What I like to cook are the questions people can’t answer for me. For example, if I asked how to make mashed potatoes, there would be several answers. But when I asked how to make charcuterie, I didn’t get a clear answer. I love diving into that.
Before culinary school, I took a job in a bakery owned by a woman from Switzerland. I came in every morning at 4 a.m. and baked bread and listened to music. I didn’t even see a person until after nine, when we opened. It was one of my favorite jobs ever. The bakery had a case of meats and salamis but no one knew how they were made. Even at culinary school, no one could tell me how to dry-cure salami.
I talked to some butchers in Pennsylvania who knew how to make charcuterie but they wouldn’t tell me how. They were afraid I would mess it up and hurt someone. Another butcher told me I had a lot to learn and he gave me an out-of-print book.
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Now we have a massive charcuterie program at Quality Social. We bring in whole animals from farmers and break them down and dry-cure the whole thing from the bacon to the mortedella and head cheese [a cold cut]. Charcuterie is something young chefs want to learn. They have the questions now and I love my role as a teacher. You can’t just read a recipe and do it because charcuterie is so nuanced. I feel like I’ve worked to get the information and now I’m paying it forward.
When I’m not eating salami, I am eating pasta. It makes me happy. I’ll gravitate toward any person or restaurant making good pasta. I love making simple noodles at home with a really great sauce.
- (Serves 8)
- 1 lb. fresh cherry tomatoes, blanched and peeled
- 4.5 oz. almonds, blanched for 2 minutes in boiling water
- 4 garlic cloves, peeled
- 25 large basil leaves, torn into small pieces
- 25 leaves Italian parsley, leaves only, chopped
- 10 leaves fresh mint, chopped
- 1 teaspoon ground Calabria chili pepper (substitute cayenne if needed)
- 3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
- 16 oz. fresh “pici” pasta (or substitute linguini)
- salt and pepper to taste
HOW TO DO IT
Boil a large pot of water and add the tomatoes. Let boil for 2 minutes and then remove, drain, and plunge the tomatoes into a bowl of ice water to stop the cooking process. When cool, cut the tomatoes into quarters and remove the inner flesh and seeds. Pass the remaining tomatoes through a food mill and reserve for later. (If you don’t have a food mill, then push the remaining tomatoes through a fine mesh sieve held over a bowl and reserve contents in the bowl for later.)
Repeat the same blanching procedure for the almonds.
Add the almonds and garlic to a mortar and pestle and finely grind until creamy. Add the herbs and continue to grind until the herbs are incorporated.
In a mixing bowl, combine the tomatoes, the almond/garlic/herb mixture, and season with salt, pepper, and Calabria chili powder. Next, whisk in the olive oil.
To finish, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the fresh pici noodles to the pot and cook al dente.
Reserve one cup of the cooking water. In a sauté pan, add 1 cup of the pasta cooking water to the pesto.
Combine the sauce with the cooked pasta and toss to coat. Serve with grated Pecorino Romano if desired.