Saturday, August 25, 2007

The Unpasta

If your somewhat like me, and I’m guessing some people are since I actually get some hits on this page ;), then you connect with people through food. It becomes a communication tool which can span over language barriers or cultural and religious beliefs like when I had fried chicken feet and fermented pal juice with locals of a small town in Lombok Indonesia. But in contrast to those macro level benefits, of the collective and unspoken bonding qualities of food, it also works on a much more personal level. Basically I want to connect to you through food, it is something I love passionately, and I want to share that experience with people I love/admire/respect…I should however stop my rant on my views on food and get to the recipe that has come out of one of these encounters.

If you haven’t guessed, you will undoubtedly find out, … I love pasta…and how can you not, it’s such a versatile and tasty food of the gods. Well, up until about two years ago I would have answered that NO you can not deny the awesomeness that is well made and properly cooked pasta, but now I know better. If your allergic to gluten you have no choice but to say no thank you when offered. Yes I know there are gluten free product out there that claim to be pasta, I however would regard them as something else (actually I haven’t tasted them so I can’t comment on taste), and below I humbly offer my entry into the unpasta category. This recipe has been dormant in the back of my head for maybe a year now and was inspired by the obstacle of not being able to cook my signature dishes (most of them pastas) for a very deer friend.

Parsnips (two or three per person depending on size)
Pancetta or bacon (the air dried qualities of pancetta is preferred but both work great)
Fresh rosemary
Cream (or half and half)
Fresh parsley

Start by cutting pancetta or slab bacon into any size you want but keep in mind that our objective with this wonderful piece of charcuterie is for it to go really crisp and render out its fat (lardoons are supposedly the cut for this but sine my pork belly was precut in slabs and I was feeling lazy I just cut them in inch long pieces. Another side note to this is to try to use a poke product which haven’t been pumped with lots of water since this is bad for the crispiness.). Put in a skillet (preferably cast iron ) and at a water to just cover the bottom of the pan and set it over medium heat. The water will let the pork render its fat and the medium heat will slowly crisp it up without burning it.

While the pork is doing its thing go find a garlic clove per person. Smash them lightly to open them up from their peel a bit and add them to the rendering fat in the pan and let it roast while you continue with the rest of the ingredients.

Delicately peel your parsnips or scrub them clean. In any case you want your peeler handy for this. What you want to bee doing is creating thin strips of parsnip on your cutting board. The width and length of the strips aren’t super important, but think of a thin tagliatelle for optimum consistency and ability to grab the sauce. Also make sure to only use the “outer flesh“ since the inner “core“ can get really woody and that wont work well in this recipe. When this is done remove the fresh rosemary from the stem.

By now the water should have disappeared from your pa and everything should be browning nicely. Keep an eye on the garlic so it doesn’t burn, but since its still in its skin this is unlikely. When the pancetta is crispy take it out of the pan and put it on some sort of mesh to drain and crisp up even more (paper towels aren’t ideal because it holds the fat right next to the thing you want drain from fat, however dabbing particularly fatty pools does help, at least psychologically).

The garlic should also be removed at this point, and you should be left with wonderfully garlic scented pork fat mmm good. Ok you’ll be left with way to much pork fat so drain most of it away but you do want to keep as much as you dare keep in the pan because that’s major flavor your taking from the pan (and hopefully putting into a suitable container to store in fridge for later use).

The garlic should be all mushy and sticky with all the sharpness of raw garlic gone and replaced by wonderfully earthy tones. Remove the peels since these aren’t tasty at all and mush up the sticky stuff into a garlic paste.

Put the rosemary into the pan and watch it fry up nice and crispy in just a little while, but be careful not to burn it. Once it has reached a stage of your liking grab your cutting-board, which should contain your parsnip tagliatelle and the garlic mush, and dump it into the pan. Be attentive since both the garlic and the parsnip contains plenty of sugars that burn easily. You do not want your unpasta to become hard fried strips, you basically want to start wilting it. Since both the heat of your pan and the size of your strips matter here I cant tell you how long you can do this, but as soon as you see browning you want to hit the pan with the cream (half and half) and watch it bubble, thicken, coat and cook the parsnip. This is also the time to add other vegetables to your dish.(I used zucchini).Once again I cant give you a time, but just taste the strips until they are done to your liking (also correctively season, but odds are you wont bee needing any salt since the brine of your pancetta or bacon will see to that, some freshly ground pepper is always nice though), you can always add more liquid if the pan gets to sticky.

To finish the dish of cut some parsley for a little fresh note and color as well as crumble up the bacon for that salty crunch. Plate and enjoy.

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