This was a very busy day and I really didn't want to cook at all. But, I decided to try a recipe from At Home With Michael Chiarello, a lovely food porn type cookbook I received as a gift some time ago. I enjoy reading this book, but have never fixed a single recipe in it. The recipe, Spaghettini With Uncooked Watercress, looked wonderful and seemed just the kind of pasta dish I love to eat. And Michael Chiarello, the cute guy on The Food Network, promised this recipe was very fast to make, about 8 minutes in all. Well, I've heard that before and it rarely works out that way. And it didn't this time either.
I'm sure that Michael, a trained chef, could cook the whole thing in 8 minutes, but not me or most ordinary foodies, I'll wager. It took a bit more time than that. First, the recipe calls for 6 cups of watercress leaves, which meant I had to strip them off their stalks. No doubt Michael can strip the leaves off in a jiffy, but I'm not as proficient at that.
Second, one of the ingredients, prosciutto bits, requires at least 15-30 minutes to make. As explained in the cookbook, Michael makes them up in bulk and keeps them in his freezer, adding them to his recipes. The bits are fabulous--but I had to make mine from scratch. They're simple to make, just ground proscuitto cooked slowly until they become crispy little nuggets. Don't eat them all up before you finish making the pasta dish. You will be tempted.
I will say, IF you had the prosciutto bits ready to use in your freezer, and IF you substituted shredded baby spinach for the watercress (or had Mr. Chiarello in your kitchen striping the watercress leaves for you) the recipe could be made in 8 minutes, very easily. But, I loved the taste of the watercress. It has a nice tang to it, like mustard greens, and I will gladly take the time to strip them off their stems the next time I make this dish. The recipe calls for 3 tablespoons of garlic and it was not overwhelming at all. I highly recommend this recipe and wish I had some now!
spaghettini, 1 pound
For the sauce
6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons sliced garlic
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
6 cups small watercress leaves
1/2 cup chopped fresh Italian parsley
2 tablespoons Proscuitto Bits (see below)
1/2 cup freshly grated pecorino cheese
Bring a large pot with salted water to boil over high heat. Add pasta and cook until al dente.
Make sauce while pasta is cooking. (I recommend that you have the cress ready before this.) In a large skillet or saute pan, combine the garlic with 4 tablespoons of the olive oil, and cook over medium heat until the garlic softens, about 4 minutes. Add the red pepper flakes and a pinch of salt and cook for about a minute more. Scoop 1/2 cup of the pasta cooking liquid into the pan with the garlic, then remove from the heat.
When the pasta is almost cooked, return the skillet to medium heat. Remove another 1/2 cup of the pasta cooking liquid and reserve it to the side. When pasta is done, drain it in a colander. Add the pasta to the skillet and toss it with the hot oil. Add the remaining olive oil and enough of the reserved pasta liquid to coat the pasta nicely. Toss constantly over the heat for about 2 minutes. Remove skillet from the heat and add the watercress, parsley, and the prosciutto bits and stir to wilt the greens in the hot pasta.
Serve in bowls and sprinkle with the cheese
Note: I would love to have a pound of proscuitto to make the bits and keep them in the freezer. They are heaven. I used much less, enough to make the 2 tablespoons of the bits for the recipe.
1 pound prosciutto (preferably from the shank), very finely minced or ground with the medium blade of a meat grinder
2 tablespoons olive oil
TIP: The best way to make these bits is with the shanks of prosciutto. Ask your local butcher to save those shanks, and grind them on the medium grind if you want to save some chopping, or dice it finely yourself. Shank should cost about half of sliced prosciutto, as the store probably has no use for it.
Note: Whether you are chopping the prosciutto by hand or putting it through a meat grinder, you'll have an easier time if the prosciutto is partially frozen.
Place prosciutto in heated pan. Drizzle bits with olive oil, and cook, stirring. The prosciutto will give off steam for about 5 minutes while it releases its moisture. When the hiss of steam turns to a sizzle, turn the heat down to medium and cook, stirring occasionally, until the prosciutto bits are crisp, about 30 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the bits to several thicknesses of paper towel to drain. The bits will crisp even more as they cool. Use immediately or freeze the bits for up to 6 months and warm in a skillet as needed.
Yield: about 1 1/2 cups