The original idea was to do something light, something fitting for Lent. There was ricotta and fresh broad beans in the fridge. Add a hunk of half-stale rustic bread and I was looking at the lunch of a medieval monk. But as I investigated further, I soon came across tangy, richly-flavoured pecorino, and a large piece of guanciale made by my butcher from locally-bred pigs. All dreams of sainthood up in smoke within seconds
This dish is old-school Sicilian. Well, mainly. The traditional recipe just uses ricotta and broad beans, but I reckon the crispy, salty, porky hit of the guanciale (a very new-school Sicilian ingredient) lifts this dish to a higher level (or possibly drags us down to even baser depths of sin, considering the premises). Purists may turn up their noses at the porky topping. The purists are missing out. More guanciale for the rest of us enlightened souls, the way I see it. By the way, the best time of year for this recipe is right now, when tender fresh broad beans are available.
Apart from the skinning of the broad beans, this is a quick recipe, whose preparation can be dealt with in the time it takes the pasta to cook. Yes, I did say “skinning”. Not just removed from their pods, but actually individually skinned. This may strike you as an absurd waste of time, but it makes a huge difference. The skins are bitter-tasting, slow down cooking time and do not melt into the sauce in the same way as the soft, sweet broad bean hearts.
Eat with gusto as you quaff a hefty Sicilian white wine, guiltily if that’s your thing. If it makes you feel any better, your average medieval monk wasn’t much of a saint either…
- 500 g fresh broad beans (or 1 kg if they are still in their pods). These should yield at least 250 g once skinned
- 250 g sheep’s milk ricotta
- 150 g guanciale, cut into slices ½ cm thick and then into batons
- 1 medium onion, halved and then sliced finely
- 360 g short, robust pasta such as rigatoni or tortiglioni
- Finely grated pecorino, or parmesan, if you must
- Extra virgin olive oil
- Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
- First of all, skin the broad beans. Then gently fry the onion in a tablespoon of olive oil for a couple of minutes, add the beans and a pinch of salt and a very little water (about 50 ml). Cover and cook gently for about ten minutes, adding more water if necessary to stop them sticking, but no more than is necessary.
- Cook the pasta according to instructions on the packet.
- While the pasta is cooking, cook the guanciale over a medium heat in a non-stick frying pan, without adding any oil. Turn frequently to avoid burning and spoon off the abundant fat that will be released. Once crispy, drain on kitchen paper and set aside.
- Mix the ricotta with freshly ground black pepper and a couple of tablespoons of the pasta cooking water to produce a smooth sauce.
- Drain the pasta and mix with the ricotta and the broad beans. Finish by scattering over the crispy guanciale, abundant pecorino and a further few twists of black pepper.