As much as I adore long-simmered pasta sauces like Bolognese or Marcella Hazan’s butter-slicked tomatoes, the ones I gravitate to most can be sautéed in a skillet while the pasta boils in a pot alongside.
Variations on a classic aglio e olio, these sauces are invariably anchored by loads of olive oil and garlic, then perked up with a pinch of red-pepper flakes and handful of parsley (and maybe an anchovy or six). They’re thoroughly satisfying meals that take exactly three minutes longer to put together than for the pasta to cook.
Sometimes, though, the urge to embellish pulls hard, especially when there are cured pork products in the house.
Slivers of spicy salami or pepperoni, fried in oil along with the garlic, render their fat and turn irresistibly crisp. The pieces are a little like bacon, but instead of a smoky flavor, they add a chile kick along with their brawny character.
In this version, I went a few steps further and added tomato paste, fennel seeds and lemon to the pan. These elements build on one another, with the tomato rounding out the licorice note of the fennel and softening the acid from the lemon. But it’s a mix that takes well to tweaking.
The fennel seed can be the first to go if you’re not a licorice fan. You could substitute cracked coriander seeds or a lesser amount of black pepper, or just skip the spice entirely. And feel free to add the lemon to taste. You might like a lot less of it than I do.
I like to use shells or orecchiette pasta here so the curved cups can capture the nuggets of pepperoni. But any short, textured pasta with nooks and crannies would work just as well. You can even use long pasta like bucatini or spaghetti if that’s what’s on hand, though you might want to chop the pepperoni a little more finely so it can cling on to the strands.
In any case, make sure not to overcook the pasta; it should have a firm spine when added to the skillet. Then, toss everything well so the pepperoni can’t hide at the bottom of the pan. If it does, just spoon it on top of the pasta as you serve. Those savory, crunchy bits are the star of this simple, adaptable dish.