If you’ve never tried the perfectly crispy little nuggets of goodness known as guanciale, you need to, STAT! Made from pig cheeks, the cured meat is often compared to pancetta – though I’d contend that this little piggy is in a league of its own. Guanciale has a sweeter, less salty flavour, and its texture, especially when cubed and sautéed, is truly melt-in-your-mouth. In this recipe, bitter radicchio cuts through that delicious richness, and breadcrumbs add a lovely crunch. You could also try it with Brussels sprouts or bitter greens, and – in a pinch – pancetta, but it’s worth going the extra mile to get your hands on some genuine sweet cheeks.
Mezzi Rigatoni with Radicchio and Guanciale
340-455g dried mezzi rigatoni
1 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
170g guanciale or pancetta, cut into 6mm cubes
6 cloves garlic, chopped
½ tsp Aleppo pepper, plus more for serving
1 head radicchio, quartered, cored, and cut into 12mm strips
50g grated pecorino Romano cheese, plus more for serving
2 lemons, 1 zested, both juiced
salt and freshly cracked pepper
toasted breadcrumbs (see recipe below), for serving
1 small handful fresh parsley, roughly chopped for serving
Bring a large pot of salted water to a rapid boil over medium-high heat. Add the rigatoni and cook according to the package directions, until al dente. Reserve 240ml of the cooking water, then drain the pasta.
While the pasta is cooking, heat the oil in a large pan over medium heat. Add the guanciale and cook until golden brown and crisp on all sides, 4 to 5 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the guanciale to a kitchen towel-lined plate.
Pour off all but 3-4 tbsp of fat from the pan. Add the garlic and Aleppo pepper and cook until the garlic is light golden, about 1 minute. Add the radicchio and cook just until it begins to wilt, about 2 minutes.
Toss the pasta and cheese together with the radicchio mixture in the pan over very low heat. Add the reserved cooking water, 60ml at a time, as needed, to make a light sauce. Stir in the lemon juice and guanciale and drizzle with a bit of oil to finish. Check your seasoning. Transfer the pasta to a bowl and garnish with the breadcrumbs, lemon zest, parsley, pecorino, Aleppo pepper, and a few grinds of freshly cracked black pepper.
These crunchy nuggets add texture to everything from pasta to salads.
½ day-old baguette, cut into 6mm cubes
3-4 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
pinch kosher salt
Preheat the oven to 175°C/gas mark 4. In a food processor, pulse the bread until coarse crumbs form. Spread the breadcrumbs on a baking sheet and toss with the oil and salt until evenly coated. Toast the crumbs until golden brown, tossing occasionally, 15-20 minutes. Once the breadcrumbs have cooled completely, they can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for 2 weeks.
Extracted from Cook Beautiful by Athena Calderone (Abrams, approx €28). Photography © 2017 Johnny Miller.
For more recipes from Athena Calderone’s Cook Beautiful, pick up the November issue of IMAGE, out now.