click here to see a side-by-side comparison.]
½ teaspoon Kosher or Sea salt
1 pound penne rigate
1 cup heavy cream
½ cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, Grana Padano or pecorino cheese, for garnish
Heat oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. When the oil is hot, add the cubed pancetta and cook until browned, 4 to 5 minutes. Add the onion and sauté until soft and translucent, about 3 to 4 minutes, stirring occasionally. Once the onions are translucent and starting to turn golden, stir in the red pepper flakes and cook for 1 minute. Add the crushed tomatoes and their juices, the salt, and stir until well combined, bringing the tomatoes to a boil. Once at a boil, reduce the heat to low and simmer until the sauce thickens, 18 to 20 minutes.
Meanwhile, bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add 1 to 2 tablespoons of salt*, stir the water, and add the pasta. [*The Italian secret to seasoning the pasta as it cooks is for the boiling water to be as salty as sea water. Some people prefer 1 tablespoon, my sea water tastes like 2 tablespoons.] Cook, uncovered, over high heat until the pasta is tender but still firm to the bite — al dente. [Follow the pasta package’s cooking time as a guide.] Drain the pasta and place in the pan with the sauce, add the cream, stirring until well combined, over medium-low heat. Allow to simmer an additional minute or two. Taste and adjust the seasoning. Serve immediately, garnished with the Parmigiano.
This makes 6 to 8 servings.
∗A note about Pancetta:
Pancetta, rolled and salami-shaped, is often referred to in America as Italian-style bacon, but, unlike American bacon, pancetta is not smoked and it is studded with black peppercorns. Once difficult to find in most American grocery stores, it is now readily available in the deli section. Smoked pancetta — pancetta affumicata — is not hickory smoked like American bacon, but it is usually smoked with other European hardwoods. It can be a bit more difficult to find. And although it is preferred for this recipe, it is not a deal breaker, so use whatever pancetta is available in your grocery store. In fact, I can rarely find smoked pancetta where I live in the South, so I use regular pancetta, an easy find.
If you cannot find pancetta, you can try using American bacon, but the flavor of the dish will be wholeheartedly American, and not Italian at all. I do not substitute American bacon for pancetta, but if you try it and like it, well, why not? You will have created your own favorite American dish.
You may be able to find pancetta already cubed in 4- to 6-ounce packages. If you are having the deli staff slice it, ask to have it cut into ¼-inch-thick slices. Once at home, keep the sliced pancetta in the freezer. Besides helping to extend its freshness, frozen pancetta is easier to cut into smaller cubes than when at room temperature.
Also, check your deli-sliced pancetta to make sure that the outside skin has been removed. Sometimes it is not removed before being sliced at the deli. Nothing is worse than cooked pancetta with the outer skin and plastic wrapping intact – and melted. Mamma mia~ un disastro!