SPAGHETTI WITH CABBAGE AND CARAMELIZED ONIONS

BACK WHEN MARIO BATALI WAS STILL THE CO-OWNER AND EXECUTIVE CHEF AT LUPA, THE ROMAN-STYLE RESTAURANT ON THOMPSON STREET, I ORDERED A PASTA WITH GUANCIALE AND CARAMELIZED ONIONS WHICH I CAN STILL TASTE TO THIS DAY.  IT TOOK ME A WHILE TO MASTER THE ART OF CARAMELIZING A PILE OF SLICED ONIONS SO THAT THEY BROWN SLOWLY BUT DO NOT BURN.  IT ISN'T DIFFICULT BUT IT DOES DEMAND PATIENCE AND ATTENTION.  WHEN YOU DO, YOU'LL NOT ONLY BE REWARDED WITH A SIMPLE BUT LUSCIOUS SAUCE FOR PASTA, BUT YOU'LL HAVE ACQUIRED A SKILL THAT IS TRANSFERABLE TO A MYRIAD OF DISHES; EVERYTHING FROM FISH TO CHICKEN TO PORK.  FOR THIS PARTICULAR VERSION, I STARTED WITH GUANCIALE AND ENDED WITH CABBAGE, WHICH ADDS ANOTHER LAYER OF FLAVOR AND TEXTURE TO THE DISH.  TOPPED WITH PARMESAN AND BRIGHTENED WITH FLAT LEAF PARSLEY, IT'S A COMPLETE MEAL FOR A COLD, WINTER NIGHT.  

  lb GUANCIALE OR SMOKED BACON
 1 LARGE RED ONION
 4 cups SHREDDED CABBAGE
 1 PACKAGE OF IMPORTED SPAGHETTI, CHITARRA OR BUCATINI
 2 cups FRESHLY-GRATED PARMESAN OR PECORINI ROMANO OR BOTH
 FLAT LEAF PARSLEY

1

THINLY SLICE GUANCIALE INTO 1-INCH PIECES. PLACE IN A 10-INCH CAST IRON PAN WITH A SPLASH OF OLIVE OIL. COOK ON A LOW FLAME UNTIL THE GUANCIALE IS LIGHTLY BROWNED BUT NOT CRISP. REMOVE WITH A SLOTTED SPOON AND SET ASIDE.

PEEL AND THINLY SLICE THE ONION INTO 1/4-INCH RINGS. ADD TO THE PAN AND TOSS A BIT TO COAT ONIONS WITH THE RENDERED FAT. SALT LIGHTLY. COVER AND CONTINUE TO COOK FOR 30-40 MINUTES, TURNING EVERY TEN MINUTES OR SO, TILL THE CARAMELIZE, TURNING A LIGHT BROWN LIKE, WELL, CARAMEL.

NOTE: IF YOU LIKE, ADD A 1/2 TSP OF CHILI FLAKES.

MEANWHILE, SLICE THE CABBAGE LENGTHWISE IN HALF. CUT OUT THE TOUGH WEDGE FROM THE STEM. SLICE THINLY AS YOU WOULD FOR COLE SLAW.

ONCE THE ONIONS HAVE WILTED AND STARTED TO BROWN, ADD THE SHREDDED CABBAGE.

BRING A POT OF SALTED WATER TO A BOIL. ADD THE PASTA. TOWARDS THE END OF THE COOKING, SCOOP OUT A CUP OF THE PASTA WATER. BOIL PASTA TILL IT IS A LITTLE HARDER THAN AL DENTE. DRAIN.

RETURN THE PASTA, ONIONS, CABBAGE, AND GUANCIALE TO THE PASTA POT OVER A MEDIUM-LOW FLAME. STIR IN 1/2 CUP OF THE PASTA WATER AND 1/2 CUP OF THE GRATED CHEESE. STIR VIGOROUSLY TILL THE SAUCE HAS THICKENED. ADD MORE PASTA WATER IF THE SAUCE IS TOO DRY.

PLACE IN A SERVING BOWL. GARNISH WITH A GENEROUS QUANTITY OF CHOPPED PARSLEY. SERVE WITH A BOWL OF PARMESAN ON THE SIDE.

SERVES 4

Ingredients

  lb GUANCIALE OR SMOKED BACON
 1 LARGE RED ONION
 4 cups SHREDDED CABBAGE
 1 PACKAGE OF IMPORTED SPAGHETTI, CHITARRA OR BUCATINI
 2 cups FRESHLY-GRATED PARMESAN OR PECORINI ROMANO OR BOTH
 FLAT LEAF PARSLEY

Directions

1

THINLY SLICE GUANCIALE INTO 1-INCH PIECES. PLACE IN A 10-INCH CAST IRON PAN WITH A SPLASH OF OLIVE OIL. COOK ON A LOW FLAME UNTIL THE GUANCIALE IS LIGHTLY BROWNED BUT NOT CRISP. REMOVE WITH A SLOTTED SPOON AND SET ASIDE.

PEEL AND THINLY SLICE THE ONION INTO 1/4-INCH RINGS. ADD TO THE PAN AND TOSS A BIT TO COAT ONIONS WITH THE RENDERED FAT. SALT LIGHTLY. COVER AND CONTINUE TO COOK FOR 30-40 MINUTES, TURNING EVERY TEN MINUTES OR SO, TILL THE CARAMELIZE, TURNING A LIGHT BROWN LIKE, WELL, CARAMEL.

NOTE: IF YOU LIKE, ADD A 1/2 TSP OF CHILI FLAKES.

MEANWHILE, SLICE THE CABBAGE LENGTHWISE IN HALF. CUT OUT THE TOUGH WEDGE FROM THE STEM. SLICE THINLY AS YOU WOULD FOR COLE SLAW.

ONCE THE ONIONS HAVE WILTED AND STARTED TO BROWN, ADD THE SHREDDED CABBAGE.

BRING A POT OF SALTED WATER TO A BOIL. ADD THE PASTA. TOWARDS THE END OF THE COOKING, SCOOP OUT A CUP OF THE PASTA WATER. BOIL PASTA TILL IT IS A LITTLE HARDER THAN AL DENTE. DRAIN.

RETURN THE PASTA, ONIONS, CABBAGE, AND GUANCIALE TO THE PASTA POT OVER A MEDIUM-LOW FLAME. STIR IN 1/2 CUP OF THE PASTA WATER AND 1/2 CUP OF THE GRATED CHEESE. STIR VIGOROUSLY TILL THE SAUCE HAS THICKENED. ADD MORE PASTA WATER IF THE SAUCE IS TOO DRY.

PLACE IN A SERVING BOWL. GARNISH WITH A GENEROUS QUANTITY OF CHOPPED PARSLEY. SERVE WITH A BOWL OF PARMESAN ON THE SIDE.

SERVES 4

SPAGHETTI WITH CABBAGE AND CARAMELIZED ONIONS
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