Italian food has always been and will probably always be my favorite cuisine to make. I’m sure living in Sicily for three years gave me a certain affinity towards not only the culture, but the food as well. Much of the food is prepared quite simply with few ingredients. But the ingredients share one commonality. Freshness.
Unlike Americans, you’ll typically see Europeans at the market daily. It’s not uncommon for them to purchase the groceries that they need for only that day, and perhaps for breakfast the following day. Even then, in the small town I lived, most Sicilians stopped at their local cafe for a caffè (coffee) and a pastry for breakfast each morning.
I lived above a little woman named Nuncia in the small town Piano Tavola, which was about 20 minutes from Catania. Catania is a beautiful ancient city sitting at the foot of Mt. Etna, an active volcano. It’s the second largest city on the island (Palermo being the first) and is rich in history and culture. Besides having the best view of the volcano, the town is full of things to see and do.
Several castles still stand on the island and the Ursino Castle is open to tourists to view from the inside. The Piazza Del Duomo is the main square in Catania filled with shops and resturants. This is also where you’ll find the market, which is open stalls of any and everything you could possibly want to take home for dinner. The food is fresh and grown locally in the fertile soil around the volcano. There’s an array of vegetables, fruits, meats and cheeses. In this same market you’ll also find the Pescheria (fish market) where fish that were swimming just that morning are displayed on tables full of packed ice. You can’t get fish any fresher.
This recipe pays homage to the ingredients used in Sicily and to the techniques carried out by the locals. Fresh vegetables, prized panchetta, zippy citrus, and crunchy toasted pine nuts. Even local Sicilians can’t always have (or have time to make) fresh pasta. All of my coworkers and friends in Sicily swore by Barilla pasta when fresh just wasn’t an option, so that’s what I’m using for this simple recipe.
The creaminess in this dish surprisingly does not come from the dairy but rather the emulsification between the hot pasta water and the fat from the pancetta. I still like to cheese this guy up with salty and sharp pecorino which lends its own body to this dish. For the noodle shape I chose a simple spaghetti noodle that gets coated nicely by this voluptuous sauce and wraps ever so nicely around your fork. This recipe makes enough for 3 to 4 servings. I’d recommend a side salad and maybe some bread to go along with it.
Pancetta, Broccolini, and Pecorino Romano Pasta:
*8 oz. Broccolini, stem ends trimmed and cut into bite size pieces
*1/2 Box Spaghetti Noodles, Barilla (8 oz.)
*3 oz. Pancetta, Diced
*Salt and Freshly Ground Black Pepper
*1 shallot, minced
*2 Cloves Garlic, minced
*1 tablespoon lemon zest
*1 cup pasta water, reserved
*1/4 to 1/2 cup Pecorino Romano, grated
1 – 2 tablespoons Pine nuts, toasted (optional)
Prepare an ice bath for the broccolini. Bring large pot of water to a boil. Add a couple of tablespoons of salt to the water and boil broccolini for 2 minutes. You don’t want to over season the water for the noodles because the panchetta and cheese both contain a high amount of salt on their own. Remove from water and plunge into ice bath until cool and remove to colander to drain.
Add a tablespoon of olive oil to now boiling water and cook pasta to al dente. About 9 minutes. Start rendering pancetta in cold pan large skillet or 9″ deep pan. Cook on medium low heat until almost crisp. Add in shallot and cook for 2 minutes or until translucent and add in minced garlic. Cook another minute or so until fragrant. Season with fresh pepper and salt and stir in lemon zest. Using tongs gently add in cooked pasta as well as 1/3 cup of the pasta water and toss to coat. Make sure to reserve about a cup of the pasta water to the side if your pasta is done before the pancetta. Add more pasta water as needed to create an even emulsion and add in about 1/4 cup of your grated pecorino. Toss and add the broccolini in to the dish. Taste for seasoning and adjust to your liking. Serve immediately with more cheese grated over the top.
This recipe is very simple but does take some technique. The trick is to have everything prepped and ready to go into the pan. So before you even turn the burner on and start cooking, make sure you’ve got all your prep work done. Garlic and shallots chopped as well as pancetta diced and broccolini trimmed, etc. With the prep work out of the way this dinner will come together very very quickly. The pine nuts are totally optional and are there to add a little textural crunch. If you’re not a fan of them..or the price..feel free to leave them off the plate.
When you think of your favorite Italian meal what does it include? If Italian is not your favorite cuisine, what tickles your fancy?