Tonnarelli con la Belga e la Pancetta Affumicata

Tonnarelli with Belgian Endive and Bacon

Among many other culinary treasures, Treviso is celebrated for its radicchio. It does not look like the round heads of red radicchio Americans have been becoming familiar with, although it is also a part of the same large chicory family. Radicchio di Treviso has the elongated shape of romaine but is considerably more slender, and its leaves are a purplish red with white striations. It comes into season very late in the fall, and it is used more in cooking than raw in salads. Combined with smoked pancetta—which in the Veneto is more prevalent than the unsmoked kind—it makes one of the great pasta sauces.

To duplicate the sauce, I looked for a substitute for radicchio di Treviso, which, at least at the moment I am writing this, is still too rare in America, and, when available, too costly to consider for a sauce wherein it goes in such quantity. Belgian endive, another member of the chicory family, turned out to be a perfect replacement for both its flavor and cooking qualities. As for smoked pancetta, good-quality bacon is a nearly exact equivalent.

You may find the amount of endive you have to cook startling. Do not be alarmed. It has to cook down to a fraction of its volume until it is so soft it almost dissolves so that later it will cling on the pasta.

I like the flavor of egg pasta in this dish, and I have chosen tonnarelli in particular because their extra firmness makes such an agreeable connection with the creamy endive sauce. But you needn’t limit yourself to homemade pasta. Spaghetti, fusilli, or rigatoni will also work out well.

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Ingredients

  • 1½ to 2 pounds Belgian endive
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • ½ pound prime-quality bacon, cut into ¼-inch-wide strips
  • Salt
  • Black pepper in a grinder
  • ½ cup heavy cream
  • Tonnarelli made with 3 large eggs and cups flour (preferably hard-wheat flour), as described
  • ½ cup freshly grated parmigiano-reggiano (Parmesan)

Method

  1. Slice off just the bruised or discolored portion of the bottom of the endive root and discard it. Cut the endive lengthwise in strips ¼ to ½ inch wide, leaving them attached to the root end.
  2. Put the butter and bacon in a medium-size sauté pan and turn on the heat to medium. Cook the bacon until it becomes deeply colored, but not crisp.
  3. Add all the endive, turn it over once or twice, then cover the pan and turn the heat down to low. Cook, turning the endive over from time to time, for at least 15 minutes, or until the endive is tender, almost creamy in consistency.
  4. Uncover the pan and turn up the heat to medium high. If there is liquid in the pan, boil it away, stirring the endive steadily, making sure it does not brown. Add salt and liberal grindings of pepper, stir, and add the cream. Cook until the cream has been reduced by half, then remove from the heat.
  5. Drop the pasta into a pot of abundant boiling salted water. Cook until it is tender but still firm to the bite. Drain and toss at once with the sauce from the pan. Add the grated cheese, toss again, and serve immediately.

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