Apart from cooking and baking, I love preserving. I've done a lot of canning and pickling, but recently, I've become really fascinated with curing.
The principle of it is what attracts me: take something tough and bring it back to life using nothing more than salt, sugar, and the patience of time. The Tails & Trotters stand at my market sells the very best pork. The pigs are naturally raised on a farm in Washington, where they happily graze on hazelnuts (they make a fantastic prosciutto, inspired by the acorn-fed Iberica jamon from Spain). Because their pork is such high quality, it can be pricey, but the "throwaway" cuts are what interest me. A month ago I bought a handsome jowl. They were kind enough to pick out a really fatty one for me, perfect for making guanciale.
Guanciale is cured and left unsmoked just like pancetta, but it's texture is more delicate and its pork-flavor slightly more pronounced. It's incredibly easy to make. You remove all of the skin and sinew from the cut with a good, sharp knife. Then you leave it to cure in packed sugar, salt, juniper berries, and thyme for about a week. At the end of that week, you hang it in a drafty, cool spot. The refrigerator is perfect but you could easily do this on a cellar rafter. It dries for 3 weeks, and then you have plenty of guanciale which you can use for Salade Aux Lardons, or my personal favorite, Spaghetti Alla Carbonara.
You've likely had this before, maybe it was made with bacon. Perhaps you've had it with a creamy white sauce. Forget those versions now. I promise you this way is better. The key to a perfect carbonara is to keep it simple. Use very fresh eggs (if you can splurge on the farm-fresh variety, this is the perfect time to do it) and a bone dry white wine. No cream is necessary, as the eggs & cheese will provide the richness you're craving. I add a little fresh thyme to draw out the flavor of the herbs in the guanciale. This is humble, no-fuss cooking at its very best.
Spaghetti Alla Carbonaraadapted from Gourmet MagazineI like to serve this alongside a small bitter-greens salad, it makes a perfect easy meal on a chilly night. If you're worried about the eggs cooking all the way through, you can add them while the pasta is over the heat, but I prefer to use the freshest eggs I can find here so salmonella is less of a risk. My secret here is to grate a little bit of lemon zest over each serving, it's not traditional, but it's still excellent.Ingredients:
5 oz guanciale (unsmoked cured hog jowl) or pancetta
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1/4 cup dry white wine
1 lb spaghetti
3 large eggs1 Tbs. fresh thyme, finely minced
1 1/2 oz Parmigiano-Reggiano, finely grated (3/4 cup)
3/4 oz Pecorino Romano, finely grated (1/3 cup)
1 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon coarse sea saltgrated lemon zest, to tasteDirections:
1. Cut guanciale or pancetta into 1/3-inch dice, then cook in a deep 12-inch heavy skillet over moderate heat, stirring, until fat begins to render, 1 to 2 minutes. Add onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until onion is golden, about 10 minutes. Add wine and boil until reduced by half, 1 to 2 minutes.
2. Cook spaghetti in a 6- to 8-quart pot of boiling salted water until al dente.
3. While pasta is cooking, whisk together eggs, finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, Pecorino Romano, minced thyme, black pepper and salt in a small bowl.
4. Drain spaghetti in a colander and add to onion mixture, then toss with tongs over moderate heat until coated. Remove from heat and add egg mixture, tossing to combine. Sprinkle each serving with more fresh thyme and the grated lemon zest. Serve immediately.YIELD: 4 servings.