Sunday, June 9, 2013

Guest Rosie Genova's Pasta with Pancetta

 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     


  1. Thanks, Lucy (and the rest of the Kitchenistas) for having me today!

  2. Oh, yum! The Vidalia sounds like a nice addition. Always...

    As for ordinary bacon fat, the woodpeckers in my neighborhood enjoy that in our homemade suet cakes all winter. Lucky buggers.

    1. The onion and tomato paste combo is lovely, especially with a little wine to deglaze the pan.

  3. Rosie, cannot wait for your book--and I was drooling putting up your pasta photos! thanks for visiting the kitchen!

  4. How do you do it, Rosie? I can taste the recipe. Yum! Can't wait to read your delicious debut! I'm a little concerned Murder and Marinara may be interactive. I may need sit down to an Italian dinner, your book in hand.

    1. Love the idea of an interactive M and M! (Must talk to publisher. . .)

  5. Sounds wonderful! I enjoy making pasta for my family but, having a son who doesn't always like cooked tomatoes, it gets disheartening to see him dragging off bits to the side.

    This sounds like a recipe that will leave dishes scraped clean, no doubt!

    Thanks for sharing it, Rosie. I am resigned to getting fatter while reading your stories. :)

    1. My 23 year old daughter still does that with her chunks of tomatoes!

    2. I am wondering if it's possible to gain weight merely writing about food--that would explain a few LBs around here!

    3. In our house, the tomato chunks end up spread on bread like bruschetta.

  6. Yum! Can't wait to try this. Your stay in Italy sounds wonderful, Rosie. Welcome to MLK. I am looking forward to reading your book.

    MJ aka Victoria Abbott

    1. Hi Mary Jane! Italy was amazing, and we're hoping to get back next summer.

      (And I'm looking forward to reading The Christie Curse--you had me at the title.)

  7. Oh my! That sound fantastic. I think I'll have to get the ingredients my next trip to the grocery store! I look forward to reading your mysteries too!

    1. Thanks, Kat. And I must say, it is super easy. I'm in fact making it for company tonight!

  8. A winning combination of flavors. But 1/2 pound of pasta to feed 4 people? Clearly my family does not qualify as "normal". That would serve about 2 here.

  9. Hi Libby! It doesn't sound like enough, does it? (Which is why I added my disclaimer.) Believe it or not--and as an Italian I find this hard to believe--two ounces of dry pasta is considered a "portion." When you add the ham, spinach, and cream, one quarter of the recipe here is actually a moderate portion of food. How 'bout we split the difference and say it feeds 3 comfortably and 4 for a first course? ;>

  10. Oh yum! This sounds like my kind of dish! I have to try it. The fascinating part to me is pouring the cream over it all at the very end instead of cooking it with something. Love it and will definitely try it!

    Congratulations on your new series. I look forward to reading it!


  11. Hi Krista! One of the things I learned is to finish sauces in a warm pan with the pasta--even tomato-based sauces. The starch in the water clinging to the drained pasta helps thicken everything nicely, and the heat from the pan eliminates that puddle of water that forms in your serving dish.

    (It was fun meeting you at Malice. Did the lucky winner who wasn't me ever get her books?