Those of us who live in Boston know (or, rather, should know) the gastronomic mecca that is our North End. And not just for eating — no, the SHOPPING there is epic. My favorite store, which my dear loyal readers know, is the Salumeria Italiana. NYC has Eataly, a massive shopping extravaganza where you can select from hundreds of varieties of olive oils and pastas and other delectables, all at varying price points. But I don’t have that kind of time or money, which is where the Salumeria steps in; their wizened old owner, a clever fella often found wearing his three-piece suit and fedora, wandering his small shop kissing pretty ladies on the cheek, hand-picks only the best products for the shelves on his tiny store, and his handsome chefs will woo you with samples and information enough to know what to buy and how to make it. They have never steered me wrong. This past weekend, I sidled up to a group of people all tasting bits of something meaty offered to them from a piece of butcher paper in the hands of one of their incredible staffers, but was leered at by them when I reached for a piece for myself; apparently, they were on a paid tour, and I wasn’t one of them. (The chef felt bad, and he slipped me a piece when they weren’t looking. It’s good to be a regular.) The speckled black slice of pink thin meat I placed on my tongue burst into my consciousness with earthy unctuousness; it was an unusual mortadella: porky, mildly spicy, and — this is the best part — laden with BLACK TRUFFLE. I immediately ordered half a pound, purchased some pasta, and ran home to figure out how to best to showcase the umame meat-loaf waiting to be eaten in my bag. I believe simple is best, and this bastard carbonara proved my point. It was creamy, rich, fragrant, filling, and delicious. And super easy – which made it all that much better.
Mortadella de Tartuffo Carbonara
1/2lb of Mortadella with black truffle
1/2 onion, finely diced
1 tbsp butter
1 cup half and half
1/2 cup grated parmigiano reggiano
2 egg yolks
crushed black pepper
1/2lb of egg pasta
Mortadella is a type of bologna, but this ain’t your mamma’s Oscar Meyer. It has the same soft texture, but instead of the traditional pistachios, this lovely cured meat is studded with ample black truffle. AMPLE. After 15 minutes in my refrigerator, *everything* smelled like truffle. There are worse things in this world…
I rolled it up into a cigar and sliced it thinly – aka: chiffonade. Then I diced my onion very finely.
In many ways, it was this brand of pasta that really elevated this meal experience to something truly special. I was at first daunted by the price – I mean, $9 is a lot to pay for a box of pasta – but after making it, I was converted. I may never make spaghetti with any other brand again. It comes in halves, each one nestled in its own paper folder. Charming. These noodles only needed 1 1/2 minutes to reach the perfect al dente texture, so I get some salted water boiling on a back burner and wait until the sauce is almost finished before cooking off the pasta.
Once the onions are just translucent, I add the mortadella ribbons. I cook this very well, stirring constantly; I don’t want to onions to brown, but I do want the mortadella to leech off all its fats, which will enrich the sauce.
… then add it, and my cream, to the pan, stirring well over medium heat, until the sauce thickens and the cheese is melted. At this point, I add my drained pasta, and stir well so it can absorb some of the sauce — which this tagliolini does like a champ.
This isn’t a true carbonara, but the egg yolks in the sauce do make it something of a relative. But it’s easy to screw up an egg sauce by adding the yolks to a too hot pan — they’ll scramble before they can be incorporated into the dish. So, I remove my pan – with the sauce and the pasta – from the heat, and make a little well in the middle of the noodles. I wait a few moments for the heat to dissipate ever so slightly before adding my whisked yolks to the pasta with a splash of cold cream (this is called “tempering” the egg, more or less). I stir this very well, making sure the golden goodness of the yolks blend with the creamy sauce – then I put the pan back on the burner for a few moments (stirring constantly) to reheat through.
Toothsome, perfectly individualized flat spaghetti noodles drip with thick, aromatic, earthy cream sauce and are entangled with tender morsels of sweet pork perfection. The onions add texture to the sauce, a dash of black pepper adds a mild heat, and a final sprinkling of cheese takes the place of salt. This isn’t for dieters or the lactose intolerant, but luckily I am neither of those things – so I dug into my plate with abandon, twirling pasta on my fork before shoving mouthfuls into my gullet. This can be made with regular mortadella, or even a good quality bologna if that’s all you have, but believe me when I say that with truffle, everything is better.