Sunday, January 31, 2010
Posted by Kate at 9:37 AM
We don't entertain as often as we would like to. Probably because it involves cleaning the house, and my credentials in that department are really nothing to brag about. But it was obligatory to prepare spaghetti alla carbonara with the guanciale I made from those freebie hog jowls. And I couldn't do that without inviting the farming couple who donated them. If you're going to clean the house for one couple, I figured, why not invite a few? So two other gardening couples were included as well, including Kelly and Meg of Future House Farm.
Spaghetti alla carbonara waits for no man; you serve it the instant it's ready. So we didn't pause for a picture - we ate. And then the rest of the evening was so filled with gardening, farming, and food talk that we never got out the camera. We talked about local producers of pastured meats and dairy, how to transplant blueberry bushes, the best way to control mint's exuberant growth in a container, organic certification and its value - or lack of value - for small-scale farmers selling to a local market, the abomination of eggs from battery hens, wwoofing, the nitrogen content of human urine and its use for gardeners, the current scarcity of real butchering skills, coq au vin and the flavor merits of roosters or old laying hens, the advantages of vermicomposting over regular composting for those in very small spaces, various local vendors of premises-made ice cream, raw milk ice cream, various cane berries and how to tell when blueberries and wineberries are truly ripe, the necessity of bird netting when growing blueberries, how much we'd pay for our meal if it were served to us in a restaurant, Oprah Winfrey having Michael Pollan on her show, and all the phone calls our farming friends are suddenly getting about their pastured eggs and meat. My kind of conversation.
It was a kick to have such a local meal in January. We ate our own eggs and garlic, plus the home cured guanciale in the carbonara, incredibly awesome fresh salad greens from a local farm, a shallot from the same farm in the vinaigrette, and lemon balm from our own backyard to finish out the meal with a simple herbal tissane. I've prepared carbonara any number of times with American style bacon, which is the best most of us can usually do with that recipe. Guanciale, which is the authentic ingredient, adds a distinctively different taste to this dish. It was sweeter than bacon, and meatier, yet it didn't dominate the other ingredients to the degree that bacon does. This is counter-intuitive to me, since the guanciale is drier and much more concentrated than bacon. I honestly think I prefer the guanciale version. I also used (my version of) Kathy Harrison's "instant" fruit crisp topping for our dessert. (Note to self: make another batch of that soon.) The peaches and blackberries in the crisp were admittedly frozen and store bought, but at least organic, as was the vanilla ice cream.
I ate too much. I don't think I was entirely alone in this. That table was grazed. In a way that would delight the heart of any cook. It's been a while since I overindulged like that. I just couldn't help myself. I may have to skip a couple meals today, just to give my system a rest. But it was a great time.
That picture up there? All that was left of a batch of carbonara made with two full pounds of dried spaghetti, snapped during clean up.