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Pasta with Spicy Tomato and Pancetta Sauce

4 to 6 Servings

30 minutes

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Zuppa forte, also known as zuppa di soffritto, is an old-school Neapolitan dish made by slow-cooking meats with garlic and other aromatics, along with tomatoes and preserved chilies, until reduced and concentrated. The rich, thick, spicy paste-like mixture can be spread on crusty bread, though it’s more commonly diluted and used as soup base or pasta sauce. During a visit to Naples we especially loved the wonderfully balanced, intensely flavorful version we tasted at La Cantinetta, a tiny eatery/grocery store/wine shop where octogenarian Maria Notaro does the cooking. Zuppa forte traditionally was made with odds and ends of meats, including offal, but the Neapolitan cooks we consulted said pancetta would be a reasonable stand-in. (For best flavor, it’s important to purchase pancetta that contains a decent amount of fat. In our experience, the type sold pre-diced is too lean and cooks up with a tough, leathery texture.) We then determined a combination of tomato paste, browned to develop flavor, and canned whole tomatoes, blended until smooth, yielded the best taste and consistency, and that simmering the sauce in a skillet was a quick way to concentrate it. The preserved chilies were the most difficult ingredient to approximate. We landed on Korean gochujang, which may seem out of place, but the thick, fermented paste delivers a similar complex spiciness along with welcome notes of umami. If you can source Calabrian chili paste, which is spicy, tangy and salty, it, too, is great. Salvatore Giugliano at Ristorante Mimì alla Ferrovia serves his zuppa forte–dressed pasta with fresh basil and ricotta, garnishes that complement the richness and intensity of the sauce. We decided to do the same.

4 to 6



Don’t use canned tomato puree or canned crushed tomatoes, which have slightly tinny, metallic flavors that only become more pronounced in the finished sauce. The flavor of whole tomatoes, blended until smooth, is fresher and cleaner.

30 minutes


  • 14½

    ounce can whole peeled tomatoes

  • 2

    tablespoons gochujang OR 1 tablespoon Calabrian chili paste


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Joanna W.
February 5, 2023
Simple and delicious
Easy to make, great concentrated tomato flavor, gochujang adds a lot. Curious to try with lamb pancetta
Shelagh S.
December 11, 2022
A keeper
Fast prep and big flavor — tastes like it took much longer than it did.
Jim K.
November 20, 2022
Bold, Rich flavor
Loved it! Huge flavor and quick prep.