One of the treats I brought home from my recent trip to Bologna is a chunk of guanciale. Guanciale is a cured pork speciaity that so far is hardly known outside Italy, but this is beginning to change. It is made from pork jowl and roughly resembles bacon or pancetta in texture but usually is fatter. In fact they can be used interchangeably but because guanciale is a different cut of meat and because it is also seasoned with herbs the taste is markedly different.
Guanciale is the key ingredient of the traditional pasta preparations alla carbonara and all’amatriciana, and these are probably the dishes where most of it is used overall. Outside Italy guanciale is commonly replaced by bacon or pancetta, be it by lack of knowledge or by lack of availability. Those dishes, as good as they may taste, can not be called authentic because the special taste of guanciale actually defines the classic preparations.
But just like bacon, guanciale is much more versatile than to be used only for pasta. Here is a quick dish with only three basic ingredients where it is combined with asparagus and parmesan cheese.
Ingredients (serves 2, 4 as a starter):
- 500 g green asparagus
- 100 g guanciale
- 20 to 30 g freshly grated parmesan
- Olive oil (optional)
- Salt and pepper
- Preparation: 5 minutes
- Cooking: 20 minutes
Preheat the oven for grilling. Remove the bottom third of the asparagus and discard. Cut the guanciale into thin square slices of about 2 cm width. If you prefer you can also dice it or cut it into fine slithers.
In a large skillet slowly heat the guanciale until they have become tranclucent and have rendered some of their fat. The pieces should not be crisp but may begin to turn brown. Remove the guanciale and reserve, leaving the fat in the skillet.
Turn up the heat a bit and sautee the asparagus until nearly done, salting lightly at the beginning. In case there is not enough fat you can add a bit of olive oil. You can also cover the skillet with a lid to keep the asparagus juicier, but remember to turn them over from time to time.
Arrange apsaragus and guanciale in an ovenproof dish and dust with grated parmesan. I did not use very much in order to let the guanciale shine but of course you can also use more. Place under the grill for a few minutes until the cheese has just started to brown.
Dust with freshly ground black pepper before serving. You can eat it the dish as it is or serve it with fresh white bread. Recommended drink: a fruity white wine.