Recipe: Pasta with Radicchio Pesto and Pancetta

It’s sad to think it’s taken me well over a month for my first post on food, which is what much of my life revolves around. Every once in a while, I enjoy discovering a new ingredient–something I never would have cooked with a few years ago–and figuring out how to cook with it, all so one day I can go to the farmers’ market and ask for some truly obscure form of produce, leading people to think I grew up on an agricultural commune outside of Bolinas rather than a tract home in San Jose. 

This week, that ingredient is radicchio. Until about a week ago, I wasn’t quite sure what radicchio was, until I was reading the July issue of Cooking Light while catsitting for our neighbor and stumbling across a recipe for Indian lamb burgers with radicchio and roasted red pepper. We bought two heads of radicchio on Saturday for the burgers and quickly discovered that, well, radicchio is pretty damn spicy and bitter, so using two heads, which are quite small, on burgers is like tweaking your chili with a gallon of hot sauce. You can do it, but why would you?

So four burgers later, we had a head of radicchio left over–and we’re going on vacation on Wednesday. What to do? My wife and I were both thumbing through The Flavor Bible (an indispensable culinary reference book that shows what ingredients go well with each other) and discovered that radicchio goes well with risotto, but my wife had already reached her monthly risotto quota. Walnuts and lemon juice were also listed as good matches, as was the suggestion of making a pesto with it. I thought that pancetta might add some flavor and change the texture up a bit.

A few web searchers later, I determined that outside of the person cited in the cookbook, no one has ever made radicchio pesto in the history of mankind, or if they have, it’s not on the internet, which is pretty much the same thing. Of course, that meant that this was the perfect recipe to start food-blogging on the old blog. With that, I give you my recently developed recipe for radicchio pesto, courtesy of The Flavor Bible and with inspiration from Mark Bittman’s recipe for basic basil pesto. Radicchio pesto, say hello to the internet.

Radicchio pesto, a bit shy but easy to notice

A few quick notes: I used one head of radicchio, which I thought would be overpowering but ultimately wasn’t. Two would probably do; one is fine. When the pesto ingredients are blended, it looks like a Razmatazz smoothie from Jamba Juice, so much so that I wish I took a picture. As is the case with most pesto, once it’s mixed with the pasta it loses much of its color. This recipe could easily be done with only 8 ounces of pasta for a stronger pesto flavor.

Pasta with Radicchio Petso and Pancetta

4 servings

1 pound spaghetti or other pasta

1 or 2 heads radicchio, chopped

3/4 cup olive oil

2 cloves garlic, minced or crushed

2 tablespoons walnuts, chopped

Juice from 1 lemon

1/2 cup parmesan, shredded

4 ounces, pancetta

1/4 cup parsley, minced

1. Bring water to a boil, salt it to taste and add pasta. Cook until al dente (about 9 minutes for spaghetti), reserving about 1/4 cup water to stir into drained pasta.

2. Combine radicchio, olive oil, garlic, walnuts and lemon juice in a blender. Blend until pureed. Stir in parmesan just prior to serving.

3. Cook pancetta over medium heat until fat begins to render. This is just enough to give the pancetta some extra flavor.

4. Once pasta, pesto and pancetta are done, mix together until combined. Sprinkle minced parsley over pasta and stir to combine.

We drank a bottle of cheap Trader Joe’s wine called Tres Pinos, a blend of sauvignon blanc, gewurtraminer, viognier and chardonnay, an all around pretty good match.


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