Monday, September 13, 2010

Spaghetti con guanciale e fiori di zucca (pork jowl & zucchini blossoms)

Guanciale is pork jowl: the cheek (guancia in Italian) of the pig, rubbed in salt and pepper and cured for a few weeks. It is not smoked, it has a stronger flavor than pancetta but it is more delicate in texture.

Guanciale is traditionally used in Roman dishes (or recipes from Latium region in general) such as amatriciana and carbonara. Purists and Romans insist on using it in their recipes, claiming it is essential for the perfect turn-out of the dish. However, since guanciale is not to be found everwhere that easily, even here in Italy, you can use pancetta (cured bacon, the not-smoked kind, called pancetta dolce) instead.

We bought a nice big piece of guanciale at the farmer's market from a farmer who had his own pigs. We bought a killer salami from him too. He cured the jowl with his own hands. So this is the first of many recipes with guanciale in it: amatriciana and carbonara will be sure to follow.

This recipe uses the last of the delicate summer zucchini flowers. It is the perfect combination of sweet, savory and crunchy. Traditionally guanciale is cooked until just slightly crunchy, but I am a true American and I just can't help myself...

10 zucchini flowers
approx. 3/4 cup of guanciale cut into strips
olive oil
parmesan (or if you want to do it the Roman way, pecorino romano)
400gr spaghetti

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Cut your guanciale into strips and start frying it in a pan. Rinse, dry and chop up the zucchini blossoms. Salt the pasta water when it is boiling and add in the spaghetti. When the pasta is almost ready and the guanciale is nice and browned and crunchy, take the pan off of the heat and throw in the flowers. Drain the pasta, but not too well, and throw it into the pan with the sauce. Top off with plenty of parmesan and freshly ground black pepper (when doing this keep in mind that the guanciale is already a little peppery).

Growing up in Italy, it is essential to learn to eat spaghetti the proper way. No spoons, no cutting. Twirl, twirl, twirl. Wrist movement and lots of practice. It is never too early to start!


  1. I love zucchini flowers but I've never tried guanciale before. I have a feeling though that it might be something that I'm gonna like. Too bad it's rare to find anywhere.
    How cute is your baby eating that pasta!

  2. I've always just substituted pancetta for recipes that require guanciale, but I think I'm going to have to look extra hard for it next time because this dish sounds amazing!

  3. My little expat kitchen & Peggy: pancetta will do just fine if you can't get guanciale. The salty and crunchy is what really matters in my opinion.


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