Pancetta Pasta is the quintessential weeknight dinner, combining the hearty flavors of Italian cuisine with the convenience of a 20-minute meal. This dish brings together tender penne pasta, crisped pancetta, and peppery arugula, all livened up with a splash of fresh lemon juice.
Rich, salty pancetta pairs seamlessly with the spicy kick of red pepper flakes and zesty lemon, creating a balanced flavor profile that's impossible to resist. Freshly grated Parmesan to finish adds extra depth of flavor. Whether you're looking for a fuss-free dinner or aim to impress your guests without spending hours in the kitchen, this dish delivers.
Ingredients You Need to Make Pancetta Pasta
- Penne Pasta: Or use rigatoni, fusilli, gemelli, or farfalle if you prefer another short pasta shape (or that's what you have on hand).
- Olive Oil: Choose a good quality extra-virgin olive oil for the best flavor.
- Pancetta: Look for pancetta that's freshly diced (or dice your own) for optimal flavor.
- Garlic: Choose plump, firm cloves with tight skin.
- Crushed Red Pepper Flakes: Ensure they are a vibrant red color and not faded, good indications of freshness and potency.
- Baby Arugula: Look for leaves that are dark green and free from any yellow or wilted spots.
- Fresh Lemon Juice: Use freshly squeezed over bottled for a cleaner, brighter taste.
- Parmesan Cheese: Freshly grated is the way to go; avoid pre-grated or the shelf-stable variety.
- Kosher Salt and Freshly Ground Black Pepper
- Replace pancetta with bacon or prosciutto if you can't find pancetta in your local store.
- For a milder flavor, swap the arugula with baby spinach.
- Instead of Parmesan, use Pecorino Romano or Asiago for a different but still delicious cheesy finish.
- Toss in some cherry tomatoes for a burst of sweetness.
- Add a handful of toasted pine nuts for extra crunch.
- Sprinkle some chopped basil over the top before serving for a fresh, herbaceous note.
Mistakes to Avoid
- Overcooking the Pasta: Aim for al dente pasta (firm to the bite). Overcooked pasta can turn mushy and won't hold up well with the other ingredients.
- Skipping the Pasta Water: Neglecting to reserve some pasta cooking water is a common mistake. It's essential for fine-tuning the sauce without compromising flavor.
- Overcrowding the Skillet: Don't add all of the arugula in at once; it can steam rather than wilt, affecting the texture and flavor. Add it gradually for even wilting.
- Using Low-Quality Olive Oil or Parmesan: These two ingredients play an important role in the flavor profile of the dish. Opt for good quality extra-virgin olive oil and freshly grated Parmesan for the best taste.
- Ignoring Spice Levels: The crushed red pepper flakes add a spicy kick, so be cautious. If you're sensitive to spice, start with less and adjust as you go.
How to Store and Reheat
Store any leftover pasta refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 3 days. Reheat in a skillet over low heat, adding a splash of water (or leftover cooking water) to loosen the sauce if needed.
More Must Try Pasta Recipes
- Broccoli Pasta
- Shrimp Carbonara
- Garlic Butter Shrimp Pasta
- Gemelli Pasta with Lemon and Garlic
- Canned Tuna Pasta
How to Make Pancetta Pasta
Cook pasta until al dente in boiling, salted water. Save a cup of the pasta water before draining. In a skillet, heat olive oil and crisp the pancetta. Remove pancetta from skillet and sauté garlic and red pepper flakes briefly. Add arugula to wilt, then mix in the pasta and some saved cooking water as needed.
Finish with lemon juice, salt, and pepper, then top with Parmesan before serving.
- 12 ounces penne pasta or other short pasta
- 1 teaspoon olive oil
- 8 ounces diced pancetta diced small, ~¼-inch
- 3 large garlic cloves minced
- ¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes or more
- 10 ounces baby arugula
- 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
- kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
- 2 ounces parmesan cheese freshly grated
- Bring a large pot of salted water to boil. Cook pasta according to package directions until al dente (firm to the bite). Drain pasta, reserving 1 cup of cooking water.
- Meanwhile, heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add pancetta; cook and stir until fat renders and edges begin to crisp, 8-10 minutes. With a slotted spoon, transfer browned pancetta to a clean plate (leave the rendered fat). Remove skillet from heat until pasta has finished cooking.
- Once you've drained the pasta, set skillet over medium heat until hot. Add minced garlic and red pepper flakes; cook and stir until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Stir in arugula in a few additions, until you've added it all and it's just wilted, about 3 minutes. Add drained, cooked pasta along with ¼ cup of reserved pasta water; cook and stir until heated through, adding more pasta water as needed if pasta seems dry.
- Remove skillet from heat and stir in lemon juice; season to taste with salt and pepper. Transfer to serving bowl or platter and top with grated parmesan cheese; serve.
- Use any short pasta you like (fusilli, rotini, bow-tie, gemelli pasta, etc.) for this recipe.