I recently re-read an old favorite cookbook of mine “Red, White and Greens” by Faith Willinger, an expat American cookbook writer who lives in Italy (whom I met while working in the kitchen at Po Restaurant) that good pancetta is impossible to find in this country (granted this book was written over ten years ago), but I wonder if she would still say the same today.
She did however, have praise for conventional American salt pork–found in almost any supermarket. She said that this product was the closest approximation of cured pork belly found in Italy. I remembered that my neighbor Beppi always uses it in his potato leek soup, and decided to try it on my pasta.
The salt pork in my supermarket looked especially meaty and red today, so I was inspired to try it.
I peeled the skin off the pork and diced it into lardons.
Then I rendered the pork and added pureed fresh grape tomatoes–nothing else. I conspicuously omitted onions because the tomatoes were so sweet and I wanted to have no extraneous flavors other than cured pork and tomatoes.
The results were a huge success–I must admit I prefer this to pancetta any day of the week. It has a subtle porkier flavor than pancetta–more like guanciale (cured pork jowl), but cleaner and not as gamey.
Try this sauce on spaghetti and sprinkle on plenty of pecorino romano cheese and black pepper at the table–I promise you you’ll be instantly transported to Rome!
Pasta al’Amatriciana (My Way)
serves 3 – 4
1 lb spaghetti
1/4 lb salt pork, skin removed, diced into 1/2″ lardons
2 tbls olive oil
1 pint grape tomatoes
salt and black pepper
grated pecorino romano for sprinkling
In a skillet large enough to hold the pasta, on low heat, slowly render the cubes of salt pork in 1 tablespoon of olive oil.
Add the tomatoes to the salt pork and simmer on low for about 20 minutes, while you boil the water and cook the spaghetti. After 20 minutes, the sauce should have thickened and turned from orange to red.
Combine spaghetti with sauce and add pasta cooking water and drizzle with olive oil.