If you’ve ever read this blog before and/or haven’t been hiding under a rock, you know that I love Italian delicacies. Unfortunately with the exception of prosciutto di Parma and Parmigiano and Pecorino, most Italian meats and cheeses are either hard to come by outside of Italy, or extremely expensive. Sure, knock-offs are widely available since Italian food has become immensely popular around the globe, but the true taste of Italy is hard to come by.
One of these delicacies is guanciale. Guanciale translates to ‘little cheeks’, but there’s nothing little about it – not in size, nor in flavor. Guanciale is a cheek though. It’s a pork cheek, cured and generously seasoned with amongst other spices, lots of black pepper. Guanciale looks a little like bacon, the consistency and taste however is much, much more delicate.
When we visited Milan last month I brought back a guanciale. I also brought two different sausages and a piece of speck, 3 different cheeses (large chunks) and 4 kilos of flour home with me, but today I’m writing about the guanciale.
Guanciale is the meat that’s traditionally used for pasta all’amatriciana and pasta alla carbonara. Or that’s what the internet likes me to believe. I absolutely adore guanciale, there is no way to describe it. If you like bacon (and really, who doesn’t) you’ll like guanciale. It’s better than bacon! And no, that’s not heresy, because really it’s just bacon with even more flavor.
The first thing I used my guanciale for (I got a whole piece, so it’s quite large) was for a 1-dish-meal version of Pasta all’Amatriciana. I hadn’t had time to buy groceries and my zucchini plant had shed it’s last fruit, I had guanciale, I had tomatoes, I had pasta and I figured it just had to do.
Do it did! The pasta was delicious, the guanciale gave it just the nice little different kick that you wouldn’t have had with bacon or another meat. It was the perfect way to inaugurate the food I’d smuggled* home!
- short pasta (penne, rigatoni, fussilli etc enough for 2 persons)
- 200 grams of guanciale (substitute bacon if you don't have guanciale)
- 1 package of passata di pomodori (strained tomatoes)
- 1 or 2 small red chilis (to taste)
- 1 whole clove of garlic, peeled
- 1 medium zucchini
- plenty of pecorino or parmigiano cheese
- olive oil
- some small fresh tomatoes (optional)
- Boil the pasta in plenty salted water.
- Drizzle a skillet or heavy bottomed frying pan with a little olive oil, then add the guanciale or bacon, the chili(s) and the garlic and cook them on fairly low heat. You want the Guanciale to release some fat and the chili and garlic to release flavor, be careful not to brown them.
- Dice the zucchini (remove the watery inner core) and add to pan. Once the garlic is brown, remove it. Depending on the lever of heat you like, you can either remove the chilis as well or leave them in (or cut them up with or without seeds).
- Add the passata di pomodori (strained tomatoes) to the pan, enough to make the amount of sauce you like. I use about ⅔ of a cup.
- Drain the pasta when al dente, then add to pan with sauce. If you have them, you can now add some diced fresh tomatoes to the pan as well. Mix well, remove from heat, add a generous amount of cheese, stir the cheese in and serve immediately.
*Since I’m within the EU, it obviously wasn’t smuggling, but traveling with 4 kilo’s of white powder and very smelly (garlicy sausages, cheese) in my suitcase, it sortof felt like I did!
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