My New Statesman column this week is about Rocco, owner of the deli in Highbury Park. Rocco died last month, at the age of 66. His funeral was packed.
Here's a very simple pasta dish, in tribute to Rocco's excellent pancetta. Each week, I would buy slices of pancetta, which I would grill as a more delicious alternative to bacon; and I would buy chunks, to cube for carbonara or other pasta dishes, or to stir into mashed potato.
250 g spaghetti
100 g pancetta, cubed
1 clove garlic, chopped
1 or 2 small, dried chillis (optional)
Put a large pot of water on to boil. As it starts bubbling, splash a little oil into another saucepan, throw in the pancetta with its rind if you have it, and set the pan over a gentle heat. It will cook in roughly the time it takes to soften the spaghetti.
Add salt to the boiling water -- the usual rule is one tsp for each litre; add the spaghetti, and stir. The packet will give you a general guide to the timing, but not an infallible one. Keep checking and tasting the spaghetti; it should be al dente, giving a hint of residual firmness as you bite into it. If you go beyond this stage, you'll find that the spaghetti will become too soft, because it carries on softening for a while after you've drained it.
Meanwhile, stir the pancetta from time to time. You may find that it and the rind have given off quite a bit of fat. Yum. About two minutes ahead of when you expect the spaghetti to be ready, add the garlic and chilli (if using) to the pancetta. You want the garlic to soften and perhaps to brown a little, but not to burn.
Drain the spaghetti. I set the colander back over the pan to catch the last cupful of draining water. You sometimes want a little pasta water to loosen the pasta and sauce mix.
Tip the spaghetti into the pancetta, and toss. Serve with parmesan.
If you're using chilli, you might prefer breadcrumbs to cheese. Whizz a slice or two of white bread (I use the crusts as well); toss them with a little olive oil over a medium heat until browned. Sprinkle the crumbs over the spaghetti.