Simplicity is the name of the game when it comes to weeknight dinners and it doesn’t get much more effortless than our Pancetta Pasta. With just five easily accessible ingredients and a mere 30 minutes of your time this crowd pleaser can be on your dinner table and well on it’s way into your stomach.
While Sundays are reserved for slow-cooked spaghetti and meatballs, creamy vodka sauces and roast chicken dinners, weeknights involve quick meals that please the masses. Aka two little boys who have an affinity for picking at their plates. With a generous amount of crispy salty pancetta littered throughout aldente noodles, hearty Brussels sprouts and nutty parmesan cheese, our Pancetta Pasta is the new weeknight dinner winner. Although the eating went in this order with my kids — pancetta, pasta, Brussels sprouts.
We crisp up cubed pancetta, then sauté Brussels sprouts and garlic in the rendered fat before tossing it with aldente bucatini, LOTS of parmesan cheese and plenty of pasta water to create a homogenous sauce. I serve up the noodles at this point to the kiddos and then toss in a few pinches of crushed red pepper flake for the grownups.
Admittedly simple, this pasta isn’t necessarily something I’d serve for a fancy dinner party but it’s perfectly delicious, healthy-ish and sure to satisfy just about any picky eater.
Ingredients in Pancetta Pasta
Pancetta. If you’re not familiar with pancetta it’s in the bacon family. Instead of being cured and smoked, it’s simply cured so it’s less smoky than ordinary bacon. It also comes in a round shape and is usually diced opposed to cut into thin strips.
Pancetta used to be one of those elusive ingredients incredibly hard to track down. These days you can find plenty of forms of pancetta at your local grocery store. For this pasta, we want pretty hearty pieces of pancetta. I found mine pre-packaged in 1/4 inch cubes at my local grocery store. If I can’t find it, I can usually go up to the deli counter and have them slice it for me. Ask them to slice it into thick 1/4-inch pieces. You’ll want 10 ounces. Don’t buy the pre-packaged thin sliced pancetta.
Brussels sprouts. In the wintertime my go-to veggie is always Brussels sprouts. I love the heartiness they lend to dishes and they pair particularly well with pasta, pancetta and parmesan cheese.
Garlic. There are very few ingredients in our pancetta pasta so I really go heavy on the garlic. I use four very large cloves but if they’re average cloves up it to six or seven.
Bucatini. You could really use any short or long pasta here but I just love the thick bucatini noodles. Bucatini is very similar to spaghetti but it is thicker and has a teeny tiny hole in the middle.
Parmesan. It’s really important to use a good quality cheese here, we go with parmigiano reggiano but pecorino would also work nicely. You also want to make sure to finely shred or grate it yourself so it melts into the pasta quickly.
Red pepper flakes. I personally think this pancetta pasta needs an element of heat, so I always add in a few pinches of crushed red pepper flakes.
Let’s make Pancetta Pasta
Crisp the pancetta. This is the most time-consuming part of the recipe. It takes a little bit of time to render all the fat from the pancetta so it’s nice and crispy, especially since the pieces are on the large side. Add the cubed pancetta to a cold large skillet and then turn the heat on medium to medium high. Cook the pancetta until the fat has rendered and the pancetta is crisp, it should take about 10 minutes.
Cook the pasta. Drop the pasta into boiling water.
Cook the Brussels sprouts. When the pancetta is crisp, transfer it to a plate lined with paper towels. Drain all but two tablespoons of the fat. Add the Brussels sprouts and salt. Saute the Brussels sprouts for a few minutes until they start to soften. You want them to retain their crispness so don’t cook them any longer than 3-4 minutes. Add the garlic, cook another 30 seconds.
If the pasta isn’t done yet, turn the heat off on the Brussels sprouts and set them aside.
Toss with pasta. When your pasta is just UNDER aldente, use tongs to transfer it to the Brussels sprouts. Sprinkle in half the cheese, crushed red pepper flakes, and 1/2 cup of pasta water. Toss until the cheese has melted and then add the remaining cheese and 1/4 cup more pasta water. Toss until the cheese has melted.
Add the pancetta back to the pasta and toss one more time.
Can I make Pancetta Pasta in advance?
You could. It’s best served right away but I’ve made it and serve a few hours later. The pasta tends to break so you really need to be cognizant of undercooking the pasta. Save some of the pasta water and when you’re ready to reheat, add hot pasta water to the warmed pasta to freshen up the sauce. I also recommend leaving the pancetta out until just before serving so it tastes crisp.
I had it leftover for lunch the other day and it was still delicious reheated in the microwave.
What if I can’t find pancetta?
That’s okay! Swap it out for thick-cut bacon. You’ll be just fine.
Substitutions and Tips and Tricks for Recipe Success
- Be patient when rendering the fat from the pancetta, it takes time.
- If you’re not a fan of Brussels sprouts you could also use peas or kale.
- Don’t be shy with the garlic!
- Don’t over cook your pasta. You should remove the pasta when it’s just under aldente. This means that it should have a significant chew to it but it shouldn’t be crunchy. This is important because the pasta will continue to cook as you make the sauce.
- Season as you go! With very few ingredients, it’s important to add layers of flavor along the way. Salt the pasta water, salt the Brussels sprouts and salt the entire dish when you add the pasta. Lastly season to taste with salt and pepper at the end.
Other weeknight pasta dinners you’ll love
- If you’re looking for something with red sauce and a little more meat heavy, this Italian Sausage and Peppers Pasta is exactly what you need.
- Another great vodka sauce is our favorite Rigatoni Vodka with Sausage and Spinach. Hearty and easy to make.
- Such a classic, our version of Shrimp Alfredo is one of the best out there!
- 10 oz cubed pancetta (1/4 inch cubes)
- 10 oz shaved brussels sprouts
- 3/4 tsp kosher salt, divided
- 4 large garlic cloves, minced (or 6-7 small)
- 1 cup finely shredded or grated parmigiano reggiano cheese
- pinch of red pepper flakes
- 1/2-1 cup pasta water
- large pot
- Large skillet
- Bring a large pot of water to a rolling boil. Season generously with kosher salt.
- Add the cubed pancetta to a cold large skillet with high sides and then turn the heat on medium to medium high. Cook the pancetta until the fat has rendered and the pancetta is crisp, it should take about 10 minutes. Stir frequently. Remove the pancetta with a slotted spoon and on to a paper towel to drain. Drain all but two tablespoons of the fat.
- Drop the pasta into boiling water.
- Keep the heat on medium to medium high Add the Brussels sprouts and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Saute the Brussels sprouts for a few minutes until they start to soften. You want them to retain their crispness so don't cook them any longer than 3 minutes. Add the garlic, cook another 30 seconds. If the pasta isn't done yet, turn the heat off on the Brussels sprouts and set them aside.
- When your pasta is just UNDER aldente, use tongs to transfer it to the Brussels sprouts. Reserve the pasta water. Sprinkle in half the cheese, crushed red pepper flakes, 1/4 teaspoon salt and 1/2 cup of pasta water. Toss until the cheese has melted and then add the remaining cheese and 1/4 cup more pasta water. Toss until the cheese has melted.
- Add the pancetta back to the pasta and toss one more time. Season to taste with salt and pepper.