Matthews: Recycle, reheat, re-eat

Mar. 26, 2013 @ 11:34 AM

I haven’t told this to y’all yet, but it’s really cool.

For Christmas, The Kid brought me face bacon — as least that’s what my little chef calls it.

It’s actually pork cheek, also known as guanciale and hog jowl.  The Kid prepared mine like Italian pancetta—salted, herbed up and dried.  But not smoked like American bacon.

I got a muslin-wrapped piece of meat which was redolent of rosemary, thyme and juniper berries.  The Kid was as proud as a new parent.

We did all kinds of things with the guanciale. We tossed it into pasta, we sliced it like bacon and ate it with pancakes, I used it to flavor beans.

A couple of weeks ago was my parents’ 50th wedding anniversary.  And, it also was my Dad’s 75th birthday.

I wanted to do something special for them.  On their 25th, I contacted everyone who’s known my parents through the years.  I asked for a letter to my parents, talking about how they knew them and what they were like at the time, and asked for any photos they might have. 

Luckily, my parents have made many good friends through the years, and I got tons of responses. 

I made an album of the letters and pictures.  It began with the notes from my brothers, Bud and Homer, and myself.

Next was the very important epistle from my Aunt Tandy and Uncle Dan.  They are responsible for my occupancy on the planet — they introduced my parents to each other.

Mom was living with Tandy and Dan in Elizabeth City at the time.  Dan was in the Coast Guard, and worked with my dad.  One night, Tandy and Dan decided to introduce them. 

By all accounts it was a pleasant evening.  But Uncle Dan was annoyed.  “You shouldn’t have talked about books so much.  Boys don’t like bookworms!”

Maybe not all boys.  But that one did, and after 50 happy, bookish years together, they are looking at their second generation of bookworms.

I thought about throwing them a party.  But if The Kid couldn’t make it, it wouldn’t be complete for them. They are utter suckers for that child.

Then a couple of things clanked together in my head.   

The Kid!  That would be the best gift ever for my parents in the history of gifts for my parents.

So, with a generous contribution from the aforementioned golden child, I purchased plane tickets from Vermont to North Carolina for a weekend. 

The plan was, I would meet The Kid at the airport, stop for the obligatory Waffle House omelet, then deposit the present at my folks’ in Greensboro.

That is where my mom’s close friend and neighbor, Olivia came into the picture.  (This really would sound neater if you had some cool ’60s spy music playing in your head while reading.)

She was tasked with two things: My folks had to be home, and they were to be alone.  Imagine, she had to get mom and dad to make the plans that weren’t really plans.

But she came through like a trouper, and at 3 o’clock Saturday afternoon, The Kid walked into their living room.  Completely surprising them, and giving them the best gift I could have come up with.

I also made dinner for them and took it up along with The Kid.  I made my pink sauce (The Herald-Sun 9-21-11) and took up the rest of the fixings for dinner.

When I made the sauce on Friday night, I made gallons of it --  enough for the Greensboro contingent, and some for us.  Later that week, I made some pasta.  When it was done, I used a slotted spoon, and transferred the pasta from the water to the sauce.  Tossing it together a few times to coat everything, I served it with lashings of parmesan cheese.

We had plenty left over, but unfortunately, there wasn’t much sauce left.  It would be too dry.  I had no extra sauce, but I hated to waste the pasta that was left.

What I decided was to make a new sauce to stretch it.  I decided to make an Italian-flavored cheese sauce and put together a casserole. 

And this is where the face bacon comes in.

Italian Cheese Sauce

3 slices pancetta, bacon or face bacon

3 tablespoons butter

½ cup flour

3 cups skim milk

¼ freshly grated nutmeg

1 teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon fresh cracked pepper

2 cups provolone cheese

½ cup grated parmesan

2 tablespoons tomato paste

 

Cut pork into small lardones (about ¼ inch square).  Place in heavy saucepan and render on medium low until the pork is browned and crispy.  Remove from pan and set aside.  Add butter and melt.  When melted, add flour and stir.  Whisking constantly, add milk and cook until it bubbles.  Add tomato paste and mix in.  Slowly add cheese and stir until melted.

I mixed the sauce into the pasta, poured it into a casserole dish, and over the top, sprinkled panko bread crumbs, and dotted it with the rendered face bacon.  I baked it in the oven until it was brown and bubbly.

It was yummy.  And the best thing is that we got two more meals out of leftovers that otherwise would have been tossed.

It sort of makes me feel like Johnny Appleseed of the dinner set.

Thanks for your time.