Friday, April 29, 2011

Pea Soup topped with Crunchy Guanciale


I love pea soup in the winter, and in the spring when peas are fresh and in season, and what really makes it tasty is the addition of crunchy guanciale on the top.
So what exactly is guanciale and what differentiates it from pancetta? Guanciale is pork jowl or cheek: guancia is the Italian word for cheek, hence guanciale. Pancetta comes from the abdomen or belly area. Pancia is the Italian word for abdomen, hence pancetta.
Guanciale is almost all fat, whereas pancetta is a much meatier pork product. You can really see the difference in this picture as our local grocer holds up both (guanciale on the left):



Guanciale is traditionally used to prepare some of the best Italian pasta sauces: pasta alla carbonara and pasta all'amatriciana. Both are local Roman, poor man's dishes. The ingredients are simple but many restaurants don't quite manage to cook the guanciale correctly. Unfortunate as it's the magic ingredient in both of these dishes. The key is to cook the cubed or sliced guanciale slowly, over low heat until it's golden and crisp.



Cubed and just in the frying pan the guanciale looks like this:



Much of the fat has begun to melt and the guanciale is beginning to brown...



Once the cubes are nice and golden brown prop the frying pan up slightly to drain the excess fat from the guanciale cubes.



Pea Soup:

Whether you're using fresh peas from the garden or dried, split peas in the winter the procedure is the same; only the cooking time varies.

Ingredients:
Two cups shelled fresh peas (or dried split peas)
One medium onion, minced
2 tbsp. olive oil
2 tsp. salt
Water, 2 to 4 cups

Preparation:
Sauté the onion in the olive oil until translucent.
Add the peas, several cups water and salt and simmer until the peas are tender. Add more water as desired.
Allow the soup to cool, then place in a blender & process until smooth and creamy.
Reheat the soup and serve in bowls topped with cubed guanciale.

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