I don't cook with meat very often, due to laziness and a limited budget, but every so often, I simply can't resist the basic human urge for pork. I can do without beef or chicken painlessly enough, but for some reason, the thought of pig evokes a deep, inexplicable desire for flesh that's too strong to ignore. Luckily, I can walk a couple of blocks to a quality source at Curtis Park Delicatessen.
I stopped by the other day and informed the girl behind the counter of my need. Not surprisingly, she completely understood and prescribed some pancetta that had just been delivered from Il Mondo Vecchio. Then, while slicing the pancetta, she suggested I make pasta carbonara. I wholeheartedly agreed; not only do I absolutely love carbonara, but I had yet to make it for myself and welcomed the challenge.
Normally, rich and savory pasta dishes rightly call for red wine, but naturally I craved a beer with mine, so I compromised and settled on barley wine, a style of beer that's similar to vino in that it's sweet, complex and strong. But when I got to the liquor store, I was faced with an uninspiring selection, so I picked up a bottle of Fort Collins Brewery's Wheat Wine instead, which is essentially in the same vein, but the wheat is the predominant ingredient as opposed to barley.
Back at the house, I realized I had forgotten to grab some Parmesan cheese. But since I didn't want to go back to the store -- and in light of my pork craving -- I substituted the cheese with more of the pancetta, figuring it was a creamy and salty enough replacement.
The result was like carbonara on steroids, and it was deliciously decadent. It was sweet and smoky, each bite containing plenty of crispy, fatty goodness. And the beer paired especially well with the dish. It was strong enough to cut through the richness of the pasta, and because it's a wheat beer, it was pleasantly subtle and a slightly fruity complement to the salty star of the meal.
Here's the recipe:
1/2 pound pancetta cut into strips 1 tablespoon butter 1 clove garlic, minced 1/2 cup heavy whipping cream Splash of white wine Freshly ground pepper to taste 1 bag or carton pasta (In Season Local Market carries some wonderful linguini) 1 gallon salted water 1 egg, separated
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1. Melt butter in a large skillet and fry pancetta strips over medium heat, four or so at a time, until crisp. 2. Remove pancetta strips and set aside, keeping the fat in the pan. 3. Pour off about half of the fat into a glass jar (you can -- and should -- use it to fry eggs the next day) 4. Add garlic to remaining fat and saute until light brown. 5. Add cream, wine and pepper and bring to a simmer, stirring occasionally. 6. Reduce until thick enough to coat the back of a spoon, 15 to 20 minutes. 7. While sauce reduces, bring salted water to boil, add pasta, and cook according to directions. 8. While the pasta is boiling, rough chop the pancetta. 9. Using tongs, immediately toss the pasta, straight from the water, into the skillet with the sauce. 10. Add pancetta, saving a handful for garnish, and remove skillet from heat. 11. Add egg white and gently toss to combine, being careful not to scramble the egg white. 12. Add egg yolk and gently toss until pasta is thoroughly coated. 13. Distribute pasta evenly among four plates, garnish with pancetta and serve.