BASIL AND GARLIC MINESTRONE
~ 3 ounces pancetta, finely chopped
~ 3 cloves garlic, minced
~ 1 scant cup olive oil
~ pinch of oregano
~ 1/2 cup whole peeled Italian tomatoes, drained
~ 1 tsp chicken bouillon (or soup base)
~ 1 1/2 tablespoons salt
~ pinch of pepper
~ pinch or red pepper flakes
~ 10 ounces spaghetti or linquine, broken
~ 3 tablespoons fresh basil, coarsely chopped
~ 1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
In a large skillet, saute chopped pancetta in olive oil, when browned, stir in tomatoes and simmer, stirring occasionally.
Add 6 cups cold water (1 1/2 quarts). Add salt. Bring to a boil, then drop in broken pasta. Cook pasta until al dente (literally, "to the tooth", which means that the pasta should not be mushy, and should have a little "bite").
When pasta is cooked, remove from the heat. Add basil, and some of the grated cheese. Sprinkle to taste with sea salt or kosher salt, and freshly grated black pepper. Add a light dusting of hot red pepper flakes (optional), as you like it.
Serve hot, with extra Parmesan cheese at the table, for sprinkling. At my table, we never grate the cheese in advance, but the block of cheese is placed at the table with a grater, for extra helpings.
This dish is as versatile as pasta itself and can be varied as desired; a few suggestions are included below.
Substitutions and variations: Use pork soup base instead of chicken bouillon. Bacon, ham or salt pork may be used instead of pancetta. Diced fresh or canned tomatoes can be substituted for whole peeled. Fresh pasta noodles can be used in place of dry pasta.