I have been eating this gorgeously cheesy, bacon and tomato pasta for about 25 years. In the mid-90s my mum bought the book Perfect Pasta by Valentina Harris and this recipe became our firm favourite. I remember the first time Mum made it, she put so much cheese in it that the fingers on the rubber gloves stuck together.
Since then we’ve refined the recipe slightly (and bought a dishwasher!) but it’s still gorgeously cheesy. It’s now a firm favourite with Dan and the girls and we eat it all through the year. It’s one of those recipes that can be spruced up with a really good salad (you know the kind – the ones that take a bit of planning and a trip to the shops for all the different ingredients) and a large glass of wine but is also perfect served just as it is, on a week night when you’re dashing around, juggling 100 things.
Which cheese should I use?
The short answer is mature cheddar. And there’s no long answer. You could possibly use double gloucester or red leicester at a push. Or you could go with the original which is pecorino. But, in my opinion, this pasta dish is definitely best with good old mature cheddar.
And what shape of pasta?
You want something that will hold the sauce. It will look like quite a lot of sauce when you pour it over your pasta and you need curves in your pasta to hold all that cheesy gorgeousness. I usually use conchiglie or penne. As you can see from the photo, you will not have too much sauce, although it does have a tendency to hide in the bottom of the pan. I gave it a good stir before I served it and every piece of pasta was gorgeously coated again.
Isn’t adding pasta cooking water to your pasta a bit weird?
No, I promise you it’s not. The Italians do it all the time. The starch in the cooking water adds a creamy gorgeousness to your sauce so chuck in a good splash – maybe a small ladleful to start. If anything, I could have done with adding more to the pasta in the photo.
Let’s take a minute to talk about bacon. Who doesn’t love it? My family certainly do. Especially bacon with pasta for some reason. My Swiss Macaroni Cheese, served topped with crunchy smoked bacon and caramelised onions is definitely a favourite and my Linguine with Smoked Bacon, Sun-Dried Tomatoes and Spinach has been on the menu in our house for years.
But until recently bacon was ‘rationed’ in our house due to the nitrites it contained. Not so now! Finnebrogue have just launched their Naked bacon which is available in all the major British supermarkets (as far as I can work out from a 30 second Google search – I get mine from Sainsbury’s). With nitrite free bacon now being so easy to pick up we’ve been eating a lot little bit more of it.
Having tried both smoked and unsmoked in bacon rolls (the best way to hold a bacon taste challenge surely?!) we like both. The smoked tastes a little ‘barbequie’ to us but the flavour is good and is not overpowering, and the only difference between the Naked unsmoked back bacon and regular unsmoked, seems to be that the Naked one is less tough which we all liked. So yippee! Bacon is here to stay! By the way, this post is in no way sponsored by Finnebrogue. I’m just super excited that we can all now get nitrite free bacon!
To make the dish
Firstly, you want to get that lovely nitrite free bacon cooking and the kettle on. When the bacon is cooked through but not at all brown, quickly add the tinned tomatoes to stop you picking at it too much, and pop in the sugar and a little salt (I tend to go for ¼ to ½ a teaspoon full). Put the lid on the pan.
While the sauce is simmering get the pasta cooking, grate the cheese and dice the butter. When you’ve made this a few times you’ll be able to leave the scales in the cupboard and just eye ball the cheese and butter.
Just before the pasta is cooked, thicken the sauce using the corn flour then drain the pasta. You want to catch some of the pasta water and I find the best way to do this is to put a mug in the sink.
Now return the pasta to the pan and tip the cheese and butter in with it. Pour over the sauce, add a splash of pasta water and stir until the cheese and butter is mixed in and you have a gorgeously cheesy thing happening in your pan. Perfect!
Other pasta recipes to try
- Baked Tagliatelle with Smoked Salmon and Gruyere
- The Best Quick and Easy Bolognese Sauce
- Creamy Roasted Red Pepper Pasta
- Easy Lasagne with a Cheat’s White Sauce
Cheesy Bacon and Tomato Pasta
- 400 g pasta
- 300 g (6 rashers) unsmoked bacon
- 1 tablespoon cooking oil
- 2 tins chopped tomatoes (800g total)
- 2 teaspoons sugar (optional)
- 180 g (1½ cups) mature/sharp cheddar cheese (grated)
- 40 g (⅓ stick) butter
- 1 tablespoon cornflour
- Using scissors, remove the fat from the bacon and cut into small pieces. Cook the bacon over a low heat until it is no longer translucent. Do not allow it to brown.
- Add the tomatoes, sugar and ½ a teaspoon of salt. Simmer gently.
- Put the pasta on to cook, grate the cheese and dice the butter.
- When the pasta is nearly ready, mix the cornflour with 1 table spoon of water and stir into the sauce. Cook for a further two minutes then remove from the heat.
- When the pasta is cooked, drain reserving a little of the pasta water. Return the pasta to the pan. Tip the cheese and butter onto the pasta then add the thickened sauce. Stir together adding some reserved pasta water to loosen if necessary.
- Serve with lots of black pepper.