An indulgent pork delight
Before spring's first bright green asparagus and wispy lettuce catches your fancy, consider the out-and-out indulgence of the Penne Rigate alla "Carbonara" at O'Connell's American Bistro (981 Kenmore Ave., Kenmore, 877-8788).
This dish stands out for its unabashed, in-your-face celebration of pork -- especially its fat. The $17 entree can make two people feel like they've had enough. Guanciale is the key. Pork jowls or cheeks are cured in salt, brown sugar and spices, then hung to cure in the restaurant's former wine cellar. The locally raised heirloom breed pork, from Blossom Hill Farm, matures for more than 30 days before it's ready, said Chef Kevin O'Connell Jr.
He throws a handful of half-inch chunks into a hot pan to start the dish, rendering out some of the fat. "The cheek definitely has more fat that meat, but the fat is rendered easier," O'Connell said. "After it's rendered, it takes on this crispiness."
Meanwhile, he cooks the penne pasta and whips four egg yolks into a sauce with Parmesan cheese, cream and herbs, black pepper, shallots and sweet peas. The chunks of rendered guanciale, tossed in the egg sauce, become slightly crunchy nuggets of pure piggy richness.
O'Connell said carbonara came to mind when he thought of uses for his house-made guanciale. "We want people to ask, where do you get that?" he said. "It seems to work."
-- Andrew Z. Galarneau