Christopher Rafter · Sep 9, 2016 · 4 min read
Chefs will tell you, always use the finest ingredients you can find. That’s sound advice, no doubt. But there is also a lot to be said for understanding those ingredients, cooking them with techniques that get the most out of each.
The special thing about this dish is how its flavors - the fragrant fresh basil, crispy fried pancetta, the creaminess of fresh mozzarella - can be coaxed into a union that delivers much more than the individual parts. The technique is really simple, we promise, it’s all in the order and the timing (if you can dump things into a pan, you’re qualified!)
We’ve made sure you don’t need to source your own heirloom tomatoes or own a truffle-hunting pig for this recipe. Everything needed here can be found in your friendly local mega-mart.
A key element of this dish is the fresh mozzarella. Normally its tendency to release liquid as it melts is a negative for pizza and other baked items. Here it’s the key to much of the flavor delivery and texture of this dish. The secret is to control the melting of the mozzarella by bringing the dish together in a controlled way. Added just before serving, the fresh mozzarella gives up its liquid to produce a silky, rich creamy sauce. It takes on the flavors of the other ingredients and delivers them with an unexpected creaminess.
One warning: The magic lasts only for about 25 minutes, which is plenty of time to clean your bowl, but make sure you perform the final step when everyone is at the table, fork in hand, ready to eat!
Pasta Diane (Pasta with Pancetta, Mozzarella and Basil)
- 1 can (28 oz) can whole tomatoes
- 1/2 lb diced Pancetta or Bacon cut into 1/4” pieces
- 2 tbsp Extra Virgin Olive Oil
- 3 cloves Garlic
- 1 lb dry pasta (tube pasta works best; Rigatoni or Penne)
- 1 lb fresh whole milk mozzarella or Buffalo-milk mozzarella diced into 3/4 inch cubes.
- 1 cup fresh basil leaves chiffonade (cut into 1/8 inch strips)
- 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
- 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
- Salt for pasta water
- Bring a pot of salted water to boil for the pasta.
- Heat your serving bowls in a 250 degree oven. It's important to start this early so they’re nice and warm, the warmed bowls are an important part of the dish coming together.
- Drain tomatoes, reserving juice. (use a strainer set over a bowl to catch the juice.) Break up the tomatoes a bit with a fork or your hands into large chunks, they will break down more as they cook.
- Add pasta to water, cook until just al dente (8-9 minutes). It will finish cooking in the sauce.
- While pasta cooks, in a non-reactive pan, sauté Pancetta (or bacon) over medium heat in 1 Tbsp of the olive oil until crisp. With a slotted spoon, transfer to paper towel and leave drippings in pan. There should be about 2 Tbsp of fat in the pan, if not, add more olive oil.
- Raise pan to medium. With your tomatoes ready, add 3 minced garlic cloves to the pan. In about 30 seconds, or whenever you first begin to smell garlic, add tomatoes and about ½ their juice, stir, raise heat to medium-high to bring tomatoes to boil.
- Cook the tomatoes over medium-high while the pasta cooks, break up any large chunks with the back of your spoon. Stir regularly. Keep an eye on the level of liquid, add more juice one tablespoon at a time if it starts to look dry. You want the tomato mixture to be moist and just a little loose.
- Drain the pasta, then add to pan with the tomatoes. Toss well and place back over medium heat. The pasta will absorb some of the liquid from the sauce at this point, so be ready to add more tomato juice (if needed).
- Get your warmed serving bowls ready, get your guests seated at the table.
- Add the bacon, basil, mozzarella, black pepper, and red pepper flakes to the sauce; toss or gently and cook for about 20 seconds over medium heat to distribute everything until you see the mozzarella cubes just begin to melt. DO NOT leave on the heat too long, or the mozzarella will form into a large rubbery ball. The mozzarella will continue to gently melt in the warmed serving bowls as your guests are eating.
- Spoon the pasta into your warmed bowls and serve.
- Grate on some grated Parmigiano Reggiano at the table, the pasta should be plenty salty from the cooking water and the bacon.