Over this past weekend, the third season of Worst Cooks in America premiered. In order to build a following, Food Network ran repeats of season two on Saturday afternoon. In one of the episodes, the contestants were challenged with repeating several skills they had learned earlier in the season in one decathlon (e.g. julienning carrots or filleting fish). They were timed, but accuracy was just as important. In watching the contest, it occurred to me that, while I consider myself a knowledgeable cook, I'm a little slow in the completion of tasks.
What this challenge boils down to is preparing a quality mise en place quickly. I can't rush the process of cooking the dish and Chef Chiarello went to a lot of trouble adjusting the dish appropriate for a weeknight. First, the recipe as it appears in the book followed by the time elapsed to complete each task.
Page 110 of Michael Chiarello's Casual Cooking by Michael Chiarello with Janet Fletcher
1/3 pound pancetta in one piece, partially frozen (freeze for about 30 minutes to make it easier to slice)
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 onion, thinly sliced, onion-soup style*
3/4 pound spaghetti or bucatini
Scant 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 tablespoon fresh Italian (flat-leaf) parsley, chopped
1 1/2 tablespoon red wine vinegar
3/4 cup tomato pureé
Freshly grated Pecorino
1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat.
2. Meanwhile, unroll the pancetta. Cut into 1-inch-long chunks, then slice each chunk thinly across the grain.
3. Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over moderately low heat. Add the pancetta and cook until it renders some of its fat, about 5 minutes. Do not allow it to crisp. Add the onion and cook until soft, about 10 minutes. While the onion is cooking, add the pasta to the boiling water.
4. Add the red pepper flakes and parsley to the onion mixture and cook briefly to release their fragrance. Add the wine vinegar and simmer briskly until it evaporates, then add the tomato pureé and 1/4 cup of the pasta water. Simmer briefly to blend.
5. When the pasta is just shy of al dente, drain it and return it to the warm pot over medium heat. Add the sauce and cook briefly so the pasta absorbs some of the sauce, then transfer to a warmed serving bowl and shower with the pecorino. Serve immediately.
*Onion-soup style: Slice off both ends, then halve lengthwise and peel. Now slice thinly lengthwise (from stem end to root end), not crosswise. This method gives you shorter, more even slices instead of long, stringy slivers that can be unpleasant to eat, especially in a soup.
With the task of completing my prep work in a timely manner, the mise en place was finished in 44 minutes (which includes freezing the pancetta). Start to finish, it was about a ninety minute project, so I was successful from that standpoint. If I were to repeat this dish again, I'd use medium heat to render the pancetta and use more tomato pureé. Overall a good weeknight meal and, for two people, enough leftovers to brown bag it the next day.