Thursday, March 22, 2012

A trip to Philly's Italian Market and Pasta Carbonara

On my latest visit to see Tricia, we decided to drive down into Philadelphia for the day. Our exact destination was the city's famous Italian Market on 9th street. This would be our first time visiting this South Philly market, and we were excited to see what the hype was all about. Unlike Reading Terminal Market, the Italian Market was not surrounded by parking lots and garages, and we were forced to circle the bustling scene until we found a spot on the street to parallel in.

9th street itself was lined with food shops and cafes, and in front of these on the sidewalk were fresh vegetable stands. The open air produce looked wonderful, and the prices were unbeatable (e.g. 3 pints of heirloom grape tomatoes for $1!). As we proceeded through the market, we visited several stores selling oils, spices, and meats. But the first store that really got us excited was di Bruno Bros. Walking in, the store was already packed with people, and the displays of meats and cheeses were almost overwhelming!

Di Bruno Bros. functions like a real old-world store. To help guide you through the meats and cheeses, you get personalized service from the guys behind the counter. They offered us excellent advice (and lots of free samples!). We were helped by both Adam and Ricardo, and we ended up with some sinfully rich duck prosciutto, buffalo-milk brie, and a peppered Italian salami. And as we were picking out all of these delicious goods, the idea dawned on us to skip the restaurant search for the night and make some real Italian food with wonderful ingredients from the market. With quick thinking, we decided on making carbonara. So before we left di Druno's, we also picked out some beautiful Parmesan cheese and guanciale - an Italian jowl bacon (more on that later). 

Before heading home, we thought to pick up some other essentials, including fresh cut pasta. I have to admit, that I'd never actually worked with fresh pasta, instead always using dried! We found a small shop that sold pastas cut to order in Talluto's Pasta & Cheese, just a block or so away from di Bruno's. We ordered a pound of linguine, and set off again.

Now with pasta, cheese, and meat in hand, we just had to pick up some fresh vegetables to make a nice meal. The open air market offered plenty of possibilities, and the first thing we picked up were the aforementioned heirloom grape tomatoes. We also picked up some asparagus and fresh chives. It looked like were finally ready to make our meal, so we departed the Italian Market, having had a wonderful day.

Italian food is a favorite for many. It's based on simplicity and emphasizing good ingredients. Our trip to Philly had given us those ingredients, so it was now up to us to make a great meal. We selected carbonara, because it's actually my favorite type of pasta. It's cheesy and rich, almost like an Italian version of mac & cheese. For those that don't know, carbonara "sauce" is very simple, consisting mainly of eggs and Parmesan. It is usually made with some sort of pork - bacon or pancetta. I had been lucky enough, however, to find guanciale, which is the type of meat classically used in Italy for carbonara. Guanciale is a cured pork made from the jowls or cheeks. It is not smoked, but it is flavored with pepper and fennel, and it has a much stronger taste than pancetta.

Below you can see my detailed recipe:

- 1 lb. pasta (linguine or angel hair)
- 1/2 lb. guanciale (pancetta or bacon can be substituted), diced
- 5 egg yolks (beaten lightly) + 1 egg white
- 1 cup Parmesan cheese, grated
- 6 cloves garlic, minced
- chives, chopped for garnish

Start with the guanciale or pork:

Dice this into cubes and put into a large skillet or dutch oven on medium heat to begin to render out the fat.

You want to slowly render the fat (there will be a lot) over about 15-20 minutes, moving around the pan occasioinally.

While the pork is cooking, you can begin to prepare the rest of the dish. Boil the pasta according to package directions. For fresh pasta, 2-3 minutes of cooking in heavily salted water is sufficient, so you can wait until the pork is about halfway done to start.

When the pasta is almost done, take out a coffee cup worth of the salty starchy water and set aside. Drain the pasta and set aside. When the pork fat is completely rendered, turn the heat up a bit to crisp up the guanciale. After 2 minutes, add the garlic and fry until fragrant. Next pour in the pasta water. Let it reduce for 30 seconds to one minute (this will help your sauce to adhere to the pasta), and then add the cooked pasta. The pan will be very hot and steaming, so be careful! Toss the pasta with the pork and garlic until well mixed. Add the cheese, toss quickly and remove from the heat. Finally, add the egg yolks and egg white in and keep tossing. You have to be fast here to prevent the eggs from cooking. Toss until the pasta is well coated and creamy. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Garnish with chives and serve!

We enjoyed the carbonara with roasted asparagus and tomatoes. A simple Italian meal at home - well worth the trip for ingredients in Philadelphia!

1 comment:

  1. This meal was absolutely perfect. Bacon and prosciutto not even close!