I’ve probably said this before, but for me, contrasts are what make life exciting. Whether it’s diving into an ice bath after coming out of a sauna, or an eclectic gathering of people, I feel most alive at the convergence of extremes. This is especially true with food.
A few bites of a cheesy pasta can be delicious, but by the third bite I’m bored and ready to move on. This Gemelli with its intensely salty pancetta, creamy nutty gorgonzola dolce, and honey sweet caramelized grapes, is a mélange of textures, tastes and flavors that agglomerate in varying proportions on the tines of a fork making one bite completely different from the next.
Perhaps I have an undiagnosed case of Dissociative Identity Disorder, but it’s these juxtapositions that fluctuate from bite-to-bite that make this pasta so perfect for me. One bite, it’s a robust nutty pasta with a meaty chew, the next it’s an elegant creamy pasta that bursts into a pool of sweetness in your mouth and then third bite is a little of both along with a hint of barnyard funk.
While I chose to use gemelli for this because of the way it tends to trap flavors in its folds, this will work with just about any pasta you have on hand. Guanciale, bacon or even ham will work in place of the pancetta and the grapes don’t have to be black (though I would recommend seedless ones). In other words, this is a pasta that can be thrown together from whatever you have in your larder in about 10 minutes.
- Bring a large pot of generously salted water to a boil.
- In a frying pan over medium heat, add the pancetta in a single layer. Fry undisturbed until the pancetta starts to brown on one side and some fat beings to render out.
- Once the pancetta is browned on one side, start stirring it, continuing to fry until it's cooked through and there is a tablespoon or two of rendered fat in the pan. Don't overfry it, otherwise it will end up chewy. Transfer the pancetta to a bowl, leaving as much fat in the pan as possible.
- Once the water is boiling, add the pasta and cook for 8 minutes (or whatever the package directions say).
- Add the onions to the pan and fry until they're starting to brown.
- Add the grapes and continue frying until the grapes are cooked through and starting to caramelize.
- When the pasta is done, reserve some of the boiling liquid from the pasta and then drain the pasta.
- Add the pasta to the pan with the pancetta and grapes and toss to distribute evenly. Add the gorgonzola, basil and a bit of the reserved pasta water and toss until the cheese is mostly melted and forms a sauce. If your pasta is sticking together, add a bit more pasta water.