Thanksgiving and Christmas are times to celebrate but they can also be used to innovate in the kitchen. I am happy to be constrained by “traditional” ingredients as long as I am free to choose what to do with them.
The reason for scare quotes: traditional = old bad habit, constraint and enemy of innovation; I have little time for it.
I came up with this dish for a Thanksgiving dinner in Atlanta a couple of years ago. We had sent our guests a wide list of ingredients and asked them to choose the flavours that they most associated with Thanksgiving, celebration and autumn/fall. This dish, one of many small courses that we served, was a result of their choices.
I had wanted to do something with sweet potato that showed it in a different light. The dish is equally good with sweet potato or squash, but look for a Potimarron or Hokkaido squash, they are less moist which is essential.
I have or thought I had a 'Zucca piena di Napoli' squash growing, a rare Italian variety with a beautiful blue-ish green hue. While I was away last week it turned a pale tan colour because it is actually butternut squash. No complaints butternut has an excellent flavour and is particularly good in risotto and soup.
I let the squash, the whopper pictured below which weighed 2.2kg (almost 5lbs), mature a day or two more on the vine and then let it sit for a couple of days once cut to allow it to dry a little. This concentrates the flavour.
Any firm autumn\winter squash will work. I am looking forward to experimenting with some of the varieties that we have planted in the kitchen garden; let's hope they don't all turn out to be butternut.
A favourite here in Misse, Porchetta is a rich dish and a little goes a long way.
Porchetta is a classic Italian pork roast. It has been recognised with a 'prodotto agroalimentare tradizionale' (traditional agricultural-alimentary product).
The original is made with a whole small pig, which has been gutted, de-boned, stuffed with herbs, garlic and wild fennel then spit roasted. It is commonly seen in this form in Butcher's shops and is bought by the slice. It can be eaten warm or cold.
We have been growing artichokes in the garden, but I mistakenly planted a globe variety. I have decided to let these bloom (see photo below) and will then replace them with 'violet de provence' artichokes for next year.
Catherine de Medici is credited with introducing Artichokes to the French Court in the first half of the 16th Century. By the end of the century artichokes were cultivated throughout France, Spain and Italy. Britian never succumbed to the artichoke's charms and to this day, they are a rarer sight.
This recipe uses the 'violet' variety of artichoke. This variety is normally about 5cm\2 inches in diameter and more elongated than the globe varieties.
I have given a lot of visual tips on handling artichokes to help those less familiar with them.
This is my signature dish. The simplicity of it represents everything that I value about good Italian food.
At the Circle of Misse I use this dish to demonstrate recipe deconstruction. Once we have tasted the simplified dish, we then experiment with additional ingredients to identify and assess their contribution. With a small list of additions, this dish can be turned into three very different pasta 'classics'.
After curing the pancetta below, I took a slab of it to the market for Wes and Charlotte who supplied the raw ingredient. Charlotte, who was heavily pregnant at the time, was delighted. She cut off a slice and much to the horror of her customers tucked into it. 'Hey, this is from my pigs and I know what they ate,' was her response.
If you like this recipe visit lapasta.com for more pasta recipes. The site contains a collection of recipes that I began writing and publishing several years ago.