Our Daily Dinner

Our Daily Dinner

March 15, 2011

Missing Mark Bittman: Pasta alla Gricia

I had clipped some of Mark Bittman’s favorite dishes in his exit of the Minimalist column from the pages of the NY Times, among them Pasta alla Gricia. Not having an ounce of Italian blood in my bone, I decided to take the proverbial bull by the horn and-- when in Rome—forged ahead.

Alla Gricia , I learned, is a Roman classic consisting of guanciale, cured pork jowl, which has a unique, intensely piggy flavor, and Pecorino Romano, the hard, tangy grating cheese made from sheep's milk. “With so few components at play, substitutions are not minor,” I further read. “Pancetta and Parmigiano will make a tasty dish, but you cannot call it alla gricia, for the simple reason that their flavors are quite different.”

Thus advised I went to Di Palo’s to get cured pork jowl and, while there, bought various Italian items, among them crucolo, a succulent semi-soft cow’s milk cheese from the Trentino region of Northern Italy. That
cheese, which I served while cooking the pasta, was so good, we overindulged and barely could do justice to the pasta.

Menu

Crucolo from Trentino*
Pasta Alla Gricia
Wine: Banfi Chianti Classico Riserva 2007
Dessert: Ricotta Cheese Cake**

Recipe Pasta alla Gricia

• 1 tablespoon olive oil
• 1/4 cup guanciale, sliced into thin strips or wide ribbons
• ½ pound linguine or similar thin pasta
• 2 tablespoons grated Pecorino Romano
• Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Place the guanciale in a cold sauté pan with the olive oil and place over medium heat; the olive oil helps to render the fat evenly and helps transferring the flavor from the pan to the pasta.

Drop the pasta into the water as you slowly sauté the guanciale. The goal is to slowly soften the fat, keeping it translucent; avoid letting it turn brown and crisp, or the pleasure of biting into those soft, juicy, fatty parts will be lost. When the guanciale has softened, add a small splash of water from the pasta pot. Lower the heat, and keep dribbling in a little of pasta cooking water, just enough to keep the guanciale moist.

When the pasta reaches al dente texture, scoop out some of the cooking water and set it aside. Drain the pasta and add it to the pan, then turn up the heat. Toss the pasta, coating it with the guanciale and rendered fat. If needed, add a splash of the reserved pasta cooking water.
Remove the pan from the heat and add the grated Pecorino Romano. Season to taste, toss well and serve on a heated plate.

Although I usually prefer crunchy crispy pancetta, or bacon, I found the taste of guancile most intriguing. George wouldn’t commit himself. He did appreciate the cheese cake.


*Di Palo’s of Little Italy
www.DiPaloSelects.com

**Café Ferrara
www.farraracafe.com/nyc

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