It’s Friday, exactly 12:30 p.m, and I have a half an hour to make lunch before Manu comes home from his usual half-day at work. We love our Friday lunches together. Once I know what I’m making - penne con bietole e pancetta - It’s time to get busy.
First I wash the chard. I scream bloody murder because a tiny snail is crawling on a stem. This is Italy, I have to remind myself, and a snail is a sign of freshness. I put my skeeves aside and keep washing the chard. My sink is small and I’ll probably end up splattering myself, but that’s ok, I have an apron.
Next I chop the chard. I love chopping. Isn’t it relaxing? I always know if someone is really adept in the kitchen by how they chop. My dad taught me at an early age to curl my fingers under just so, in order to prevent slicing myself. I keep an eye out when I watch silly TV chefs chop and guess what - not all of them do it right.
Pancetta, in tiny cubes, is Italian bacon and I love the crispy, salty juxtaposition against the bitter greens. Be patient, and wait for it to get crisp. Hey, there’s my phone! Manu gives me one ring to signal that I can start cooking the pasta. I dump the penne into the bubbling water and head out to the balcony. There’s Manu! I can tell it’s him from a mile away - he walks with a certain gait down our street. When he sees me up on the balcony he shouts, “ehiii tripola!” a new nickname. I wave with my wooden spoon and he does a little dance as he arrives at the front door. I buzz him up, drain the pasta, toss with the sauce and serve all in one lightning fast minute.
Penne with Swiss Chard and Pancetta
1/2 pound penne rigate
1 pound swiss chard, rinsed and chopped
1/2 cup smoked pancetta
1 clove garlic
salt + pepper
crushed red pepper (optional)
Place pancetta cubes in a pan (no oil) on medium high heat and let them cook until they get crisp. With a slotted spoon, take them out to dry on paper towels, leaving their juices in the pan. Drop in the whole garlic clove and chard still wet from washing to create steam, and let it cook. (The volume will reduce down.) Add a good pinch of salt, pepper and crushed red pepper. In the meantime, cook the penne in plenty of salted water. When it’s al dente, toss it with the chard vigorously (take out the garlic clove) and if it seems dry, add 1/4 cup of the pasta cooking liquid. Serve immediately, sprinkling the crispy pancetta on top and drizzling with the olive oil.
Ready for the best part? That first bite which tastes so good because... it’s the weekend!