Lunchbreak: Spaghetti alla Vigliacca & Zucchine Ripiene

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Elizabeth Minchilli, author of The Italian Table: Creating Festive Meals For Family and Friends


Ceres Table will host a special dinner menu at the restaurant tonight (April 22nd), 4 course meal from recipes from the book, wine pairings and a copy of the book. Book Cellar will be the book partner.

3124 N. Broadway Street, Chicago, IL 60657

773.922.4020  The menu and one book is priced at $82 including tax and service.  Additional diners may be added to a prepaid reservation for $52 (which includes taxes and service) and additional books may be purchased the night of for $30 (plus tax and service).


Spaghetti alla Vigliacca


This sauce is all about the pancetta. It uses a HUGE amount of pancetta per person. It is what it is. And what it is, is amazing. When my daughter Sophie and I were at Rocco’s recently we got into a discussion with the owners about the amount of pancetta in the dish, because the quantity was more than you’d usually see atop a plate of pasta. Sophie was definitely on “Team More” with Rocco the chef. I felt

it was a bit too much. The following recipe is the happy medium. But one thing to keep in mind is that since pancetta is the only thing going on here, try to get ahold of the best pancetta possible. Definitely do not substitute bacon and absolutely do not use anything smoked. While Trattoria Rocco makes this with run-of-the-mill spaghetti, and it’s pretty great, when I make it I try to use a more artisanal brand like Faella or Gentile from Gragnano. The quality really does make a difference. You can serve the dish with ground chile pepper (Rocco sprinkles a bit along the edges of each plate). Traditionally this dish is not served with grated cheese.

If you’re wondering why it’s called Spaghetti alla Vigliacca, I have no idea. And after much research, seemingly no one else does either. SERVES 4 OR 5

reserved pasta water. Turn up the heat and finish cooking the pasta, mixing well to distribute the pancetta and fats over the strands of spaghetti. Garnish with the parsley. Serve immediately.

NOTE The pancetta pieces tend to congregate at the bottom of the pan or bowl. When serving, stir well and make sure everyone gets their fair share of pancetta!

3/4 pound pancetta
2 tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil,

plus an additional tablespoon if needed

2 or 3 small Italian dried or fresh chile peppers (peperoncino), to taste

Sea salt, for the cooking water 1 pound of spaghetti
Minced parsley for garnish

Pancetta often comes with the skin attached; if so, trim this off with a sharp knife. Slice the pancetta against the grain into 1/4-inch slices. Cut each slice into 1/4-inch pieces, across the rows of fat, resulting in about 11/2 cups of little log-shaped, fat-striated pieces.

Pour the olive oil into a pan large enough to fit the drained pasta later, then add the pancetta and chile peppers. Turn on the heat to medium- low and let the pancetta cook slowly and render its fat slowly. The desired texture is chewy; it shouldn’t burn or even become crispy. While you are cooking it, if it looks very dry, as if there isn’t enough fat, add another tablespoon of olive oil. You can tell it is done when the fat loses its translucent look and becomes opaque. It should take 10 minutes or so. Remove from the heat.

Bring a large pot of salted water to boil. Add the spaghetti and cook until almost al dente. Drain, reserving 1 cup of the pasta water. Add the pasta to the pan with the pancetta, along with the reserved pasta water. Turn up the heat and finish cooking the pasta, mixing well to distribute the pancetta and fats over the strands of spaghetti. Garnish with the parsley. Serve immediately.

NOTE The pancetta pieces tend to congregate at the bottom of the pan or bowl. When serving, stir well and make sure everyone gets their fair share of pancetta!


Zucchine Ripiene


Stuffed vegetables are a traditional tavola calda dish. That’s not only because you get both a main course and a side dish together, but also because they come in their own natural portioned sizes. While many cooks choose long zucchini for this dish, using a tool like an apple corer to carefully hollow out the tubes, Rocco prefers a much more manageable small, round zucchini, called Roly Poly, which are easier to stuff and cook and look so cute. SERVES 6 AS AN ANTIPASTO, 3 AS A MAIN DISH

1 medium potato

1 thick slice of country bread, with a tight, uniform crumb

13 cup of whole milk

6 small, round zucchini (about 2 pounds)

31/2 ounces of ground pork (about 1/2 cup)

31/2 ounces of ground turkey breast (about 1/2 cup)

1 tablespoon of extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling

1/2 teaspoon of sea salt, plus more to taste

1/2 teaspoon of freshly ground black pepper

1 large egg

2 tablespoons of chopped Italian flat-leaf parsley

1 clove of garlic, peeled
2 ounces of Parmigiano-Reggiano, grated

(1/2 cup)
1/2 cup of tomato puree 1/2 cup of vegetable broth

Preheat the oven to 350°F.

Place the potato in a small pot and add water
to cover by about an inch. Boil the potato until done; it should be tender enough to insert a fork easily. Drain the potato and when it is cool enough to handle, slip the skin off. Mash the potato using either a fork or a food mill; place in a large bowl. Set aside.

Soak the bread in the milk in a small bowl.

Cut the stem end off each zucchini, about 3/4-inch down from the top, and set them aside. (These will be the little “lids” that will top each of the stuffed zucchini.) To hollow out each zucchini, use a small melon baller or spoon. (The melon baller works perfectly, with less risk of breaking through the outside of the skin.) Hold
a zucchini in the palm of one hand, and with the other, gently scoop out the inner flesh, leaving a 1/3-inch-thick layer. (Save the pulp for another purpose, such as a future minestrone or pasta sauce, by freezing it.) If the zucchini doesn’t stand up on its own, trim a bit off the bottom
to give it a flat surface so it doesn’t topple over; hollow out the remaining zucchini.

To make the stuffing, add the ground pork and turkey, olive oil, salt, pepper, egg, and parsley to the potato. Add the garlic, either grating it on
a Microplane or using a garlic press. Take the bread from the milk, squeeze it, and crumble it into the bowl. Using your hands, mix everything together until completely blended.

Salt the inside of each of the zucchini, using about 1/4 teaspoon per zucchini, and then add about a tablespoon of grated Parmigiano, coating the inside. Using a small spoon, divide the stuffing among the zucchini, and put the lid on each one.

Place the zucchini in an ovenproof dish large enough to hold all of them. Drizzle a bit of olive oil over each, and season the tops with salt. Bake for 45 minutes.

Add the tomato purée and broth to the pan, pouring them around the zucchini, and continue baking for another 30 minutes. The zucchini are done when the tines of a fork are easily inserted.

Remove from the oven and let sit for at least 15 minutes before serving with a bit of the pan sauce. These are good warm, as well as room temperature.

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