This recipe takes inspiration from the simplest yet tastiest Italian pasta dishes. Aglio e Olio is a humble Napoli dish consisting of pasta, olive oil, cheese, and dried red chili flakes, glistening with reserved pasta water. If you haven’t added pasta water to your kitchen toolbox, then it’s time you did. The cooking water is loaded with starch and salt, and is a wonderful way to loosen a sauce or moisten noodles. This nifty, no-cost by-product of the cooking process is best added in the last few minutes of preparing the dish.
Another ingredient in this dish with humble Italian roots is breadcrumbs. Pasta con la mollica is a southern Italian dish where breadcrumbs were considered part of the cucina povera, and considered the “poor man’s cheese.” It may sound redundant to add bread to pasta, but well-toasted breadcrumbs are a fabulous flavor carrier, and a resourceful way to use not-so-fresh bread. And like most dishes born of modest origins, it translates to a timeless and comforting dinner classic.
To this recipe, I add fresh arugula, simply wilted by the heat of the cooked pasta, and bacon, arguably another resourceful and economical food. After all, who can say no to bacon?
Spaghetti with Bacon and Arugula
Active Time: 30 minutes
Total Time: 30 minutes
8 ounces thick cut bacon, coarsely chopped
1/2 cup breadcrumbs or Panko (Japanese breadcrumbs)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup plus 1 cup finely grated Parmesan or Pecorino Romano cheese
1 pound spaghetti
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon dried red chili flakes, or more to taste
3 cups fresh arugula
- Heat a skillet over medium-high heat. Add the bacon and fry until the fat renders and the bacon is crisp, 6 to 8 minutes. With a slotted spoon, transfer the bacon to a plate lined with a paper towel.
- Pour off all but 1 tablespoon bacon fat from the skillet. Add the breadcrumbs and toast over medium heat until golden, about 30 seconds. Transfer to a bowl. Cool to room temperature and then stir in the 1/4 cup of the cheese, the salt, and black pepper and set aside.
- Bring a large pot of generously salted water to a rolling boil. Cook the pasta 1 minute less than the package instructions for al dente. Scoop out and reserve 1 cup cooking water and drain the pasta.
- Heat the oil in a large, deep skillet over medium heat. Add the garlic and chili flakes and sauté until aromatic, about 1 minute. Add the drained pasta, 1/2 cup of the reserved water and the remaining 1 cup cheese, stirring and tossing constantly to melt the cheese and evenly coat the pasta. (If the pasta is too sticky, add additional water to moisten.)
- Remove from the skillet from the heat and add the bacon, arugula, and half of the breadcrumb mixture. Stir to combine and slightly wilt the arugula. Serve immediately with the remaining breadcrumbs for sprinkling.