Those of you that made a new year’s resolution to eat less fat should probably skip right past this post and go look at a nice healthy salad. You’ve been warned 😉
After making my Pasta Amatriciana I had a fair bit of guanciale left. I’d originally set it aside to make a more authentic pasta carbonara, but when I get a crazy idea in my head, it’s like having a song glued inside your brain until you listen to it. Such was the case as I stood beside my chef’s table eating a reheated portion of Amatriciana.
I had my microplane out for shaving some more pecorino on top, and as I glanced over at my fruit bowl brimming with Satsuma Mandarins a light bulb went off in my head. Guanciale (or at least my guanciale) had a distinct bergamot flavor, so I merrily zested a mandarin onto my plate and much to my delight, my microwaved lunch came alive before my nose.
I was happy about this new discovery and vowed to update my Amatriciana post, but what really intrigued me was all the other possibilities I hadn’t considered… What other flavors would pair with Guanciale? How else could Guanciale be prepared?
I sliced off a slab of Guanciale, gave it a quick fry and sat down with a glass of Pinot Gris. What other flavors could I divine from the tangle of complex aromas in this cured pork cheek? Was that some fennel I tasted? I popped open a tin of fennel pollen and sure enough, there was a distinct resemblance. Another bite, and a rummage through my pantry, revealed notes of juniper. And here’s the odd one, I could definitely make out the piney citrus notes of sichuan peppercorn in my guanciale.
Had my tastebuds gone mad? Surely the unshaven gentleman in the hills of Lazio wasn’t rubbing oranges and Sichuan pepper on my guanciale? In all likelihood not, but much like the bouquet of aromas that manifest themselves in wine, other cured and prepared foods develop complexities not originally apparent in the initial ingredients.
In any case, I decided to run with it and this sugo made from caramelized onions and fennel braised with Satsuma Mandarins, juniper berries and sichuan pepper corns is the the result. It’s packed with an obscene amount of flavor and while it tastes very classic, you’d be hard pressed to place it geographically.
For me, this is what I love about cooking food without rules. Ingredients know no boundaries other than those we impose upon them. By casting aside those constructs for a moment you’re free to create a dish that may be entirely new.
Guanciale & Mandarin Sugo
makes 4 servings
10 once piece of Guanciale
1 large onion, sliced thin
1 medium fennel bulb, sliced thin
1/2 cup dry white wine
4 medium satsuma mandarins, unpeeled and torn into chunks
1 tablespoon honey
1 teaspoon juniper berries
1/4 teaspoon sichuan pepper
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
12 ounces fusilli, cooked according to package directions
Preheat the oven to 250 degrees F.
Put the Guanciale into a medium sized dutch oven and put over medium high heat, allowing some fat to render out then frying until browned on both sides. Transfer the Guanciale to a plate and add the onions and fennel.
Cover and cook over medium heat for 10 minutes until the onions and fennel are wilted. Remove the lid and and fry the onions and fennel, stirring regularly until very caramelized (about 45 more minutes). As the water content reduces, you may need to turn the heat down to keep the onions from burning before they fully caramelize.
Add the wine, mandarins, honey, juniper berries, sichuan pepper and black pepper. Stir to combine, mashing up the mandarins a bit. Bring to a boil, cover and put it in the oven. Braise for about 2 1/2-3 hours or until the Guanciale is tender.
When your sugo is done, transfer the guanciale to a cutting board and cut it up into 1/4″ pieces and add it back to the sauce. Use a paddle to mash up the mandarin a bit and mix with the Guanciale. Boil the pasta according to the package directions making sure to cook it on the al dente side. Reserve about 1 cup of pasta liquid then drain the pasta. Transfer the pasta back into the empty pot then add the sugo. Drizzle in some of the pasta liquid while stirring until the sauce is a nice consistency and coats the fusilli (you probably won’t need all the water).
Plate the pasta and sprinkle a pinch of fennel pollen on top.