I think pasta was the first thing I really learned to cook properly, graduating from Super Noodles to the real stuff via those powdered-cheesy-sauce-in-a-packet ones (c’mon, they’re delicious) and taking notes along the way. (Disregarding the packet instructions, I would quickly reduce my barbecue beef sauce to a rich coating consistency, or mess around with butter:milk ratios – a foodie even then). I ate a LOT of pasta, perfecting the basics – the deep boil of the water, the cupped palmful of salt needed, the slick of oil or butter at the end – and still really like it for itself, rather than just a vehicle for sauce. A bowl of spaghetti with plenty of black pepper and cheese is one of my favourite meals.
Although I’m less inclined to eat huge expanses of starch these days, pasta is still my go-to quick dinner, my need-to-line-the-stomach-but-there’s-nothing-in-the-house fix, and as such I have a small but honed repertoire of very quick dressings for it. (I think pasta sauces should be either ridiculously long-winded – ragus of rabbit / ox cheek – or ready in the time it takes the pasta to cook. Anything in the middle isn’t really worth messing around with). The classic here is spaghetti with garlic and chilli, but I’m not going to sit here and give you a recipe for that; I’m also a big fan of the Sicilian sautéed brassica school. This, though, is my current favourite, born of the few oddities I had in an otherwise empty kitchen. There’s nothing worse than food writers talking about their ‘store cupboard’ dishes, assuming you have salted anchovies and the rinds of fine cheeses knocking about the place, so I won’t call it that. It was, though.
SPAGHETTI, PIG FAT, PICKLED GARLIC & BREADCRUMBS
75g salted pork fat, diced (lardo or salo, depending on where you’re shopping)
2 cloves pickled garlic, sliced
a pinch of chilli flakes
a splash of balsamic vinegar
a handful of dried breadcrumbs (pangrattato, if you’re buying them)
salt and pepper
I assume you know the pasta drill; a deep pan of water, a good teaspoon of salt, a proper rolling boil. If I’m cooking spaghetti for one and therefore not in a huge pan, I like to break it in half before adding it to the water. You might feel that defeats the point of spaghetti, though.
When that’s on, put the pork fat in a cold frying pan and heat gently. When some of it has rendered out, add the garlic and chilli, and increase the heat, tossing it around to get colour on both the garlic and fat. When they’re nicely sautéed, add a splash of vinegar and let it reduce slightly. Put aside til the pasta’s done.
When it is, drain it, keeping a bit of the cooking water, and tip back into the pan with the fat and bits, and a spoonful of the reserved water. Give a good stir, and add the breadcrumbs, a load of pepper, and some salt if it needs it. Some parsley might be appropriate here too, but I didn’t have any.