Weekly Winner: Pancetta-Pasta-Pecorino Perfection

pancetpastaI am well aware of the fact that I have been sorely lacking in the posting department lately, and I apologize for that.  Life has indeed gotten in the way.  The good news with all that is that I now have quite a backlog of recipes to feature!  Hopefully that means November will be chock-full of tastiness.

I will start with this 5-ingredient winner of a pasta dish.  Yep, that’s right — only FIVE make this amazing dish.  How is this possible you ask?  Well, two out of the five ingredients are absolute powerhouses of flavor:  Pancetta and Pecorino Romano.  You don’t need much else if you’re starting with those two!

Pasta Alla Gricia or Rigatoni with Pancetta and Pecorino Romano apparently comes from Rome.  This particular recipe for the dish; however, comes from Cook’s Illustrated.

Five ingredients and 30 minutes, people — there really is no excuse for not making this.

Pasta Alla Gricia (Rigatoni with Pancetta and Pecorino Romano)


8 ounces pancetta, sliced 1/4 inch thick

1 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil

1 pound rigatoni

1 tsp coarsely ground pepper, plus extra for serving

2 oz Pecorino Romano cheese, grated fine (1 cup), plus extra for serving.


  1. Slice each round of pancetta into rectangular pieces that measure about 1/2 inch by 1 inch.
  2. Heat pancetta and oil in large Dutch oven over medium-low heat, stirring frequently, until fat is rendered and pancetta is deep golden brown but still has slight pinkish hue, 8 to 10 minutes, adjusting heat as necessary to keep pancetta from browning too quickly.  Using slotted spoon, transfer pancetta to bowl; set aside.  Pour fat from pot into liquid measuring cup (you should have 1/4 to 1/3 cup fat; discard any extra). Return fat to Dutch oven.
  3. While pancetta cooks, set colander in large bowl..  Bring 2 quarts water to a boil in large pot.  Add pasta and cook, stirring often, until al dente.  Drain pasta in prepared colander, reserving cooking water.
  4. Add pepper and 2 cups reserved cooking water to Dutch oven with fat and bring to boil over high heat.  Boil mixture rapidly, scraping up any browned bits, until emulsified and reduced to 1-1/2 cups, about 5 minutes.  (If you’ve reduced it too far, add more reserved cooking water to equal 1-1/2 cups)
  5. Reduce heat to low, add pasta and pancetta, and stir to evenly coat.  Add Pecorino and stir until cheese is melted and sauce is slightly thickened, about 1 minute.  Of heat, adjust sauce consistency with remaining reserved cooking water as needed.  Transfer pasta to platter and serve immediately, passing extra pepper and extra Pecorino separately.

Weekly Winner:  Pasta Fagioli?  Basta! — this soup is better!

Is there such a thing as finding salvation in a bowl of soup?  I believe there is.  When it comes time to “lighten up” by eating better and undoing all the damage that the holidays caused, I truly think soup is the way to go.  First of all it is liquid and takes longer to eat than, say a sandwich.  Also it’s hot which slows you down a bit as well. But there is also something deeply satisfying about a steaming bowl of soup.  It truly feeds your soul as well as your appetite.

Having said all that, I am generally more of a fan of puréed and creamy soups than those that are chunky and broth-based.  That is possibly, until now.  This soup is a game changer.

So, what makes Italian Chickpea Soup soup so fabulous?  I mean it is basically Pasta Fagioli but instead of beans it has chickpeas.  I think a few things that makes this so fabulous is that a portion of the soup is puréed adding body and richness to the broth.  Secondly, there’s a nice balance of heat in this soup.  Just enough to wake up your taste buds without blowing your head off.  Finally (and perhaps most importantly) is the generous sprinkling of crisped pancetta that is sprinkled over the top.    This is a healthy, fulfilling, and darn tasty soup and the recipe comes from Cuisine at Home.

Italian Chickpea Soup

Serves 6


1 cup dry ditalini pasta

3 oz. pancetta, diced

2 Tbsp olive oil

1-1/2 cups diced onions

1/2 cup each diced carrot and celery

2 Tbsp tomato paste

1 Tbsp each minced fresh garlic, rosemary, and sage

1 tsp anchovy paste

1/2 tsp red pepper flakes

1/2 cup dry white wine

3 cups chicken broth

2 cans chickpeas (15 oz each) drained and rinsed

1 can diced tomatoes in juice (28 oz)

Salt and pepper to taste

Grated Parmesan


  1. Cook pasta in a large pot of boiling salted water according to package directions; drain, reserving 1 cup pasta water.
  2. Cook pancetta in oil in a large pot over medium heat until crisp, then transfer to a paper-towel-lined plate; reserve 2 Tbsp drippings.
  3. Sweat onions, carrot, and celery in drippings in same pot, covered, over medium heat until vegetables soften, 5-8 minutes.
  4. Stir in tomato paste, garlic, rosemary, sage, anchovy paste, and pepper flakes; cook until fragrant, 1 minute.
  5. Deglaze pot with wine, scraping up any brown bits.  Cook until wine nearly evaporates, 3-5 minutes.
  6. Add broth, chickpeas, tomatoes, and pasta water.  Bring soup to a boil; reduce heat to medium-low, and simmer 15 minutes.
  7. Transfer 2 cups soup to a food processor or blender; carefully purée and return to pot.
  8. Stir pasta into soup, cook until warmed through, 3-5 minutes.  Season soup with salt and black pepper; top servings with Parmesan and pancetta.

Weekly Winner:  Reclaiming Control with Kasha and Kale

It has been a banner holiday season food-wise around here. Dinners out with friends, house guests, bowl games, celebrations large and small.  All of these had several things in common:  bountiful tables of gloriously indulgent food and copious amounts of festive drinks.  I am a firm believer that the holidays call for an extra dab of decadence which I am guilty of adding to what I cooked as well as accepting in what others offered.  I’m not complaining … or at least I wasn’t, until the holidays were over and I ever-so-cautiously stepped on the scale.  Ouch.  Yeah, OK, I sort of saw that coming.

I’m fortunate in that, unlike most people who dread going back to the “daily grind” when the holidays are over, I not only welcome it, I crave it.  Enough is enough and it’s time to get down to the business of working out again and eating reasonably.  Which is exactly why I made this for dinner last night:  Kasha with Kale and Pancetta.  I don’t believe I had ever eaten Kasha before last night and I know I’d never made it.  It’s very similar to Farro which I dearly love.  It’s easy to prepare and it is super satisfying.  This is not a dish that will blow you away with spectacular flavors.  This is a subtle, sumptuous and soul-satisfying bowl of comfort.  All of that is just what the doctor ordered around here. The recipe comes from Sunset Magazine, which is appropriate, because the sun has definitely set on the holiday eating frenzy.

Kasha with Kale and Pancetta

Serves 4


2 cups reduced-sodium chicken broth or vegetable broth

About 3/4 tsp kosher salt, divided

3 to 4 Tbsp olive oil, divided

1 cup kasha (roasted buckwheat)

3 oz diced pancetta

1 large bunch Tuscan or curly kale, stemmed and leaves sliced 1/2 inch thick

1/4 tsp red chile flakes

1 Tbsp lemon zest, plus lemon wedges

1/4 tsp pepper

Poached eggs (optional)


1. Bring broth, 1/2 tsp. salt, and 1 tbsp. oil to a boil in a small saucepan. Add kasha. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer until liquid is absorbed, 10 to 15 minutes. Let stand 5 minutes, then fluff with a fork.
2. Meanwhile, sauté pancetta in a 12-in. frying pan over medium heat until golden brown and starting to crisp, 5 to 6 minutes. Transfer with a slotted spoon from the pan to a small plate.
3. Add kale and chile flakes to fat in pan. Cook, stirring often, until kale starts to soften and turn bright green, about 2 minutes. Add lemon zest, 1/4 tsp. salt, the pepper, and a splash of water if pan starts to get dry; cook a couple of minutes more. Stir in kasha mixture and 2 to 3 tbsp. more oil to moisten.
4. Serve warm or at room temperature, with an egg on each serving if you like, and lemon wedges on the side.

Weekly Winner: Taking Pot Roast Up a Notch

We have had a beautiful summer here in Chicago, but as always, I’m ready for fall. No matter what, the first breeze of slightly cooler air and I’m craving heartier food — big vats of stewed, braised, lovingly tended hunks of meat with tasty, savory sides. So for this Sunday’s supper — it was time to elevate the pot roast.

IMG_0568.JPGI got this recipe from Cuisine at Home magazine, and while the recipe (as they usually are) was flawless, there was one thing that troubled me.  What to do with the pancetta once you rendered the fat from it to sear the beef in?  I even had my husband read through the recipe.  “They don’t mean for me to NOT use the pancetta, do they?”  “That’s crazy”!  I solved the problem by adding it to the roasted Brussels Sprouts we had with it.  Et Voila, crisis averted.

Pancetta conundrum aside, this recipe solves the problem of the typically “one note” pot roast recipe.  I find that more times than not, most pot roast tastes like, well…. meat.  And only meat.  Not that that’s all bad, but it can get a tad boring.  This roast has great depth from the dried porcini and red wine, and a nice zippy zing from the balsamic — a LOT of balsamic.  Here’s the recipe and as good as it was on Sunday night — Monday’s version was even better — pot roast tacos! (No seriously, they were incredible!)

Balsamic Braised Beef

Serves 6


4 oz pancetta, diced

1 bone-in beef chuck roast (5 lbs) trimmed and seasoned with salt and pepper

2 cups chopped onions

1 cup chopped celery

5 garlic cloves, smashed

1 Tbsp. mustard seeds

2 Tbsp tomato paste

1/2 cup dry red wine

1-1/2 cups balsamic vinegar

2 dried bay leaves

3 sprigs fresh rosemary, divided

2 Tbsp honey

1/2 oz dried porcini mushrooms

1 tsp unsalted butter, softened

1 tsp all-purpose flour


Cook pancetta in a large saute pan over medium-low heat until crisp, 20 minutes; transfer to a paper-towel-lined plate and reserve drippings.

Sear roast in drippings in sam pan over medium-high heat until browned on all sides, 15 minutes; transfer to a 7 to 8-quart slow cooker.

Saute onions, carrots, celery, garlic and mustard seeds in same pan until liquid starts to release, 1-2 minutes.  Stir in tomato paste and cook until it begins to caramelize, 2-3 minutes.

Deglaze pan with wine, scraping up any brown bits.  Cook mixture until wine nearly evaporates, 2 minutes, transfer to slow cooker.

Add vinegar, bay leaves, 2 sprigs rosemary, honey, and mushrooms to slow cooker.  Cover slow cooker and cook roast until fork-tender on high setting, about 5 hours.

Transfer roast to a cutting board and break into pieces using two forks; discard any excess fat.  Strain braising liquid through a fine-mesh sieve; discard solids.  skim any fat from surface of liquid and discard. Transfer liquid to a saucepan with remaining rosemary sprig over medium heat.  Bring liquid to a simmer and reduce to 1-1/4 cups; discard rosemary.

Combine butter and flour, then whisk into reduced liquid.  Simmer sauce until thickened, 2 minutes; season with salt and pepper.

Weekly Winner: The I-Can’t-Believe-There’s-No-Dairy Carbonara

faux carbonaraPasta Carbonara is one of my all time favorite dishes in the world.  Oooey, Goooey pasta tossed with eggs, cheese, sometimes some cream.  What’s not to like?  Well, OK, the calories, the fat content, etc… but you gotta admit, it’s awfully tasty!

So when I saw this recipe for “Carbonara” in Bon Appetit, let’s just say I was skeptical at best.  But the picture sure was pretty.  And I do like butternut squash.  And it kept the pancetta.  So why not take it for a spin.

It was amazing!!  Rich beyond comprehension considering the ingredients.  Luscious, creamy, (creamy!! how can it be creamy??) and totally satisfying.  I immediately sent the recipe to my good friend whose husband can’t eat dairy and said “You must try this”!  Seriously, even if you are a dairy fiend like me you won’t miss it.  It is a guilt-free version of a very guilt-laden favorite.

Winter Squash Carbonara with Pancetta and Sage

Serves 4


  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 4 ounces pancetta (Italian bacon), chopped
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh sage
  • 1 2-pound kabocha or butternut squash, peeled, seeded, cut into 1/2″ pieces (about 3 cups)
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, chopped
  • Kosher salt, freshly ground pepper
  • 2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
  • 12 ounces fettuccine or linguine
  • 1/4 cup finely grated Pecorino, plus shaved for serving


Heat oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add pancetta, reduce heat to medium, and cook, stirring occasionally, until crisp, 8–10 minutes. Add sage and toss to coat. Using a slotted spoon, transfer pancetta and sage to a small bowl; set aside.

Add squash, onion, and garlic to skillet; season with salt and pepper and cook, stirring occasionally, until onion is translucent, 8–10 minutes. Add broth. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer until squash is soft and liquid is reduced by half, 15–20 minutes. Let cool slightly, then purée in a blender until smooth; season with salt and pepper. Reserve skillet.

Cook pasta in a large pot of boiling salted water, stirring occasionally, until al dente. Drain, reserving 1 cup pasta cooking liquid.

Combine pasta, squash purée, and 1/4 cup pasta cooking liquid in reserved skillet and cook over medium heat, tossing and adding more pasta cooking liquid as needed, until sauce coats pasta, about 2 minutes. Mix in 1/4 cup Pecorino; season with salt and pepper.

Serve pasta topped with reserved pancetta and sage, shaved Pecorino, and more pepper.