LUCY BURDETTE: I know you will want to meet today's guest, another Jersey girl like Hayley Snow and me! A Jersey girl born and bred, Rosie Genova left her heart at the shore, which serves as the setting for much of her work. Her new series, the Italian Kitchen Mysteries, is informed by her deep appreciation for good food, her pride in her heritage, and her love of classic mysteries, from Nancy Drew to Miss Marple. An English teacher by day and novelist by night, Rosie also writes women’s fiction as Rosemary DiBattista. Take it away Rosie!
I spent ten days in Italy last summer, in a small village in Abruzzi, where I had the great fortune of eating local food. Each morning, we walked to the small grocery store for fruit, fresh eggs and just-delivered bread. One day I spied a slab of local pancetta, the Italian version of bacon, and knew just what that day’s breakfast would be. Back at our little room, I fried it up to a brown, fragrant crisp. I took two slices of fresh bread and let them soak up the fat in the pan, then made the Abruzzese version of a breakfast sandwich. The first bite transported me to my own paradiso rustico, leaving me with a new appreciation (and weakness) for pork fat.
Yes, pork fat. In the recipe that follows, you have the option of limiting the amount of fat from the cooked pancetta. (Hey, if you’re crazy enough to pour all that salty, fatty goodness into the trash, that’s your problem.) In any case, this isn’t a dish for those counting calories. The good news is that a small portion will suffice.
My new series, The Italian Kitchen Mysteries, features a seaside Italian restaurant that follows the Italian model of dining: you can eat stuff that’s bad for you if you limit it to small tastes, and balance it with lots of vegetables and fruit. The Casa Lido is not the place you’ll find Americanized Italian food, but instead dishes based upon the seasonal and local ingredients of native Italian cuisine. The recipes included in each book are family favorites that reflect the same sensibility.
This dish, inspired by my pork epiphany, is adored by all the men in my house. Because it includes greens and a protein, it’s also a good one-dish meal. Best of all, it can be pulled together in under 30 minutes. The following recipe serves four normal people; I double it for my family of five, but four of them are male. Serve with a loaf of good bread and a medium-bodied red wine. (Italian, naturally.)
Rosie’s Pasta with Pancetta
1/2 lb. of medium sized pasta, such as penne, farfalle, or gemelli
4-6 oz. of pancetta, cubed
1 tablespoon of olive oil
5 oz. of baby spinach
¼ cup of light cream (or half and half if you must)
Salt and pepper to taste
Grated parmesan cheese for serving
Set the pasta water to boil in a large saucepan. Lightly oil spray another heavy bottomed pan—one large enough to accommodate the pasta— and set the heat to medium high. When sides of pan are hot, brown the pancetta to a crispy golden brown. Set pancetta aside in a bowl.
Pour off excess fat, but leave a nice coating in the pan, as well as any lovely brown bits of bacon that might be left behind. Heat a scant tablespoon of olive oil in the pan, and add spinach. Once spinach is wilted, about two minutes, season with salt and pepper, remove from pan and set aside.
When pasta is cooked (al dente, please—no mushy macaroni!) drain it in a colander, and pour into the pancetta pan, which should be set over low heat. Add spinach and pancetta. Pour the cream over the mixture and quickly stir it into the pasta until all ingredients are well-coated and cream is heated through. Serve immediately with freshly grated cheese.
This dish also has many variations; here are a few:
--Substitute regular bacon for pancetta and spring peas for the spinach
--Substitute arugula for the spinach, but before cooking it, caramelize some thinly sliced Vidalia onion in the pancetta fat
--You can make a pink sauce by adding a tablespoon of tomato paste and cooking it in the pancetta fat as a base for the cream, or you can substitute fresh ricotta for the cream for a different “white” sauce
-- Tri-colored pasta also makes a pretty dish, or instead of dried pasta, use a good quality frozen cavatelli or tortellini, or visit your local Italian deli for the real deal. (You could, of course, make the pasta yourself—but that’s a post for another day!)
Please visit Rosie at her website or on Facebook
Murder and Marinara: An Italian Kitchen Mystery
October 1, 2013 NAL/Obsidian