The Chef: Rebecca Wilcomb
Her Restaurant: Gianna in New Orleans
What She’s Known For: Cooking that honors Italian grandmothers, including her own, for whom the restaurant is named. Pristine ingredients, the best local produce and Gulf seafood.
WHEN TOMATOES and pork fat come together in a particular way, it’s magic—also known as all’Amatriciana, the classic Roman pasta sauce. Chef
in New Orleans has spent a lifetime learning to appreciate the subtleties of this simple dish. “There should be balance between the fat and acid,” she said. “The fat should shape the mouthfeel, and its smoky flavor should be in the background.”
Ms. Wilcomb’s second Slow Food Fast recipe is rooted in the version she grew up eating with her Italian-born mother as well those she found later while traveling in Italy. “My mom would use guanciale, pancetta or bacon,” she said. “I like all three. Whatever you use, it should be really well marbled.”
Good canned tomatoes make a difference, too, Ms. Wilcomb emphasized, because they won’t impart a tinny taste. Long, hollow bucatini noodles stand up nicely to the rustic sauce and provide a nice bite. But if spaghetti is what you have, that works well too.
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The ingredient list is short—what any Italian nonna might stock in her pantry. At the stove, it comes together quickly. “What you want is a bold end result that’s also restrained,” Ms. Wilcomb said. “This is a humble dish that celebrates ingenuity.”
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- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 1 pound bucatini or spaghetti
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 cup ¼-inch-diced guanciale, pancetta or bacon
- 1 cup finely diced yellow onion
- 2 tablespoons minced garlic
- ¼ teaspoon chile flakes, plus more to taste
- 2 tablespoons tomato paste
- 1 (28-ounce) can whole tomatoes
- ¼ teaspoon dried oregano
- Freshly grated pecorino
- Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Add pasta and cook until al dente, 10-12 minutes.
- Meanwhile, set a large pan over medium heat and stir in olive oil and guanciale. Cook, stirring frequently, until guanciale’s fat renders out and pieces begin to crisp, 3-4 minutes. Stir in onion and cook until translucent, 2-3 minutes. Add garlic and chile flakes and cook until garlic is light golden brown, 1-2 minutes. Stir in tomato paste and sauté until it colors the fat, about 1 minute more.
- Add canned tomatoes and oregano. Use a spoon to break tomatoes up into coarse, irregular bits. Simmer sauce until flavors meld but remain bright, 8-10 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
- Transfer cooked pasta from pot to pan with sauce, reserving pasta water in pot. Toss together pasta and sauce. If necessary, add splashes of reserved pasta water to stretch sauce so it cloaks pasta.
- To serve, top pasta with grated pecorino.
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