Rachel Roddy's recipe for gnocchi with pancetta and pecorino

In this more hearty dish, pecorino pasta gently melts in the residual heat of the pan, and then clings seductively to plump gnocchi topped with fried lardons.

never caught a cockroach with a box grater. Catching it when I moved a bottle of vinegar, it streamed across the work surface, brushing away piles of grated carrots as I walked. It was a dimly lit corner of a dark kitchen, and I was horrified, which made my accurate slam all the more magical. Alerted by a scream, my roommate arrives in the kitchen and throws a tea towel over the grate while we shout options at each other. In the end, he's holding a National Geographic grade copy by the counter, so I can slide the grater over it, the creature clinking against the moving metal. He then opened the window. But when I went to flick, it occurred to me that the cockroach might be stuck to magazines, metal or tea towels, so, after a quick glance, I tossed it all onto the page below.

Two flights down, and relieved we didn't bump into anyone, we discovered that magazines and tea towels had landed among some abandoned potted plants, while a grate had met concrete by the bike rack. The resulting dents weren't bad enough to render them unusable, just unstable, and the deformed corners were those between a slicing mouth and a nasty side I never used. Back at the flat, we dumped the carrots, wiped everything down with bleach, and headed out for sandwiches.

Years later, that rental apartment and grater are thousands of miles away, and the vicious side of a box grater is what I use the most. Or the "husky side", as I heard it described the other day; the only side with the slotted holes faces outwards, making it especially effective for producing fine crumbs of hard objects: nutmeg, bread, chocolate, cheese, also knuckles and fingertips. Like I said, fierce, and ideal for pecorino romano, which blends subtly into something between sand and soft sawdust. It's a consistency that — and there's no proof or evidence for this other than my own experience — melts most effectively when it meets pasta or, in the case of this week's recipe, gnocchi.

This dish is inspired by two classic Roman dishes: cacio e pepe (pecorino and pepper) and alla gricia (pecorino, pepper and guanciale or pancetta). It's untraditional, though, as, after a dance of ferocious danger and grating, it includes the careful step of crafting grated pecorino cream and incredibly thick water. It's added to a hot pot of gnocchi, coating it with the hot fat and excess water that sticks to it, but away from any heat source, which would cause clumping. The residual heat and gentle, continuous stirring is enough to melt the cream into a creamy sauce for a heavenly meal. You need firm gnocchi for this, so store-bought or homemade egg-fortified would be ideal, and the pancetta can be substituted for striped bacon.

Gnocchi with pancetta and pecorino

  • Preparation 5 min
  • Cook 5 minutes
  • Serving 2

  • 250g potato gnocchi
  • 80g pecorino, grated
  • 80g pancetta or bacon, cut into 2mm sticks or small dice
  • Black pepper

Bring a pot of salted water to a boil for the gnocchi. In a small bowl, mix the grated pecorino with four tablespoons of water and stir to form a very thick paste (think toothpaste); if it looks very thick, add another tablespoon of water.

In a skillet over medium-low heat, fry the pancetta or bacon until the fat turns brown and turns golden. Remove the pieces onto a plate, leaving off the fat and keeping the pan warm.

Cook the gnocchi in a pot of simmering water, then, using a colander or spider, remove, with any remaining water, and transfer to a warm, fat pan. Immediately add the cheese paste and, using two spoons or by swinging the pan, stir everything gently. be persistent; the heat and the remaining water will melt the cheese into the sauce. Add the pancetta or bacon, swish again, and serve immediately - if you like it with more grated pecorino on the side of the grater that no kitchen should be allowed.

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