Recipe: Pancetta, Tomato, and Avocado Pasta

First of all, my apologies for not posting since last week—I just got hired part-time at Macy’s, so between job training, culinary classes, and my first few days of work, I’ve been busy, tired, and I’ve had no time to cook. I finally had time to sit down yesterday and pick out some recipes for the end of this week and early next week and I finally got to try out the “Gourmet” setting on my new camera tonight. The recipe I’m sharing tonight is summery, so it’s a little out of place with the cool weather and rain we’ve been having lately, but it was so good, I can look past that. I came across it here and was really intrigued when I read that this warm pasta dish, made with familiar Italian ingredients, like tomatoes and pancetta, had cubes of creamy avocado tossed in at the end. Avocado is typically served as is (like a slice on a sandwich or cubes tossed in a salad) or blended into guacamole and I rarely see it in a cooked dish like this (though I’ve read a little bit about trying to use avocado as a pasta sauce…kind of weird). Mixing rich pieces of avocado into pasta with bright grape tomatoes, crispy pancetta, and a dash of red pepper flakes creates a light dish that’s absolutely delicious and pretty unique.

Serves: 4-6
Prep. time: 10 minutes
Cooking time: 20 minutes
Difficulty: Easy

Ingredients

  • 1 lb. short pasta (I used rotini, but gemelli, penne, or farfalle are good options too)
  • 2 tbsp. olive oil, or enough to cover the bottom of a large pan
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 cup pancetta, cut into small cubes (I bought a 4 oz. pack of pre-cut pieces, which makes this dinner a little easier and quicker to make)
  • 1 pint grape tomatoes
  • 1 cup canned diced or chopped tomatoes, measured with their juices
  • 3/4 cup chicken broth
  • 1/4 cup reserved cooking fluid
  • 1 large avocado, cubed
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • Crushed red pepper flakes, to taste
  • Basil, fresh or dried, to taste

Directions
Bring salted water to a boil in a large pot. Add the pasta and cook according to the package instructions (about 8-10 minutes). Drain, return to the pot, cover, and set aside. In the meantime, heat olive oil in a large pan over medium heat. Add the garlic and pancetta and cook until the pancetta gets a little crispy around the edges (about 5 minutes). Add the grape tomatoes and cover the pan, cooking the tomatoes until they begin to gently “pop” their skins (the skins will split and crack and the tomatoes will be slightly soft; about 5 minutes). Add the canned tomatoes, chicken broth, salt and pepper, red pepper flakes, and basil (if using dry) and cooked for 5 minutes, allowing the mixture to blend. Pour the tomato and pancetta mixture into the pot of pasta and toss to mix. Add the avocado and gently toss to combine (avocado is very soft and will break down and smear everywhere if you stir too vigorously). Top with fresh basil and Italian cheese (Pecorino-Romano is best) if desired.

This dish has a perfect combination of brightness, creaminess, and saltiness. I absolutely love the taste of a cooked grape tomato as it bursts in my mouth—it has a mix of sweetness and acidity and, though I’ve used the word repeatedly throughout this post, it really has a beautiful bright taste that wakes up your mouth. The creamy avocado is so subtle in this dish, but its creaminess helps balance the acidity of the tomatoes in this dish and adds a unique texture to the dish. Salty pancetta and a sprinkling of Pecorino-Romano are the perfect compliment to the other flavors in the dish. I’m not sure how well this will reheat, because avocado is generally not cooked (in this dish, it’s tossed in at the end of cooking and the hot pasta helps warm it), but I think it would work well as a cold pasta salad, or you could set the avocado cubes in a dish at the table so people can add their own to their dish at the table.

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