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Gemelli with Peas, Onions and Guanciale from DiPalo’s in Little Italy

Di Palo’s is irresistible if you’re an Italian food lover
         I think I am on to the marketing secret of DiPalo’s, the venerable Italian Market in New York’s rapidly vanishing Little Italy.  I’ll get to that but first a little about Little Italy.  It’s getting littler all the time, crushed on all sides.  Squished by a vibrant and growing Chinatown on its eastern and western flanks, gentrified out of existence by uber-trendy NoLita (North Of Little Italy) neighborhood, the latest census data told us what we already feared.  There is not one native, born-in-Italy Italian in the entire zip code that encompasses what’s left of New York’s Little Italy. For shame!

The wait is long, the selection is too.  
         Now this might lead you to believe that DePalo’s would be bereft of customers.  Quite to the contrary, as Andrew and I discovered on a recent Saturday, DePalo’s is mobbed.  Take a number and join the legions of Italian food fans that will wait for at least 20 minutes before getting near the service counter from which virtually everything in DePalo’s is dispensed.  So a simple visit to buy a really good loaf of crusty Italian bread and a few slices of prosciutto stretches into quite a wait.  And here’s the marketing magic. It becomes obvious that to make up for the endless wait time, it makes no sense not to peruse the store and add to the shopping list.  DePalo’s makes its own cream-filled Burrata, Mozzarella’s infinitely richer cousin.  And DePalo’s routinely stocks Mortadella, the pride of Bologna, Prosciutto di Parma and Guanciale.
Delicious and deliciously aromatic Guanciale 
      For quite a while, Guanciale was the meat of the moment in New York. It seemed to be on every menu and in many recipes.  But I don’t think I’d tried it until faced with the wait at DiPalo’s.  Guanciale is an unsmoked Italianbacon prepared with pig‘s jowl or cheeks. Its get its name from guancia, Italianfor cheek. The meat is rubbed with salt, sugar, and spices.  As I cut it, the air was perfumed with fennel, a delightful hint at how it would taste. Cured for three weeks, its flavor is stronger than its close cousin pancetta, and its texture is more delicate.  I found plenty of recipes for two very traditional Roman specialties: Pasta all’Amatriciana and Spaghetti alla Carbonara.  But I wanted something unique and thought the tomatoes in the Amatriciana would overwhelm the pork.  I could have gone with the Carbonara and transported myself right back to my student days in Rome.  But instead, I found a recipe for a side dish featuring two very basic ingredients – pearl onions and peas – which I thought would make my Guanciale shine. 
Leftovers swimming in Half and Half
made by the bad me. 
         I cannot begin to tell you that this is some diet dinner.  And it was all I could do from turning up the fat grams by making this into a cream sauce.  Instead, I stuck to the side dish recipe, determined that Gemelli, the corkscrew pasta, would be a great partner.  I could have used Fusilli but to me that particular pasta smacks of the salad bar.  The Gemelli were are nice contrast.  The dish tasted absolutely delicious, the fresh English peas are a natural partner to the sweet baby onions and the semi-crisp guanciale.  Tangy gated Parmesan cheese topped the finished dish  With some crusty Ciabatta toast, it was a wonderful meal.  Confession time: I had leftovers and left to my own devises, I gingerly loaded the dish into my onion soup bowls, filled the bowls with half and half, topped it with some more Parmesan and popped it into the microwave to re-heat.  About 5 minutes later, I had something so rich and creamy, I avoided the bathroom scale for the week.  Two things here:  You can use Cipolline, the small Italian onion but they’re the devil to peel.  I went with frozen pearl onions.  They’re peeled, and you can run them under hot water to defrost them before making the recipe.  And as to the peas, I used the English Peas that are pre-shelled.  I’ve seen them all over New York but you can substitute frozen peas with impunity.  I know one very well-known chef who prefers them to fresh. Finally, you can get this dinner on the table in no time, half hour tops.  Here’s the recipe which serves 4.

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