Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Weekend Indulgences: Linguini Fini alla Carbonara

It's that perfectly fudgey slice of flourless chocolate cake. The sip of hand-harvested whole leaf Lapsang souchong. An impeccably roasted beet. The very first warm, sun-ripened tomato picked off the vine in your backyard.

Sometimes one ingredient is all it takes. Your tongue tingles. Your toes curl. The foodie within swoons (and forever swears off winter tomatoes).  And so it was with the locally produced Guanciale that we found at the market a few weekends ago.

If you would have told me a few years ago that we'd be able to get locally produced dry cured Italian meats right here in Milwaukee, I probably wouldn't have believed you. Sure, there are a couple of respectable Italian delis in the city, but certainly nothing even remotely resembling Salumi -- that delectable Seattle icon that served to set the bar pretty darned high for Italian charcuterie.

Needless to say, I was pleasantly surprised to find that Milwaukee has its very own dry cured charcuterie producer. Bolzano Meats, located at 3950 N. Holton St., began their first batch of cured meats in September of 2009 -- and the first of their meat was ready for public consumption beginning in late October.  Bolzano carries Speck Proscuitto, Berkshire Pancetta, and Berkshire Guanciale.  And, while they don't have a storefront, they do sell their wares online as well as at the Milwaukee Winter Market -- which is where we tasted our first bits of Guanciale.  And, of course, we had to buy some to take home with us.

Guanciale is a very special Italian bacon made from the cheeks/jowls, rather than the belly, of the pig. Its flavor is rich and meaty (porky, if you will). Its texture is quite delicate. And, although it seems to maintain a family resemblance, it's absolutely NOTHING like pancetta.

Since we had the "real thing" in our possession, we took Mario Batali's lead on this one and went with a traditional carbonara. And I'm glad that we did. The ingredients are simple and few:  a bit of Guanciale, a couple of fresh eggs, some grated Parmigiano Reggiano, and a generous amount of black pepper.  But, the results are spectacular -- creamy, rich, and filled with an incredible amount of flavor.

Of course, by now you're probably getting hungry. And I'm just sitting here yammering on. So, let's get to the point, shall we?

We were basking in the glow of a long weekend -- so, although carbonara is a relatively fast dish to get on the table, we took the long way around.  The first thing we did was to whip up some homemade pasta.  You might remember that we have a handy KitchenAid pasta roller/cutter, so the actual work of making pasta is really negligible.  It just takes a bit of time.  So, we whipped up a batch of dough, rolled it paper thin, and sliced it into gorgeously petite linguini fini.  Not exactly spaghetti -- which would be traditional -- but very fun to say. Since we also seem prone to rule-breaking (as you'll soon see), we let this one small technicality slide.  We put a pot of water on to boil.

Our pasta troubles out of the way, we cubed the Guanciale and then rendered it over low heat until it was browned and crispy. Some might say that we took the browning bit a little too far (the idea is simply to render the fat and cook the Guanciale until golden). But, trust me on this one. It didn't hurt the dish one bit. And, in fact, those crusty bits were just perfect even when sampled directly from the pan. While the meat was browning, Peef grated up plenty of Parmigiano Reggiano, and I whipped up a couple of farm fresh eggs in a small bowl.

Once the Guanciale was ready, we added a couple of cloves of minced garlic to the mix (not necessarily traditional, but definitely Italian -- and certainly delicious), sauteeing just until tender. Then, we deglazed the pan with a whorl of dry white wine (also a bit of a departure from every recipe I've ever seen -- but it served to effectively deglaze the pan and cut the richness of the Guanciale a bit).

At this point, we were ready for the action to begin. We placed the pasta into the pot of boiling water, seasoned our eggs with plenty of black pepper, and stirred in a liberal handful of parmesan cheese.  When the pasta was ready, we drained it (reserving some of the pasta water), and added it to the hot pan of Guanciale, which was now swimming in a delicious pond of wine soaked browned bits.  We tossed the pasta, removed it from the heat, and added the eggs and a scoop of the hot pasta water, stirring gently yet thoroughly until everything was deliciously creamy.

We slurked our pasta feast into warm bowls.  Peef rested his head just above his bowl and wafted the amazing aroma into his nostrils.  I closed my eyes and took a bite.  The creamy porky goodness infiltrated my mouth.

Sparks flew.
The planets realigned.

I opened my eyes.  Peef was standing next to me, mid-bite, with his eyes closed. I could hear a vaguely rough groan emanating from his lips. When his eyes opened again, a grin spread across his face -- the sort of grin that only something truly fabulous could evoke.

We both took another bite. And then another. We grinned, and chewed, and swallowed. And, all at once, our bowls were empty.  Mission accomplished.

Fresh semolina pasta dough
Pasta alla Carbonara: The Real Deal

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  1. Oh my. I need to make that, there's nothing else to it.

  2. Oh my tastebuds be still! I love carbonara and love that you added some pasta water to the mix...I may have to try that the next time I make carbonara! :)

  3. Awesome! The smoky flavors of Guanciale must be fantastic!

  4. Ok stop making me drool! You know I love, love, love pasta. Your carbonara looks fabulous Lo.

  5. I love carbonara! I love it. It makes my heart sing. Bacon and pasta are a magical combination.

    I envy you being able to get guanciale. It's not something I can easily find in these parts. If Mario Batali can get it from somewhere, it must be somewhere, since he has so many NY restaurants. My brother wants it too and he hasn't found it easily. I will soldier on and find it eventually.

  6. Rachel - Actually, I think that Batali cures his own guanciale (well, someone at Babbo does anyhow), so that solves his problem. I've read that it can be pretty difficult to find in the states, but I'm not sure if that's true or not.

  7. Great post! This looks absolutely fantastic!

  8. we did the exact same thing with our guanciale from bolzano! :) definitely seemed like the right thing to do. we have the cheeks from our pig and i want to make my own guanciale (project pending conversion of basement fridge to curing cabinet).

  9. How absolutely delicious with the guanciale! Just the way it was meant to be made. I swoon.

  10. That guanciale is rich, isn't it?! Even with my cold I could still taste its porky fattiness when I finally made it to the Winter Market a weekend ago...

    I'm so jealous of your KitchenAid pasta attachment- can you make round noodles with that? If so, I may have to give up hand cranking!

    Your meal looks as great as your discription of it, I love this post!

  11. I think it's time I moved to Milwaukee. This makes my own McDonald's dinner look like dog poo.

    Now the question is. Would you cook for me lol?!

  12. Mario Batali and Carbonara can do no wrong! :) It's my ultimate comfort food. Some people belong to the bolognese crowd. I'm so carbonara.

  13. Wow that carbonara looks spectacular. I've never had guanciale. Clearly I'm missing out. Must get some asap!

  14. Thanks for the heads-up on Bolzano's. Your carbonara is further evidence I need the KitchenAid pasta attachment. It's been on my wish list for a while.

  15. Other than the MKE winter farmers market, Glorioso Bros. Italian Foods on Brady Street has guanciale. I didn't buy any yet, but it's right next to the proscuitto in the deli counter.


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