I’ve written about my addiction to cookbooks before, and I’m not lying- if I spy a beautiful, hard-covered cookbook filled with glossy photos of beautiful food, it’s virtually impossible to turn away without buying it. Ditto if I see one online, especially if it’s won a James Beard Award or is highly recommended by a chef or food personality I admire. So you can imagine how quickly I grabbed Il Viaggio Di Vetri: A Culinary Journey as it sat alone on the top shelf of the cookbooks section at Borders. After all, it was written by Marc Vetri of Philadelphia's Vetri Ristorante, which Mario Batali called, “possibly one of the best Italian restaurants on the East Coast.” Suzanne Goin once said “I do pretty much whatever Marc [Vetri] tells me to do.” Yup, count me in.
I’ve never been fortunate enough to dine at one of Marc Vetri’s restaurants, but had heard he makes some of the best pasta in the United States. After inviting my parents over for a family dinner, I started flipping through the pages, looking to see which fresh pasta I would try and recreate from Vetri’s many recipes. However, one recipe in particular caught J’s eye, Pig’s Head Bolognese, and although it was one of the few pasta dishes in the book that called for dry, semolina pasta, I couldn’t deny the power of the pig and chose it being my journey into cooking a la Vetri.
So, who do you call when you need a pound of ground pork jowls? Say it with me now, “McCalls Meat & Fish Company.” I got on the horn with Nathan, asked him to order me a pound of pig’s jowl and to please have it ready for me to pick up in a couple of days. No problem, he said, then even suggested I take an extra one, not ground, to perhaps cure some of my own, homemade guanciale. Although I appreciated the vote of confidence, I wasn’t sure if I could find a place to hang the cured meat at a steady 55 degrees for over three weeks, so I declined. But maybe one day I’ll get into the art of charcuterie.
I arrived to get my ground up pig’s jowl and will admit to you that, at first glance, was a bit….scared. I knew jowls were fatty, but holy pig, the thing looked like a bag of ground…well, fat. Even Nathan sort of looked at me like “yup…..well…” and I asked him whether or not he felt it would cook down to virtually nothing, if I should supplement it with some regular ground pork, etc. After some thought, he advised me to follow the recipe to the letter since he, too, felt if it was a Marc Vetri recipe, it would probably work out great. So with that, I grabbed my bag of fat and headed home.
I’m going to post the rest of this post in photos, just to show you how it cooked down, melted the aromatics and came together to make a gorgeous bolognese:
Here's the meat, as it looked when I got it from McCall's:
Into the pot it went:
Starting to render down:
10 minutes in:
20 minutes in:
Adding the aromatics and herb sachet, which I made from a coffee filter:
Vegetables in the pot:
Contiuning to break down:
At this point, add the remaining ingredients- white wine, 1/2 cup tomatoes and a couple of old parmesan cheese rinds, which I always save for soups:
After a couple of hours in the oven on low temp, here's what came out:
All of the onions, carrots and celery had basically melted into the sauce, and although you can see a layer of grease, it wasn't too oily/fatty when tossed with the hot pasta:
How was it? It was soooo delicious- the collagen and fat in the jowl meat made the sauce so unctuous, deeply flavorful and rich, but not too rich. The flavor from all of the ingredients really came together, and I think the addition of the parmesan rinds is key to this recipe. We all loved it, and J and I sat on the sofa two days later and wolfed down the leftovers cold right out of the tupperware.
For sides, I kept it simple and served Mario Batali's marinated zucchini, which I think calls for waaaaay too much seasoning (a tablespoon each of pepper and salt!) so, even though I cut it down, it was a bit overpowering:
And a simply sauteed brocolli rabe with garlic and a dash of red pepper:
There's something about Italian food that always makes me feel at home, and I'm glad I've been introduced to the world of Marc Vetri's cooking. I can't wait to try out his other recipes!