Suckling Pig Carbonara

D. and I are keeping our promise to our little suckling pig to make it delicious, and not to waste a bit. Earlier this week we were craving pasta carbonara, and I thought, what better way to put our suckling pig pancetta to use?  Not only was it super easy, we were able to make our meal in less time than it would have taken to order take out from the Italian restaurant down the street!

There was enough fat in the pancetta so even frozen I was able to dice up what I needed, and return the rest to the freezer.  As I gently sauteed the pancetta with garlic and olive oil, D. got the spaghetti cooking. Then we tossed the boiling hot spaghetti with the pancetta and finished it with beaten egg, parmesan cheese, and fresh chopped parsley. It was my first time making carbonara so I have to admit the spaghetti was a little too hot and curdled the egg, but adding a little pasta water helped to loosen it and coat the pasta better.  I’ll know better for next time – either wait a bit for the spaghetti to cool or temper the egg with some of the pasta water before mixing it in.

The flavor was all there though – creamy and eggy, with little bits of salty herbed pancetta and parmesan, balanced by the fresh crisp parsley.  The suckling pig pancetta was so tender we barely had to cook it. One pound of spaghetti made enough for four servings. Many thanks to my sister for giving us these great Glasslock containers for Christmas. The next day, we just took the lid off the container, popped the whole thing in the oven to reheat and enjoyed it just as much as the day before.

Related Post:  Smallest Boxing Day Ham

Brunch Menu Teasers

Italians don’t eat brunch.  At least not that I could tell.  I traveled northern Italy for over two weeks in 2012.  For our morning meals we drank espresso and ate bread, charcuterie, cheese, and sometimes some fruit. But from Venice to the Ligurian coast, I never saw a poached egg, anywhere.

So when a friend told me his new boss was looking for a chef to “do brunch” for her Italian restaurant, I was intrigued. He was a server where I cooked 200-300 cover brunches, and made everything from house smoked meats and fish, to freshly baked biscuits, and house made granola.  “I want that,” she said.  We met earlier this week, and for her brunch I thought it made more sense to create an Italian inspired brunch using ingredients already on their menu instead of adding a lot of special items to their inventory. So I spent the day testing out some ideas.

New Yorkers love brunch and they have a lot of options. Every neighborhood diner has some version of a “diet plate” on their menu. It is usually a scoop of cottage cheese, and a few chunks of honeydew and cantaloupe.  To set the restaurant apart, I am putting a Winter Fruit and Ricotta plate on the menu. To keep it seasonal, we are using bananas, pineapples, apples, citrus, and grapes, and creamy fresh ricotta cheese takes the place of the cottage cheese.  A drizzle of citrus honey syrup brings out the sweetness of the fruit, and a sprinkle of toasted almonds adds a little salty crunch.

We are going to keep their Three Color Salad of arugula, endive, and radicchio.  To that I am adding a heartier chopped Kale Salad using thinly sliced brussels sprouts, radishes, pancetta, and hazelnuts.  I imagine a poached egg would be a nice add-on option.

Those of you who know me know how much I love poached eggs and swine, right? And what kind of brunch would it be if there weren’t some variation of Eggs Benedict?  The restaurant bakes fresh focaccia daily, so I will be using that as the base.  Instead of hollandaise I tried making a creamy spinach and roasted garlic sauce.  It was perfect spread on toasted focaccia before topping with thinly sliced prosciutto and two pristine poached eggs.  

Sorry omelet lovers, but I am getting rid of them in favor of a frittata.  It is an Italian restaurant after all, and they already have broccoli rabe, slow roasted tomatoes, and goat cheese on hand.

Tomorrow I tackle French Toast, Sausage and Polenta, and a Burger.  I prefer an Italian Beef Sandwich, but I guess no brunch menu in New York can really be complete without a burger.

Oh, and I made the mistake of testing all these plates alone at home.  I ate the fruit and ricotta for breakfast, and kale salad for lunch, then after that I couldn’t eat any more.  I tasted everything of course, but now have a fridge full of leftovers.  Any volunteer tasters out there?

For Fun: I tried making wine poached eggs today instead of using vinegar and water. It turns out that white wine has the perfect level of acidity to cause the whites to coagulate and makes perfect beautiful eggs.  But at $10 for even a cheap bottle of wine, there was not enough improvement in flavor to make it worth it.  Maybe we’ll use red wine poached eggs for Valentine’s Day.

First Look

Well here she is, my new home away from home.  One fryer, a flat top grill, an open flame grill, a six burner range and oven, and a salamander to serve a 50-seat restaurant.  That’s all folks.  Yesterday I brought my sous chefs over for a meet ‘n’ greet with the owner.  We went over the menus for brunch, lunch, dinner, and mid-day, and I showed them the kitchen.  They seemed really excited, and a picture started to come together of how we would staff and execute the menu.

We didn’t use a flat top at my last restaurant.  Instead we had sixteen burners, three ovens, two fryers and a grill.  We sauteed everything in pans and finished roasting them in the oven.  Cooking in saute pans offers a degree of control you can’t get on a flat top grill.  Still, the flat top does open us up to different possibilities, especially for brunch.  And as long as the dishwasher isn’t busy scrubbing pans, he can jump in and help the cooks.  It became clear to us that we were going to have to get a little more creative about designing and executing our menu.  Now the big question is how we are going to produce a high quality restaurant menu in a kitchen currently set up for short order cooking…

Smallest Boxing Day Ham

When my rep from D’Artagnan texted me to ask if I wanted a suckling pig, how could I say no? Normally they are special order, but he had a cancellation and neither of us wanted it to go to waste.  So having never worked with suckling pig, I took a 25 pounder home to experiment.

Confronted with its cute little face and curly tail, D. and I did experience some pangs of guilt, but took some solace in knowing that at least our pig had been humanely raised and slaughtered.  We promised to honor the animal by using it to make the most delicious food we could, and that we would not waste an ounce.  We then proceeded to carefully break it down into hams, bellies, shoulder, loins, trotters, and yes, head.

I immediately put one of the hams into a brine of salt, sugar and herbs, and salted the bellies to make pancetta.  The rest were vacuum sealed and stored in the freezer.

This morning we roasted the ham.  It was so small, it only took one hour!  During the last few minutes of roasting we brushed the ham with a mixture of dijon mustard, honey, and black pepper and blasted the oven to crisp the skin a bit.

As ham rested, I baked some cheese biscuits and poached a few eggs.  Meanwhile, D. was kind enough to mix us a couple Old Fashions that paired perfectly with our lovely boxing day brunch.

%d bloggers like this: