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Ack. I can't settle to anything. I've serious reviews planned, honest, I have. Times, however, are too unsettling. Challenges, or recipes, or some other such lightweight stuff are all you'll get from me at the moment, I'm afraid. Sorry! I thought you might like to try my one of my favourites. It's not what you'd call a "proper dinner", more of a weekend lunch or a late supper, hence I'm calling it a snack. It's a rather robust snack. It's delicious though, and perfect for serving to friends on less formal occasions. I call it "That Pancetta and Potato Thing". If you have any better ideas, leave me a comment. For TPaPT to serve four you'll need:
• half a dozen (that's six) medium-sized potatoes • 250g diced pancetta • 250ml double cream • a whole head of garlic • a medium-sized red onion • twelve or so thin slices of Emmenthal cheese • a little olive oil for frying
As ever, the method is easy.
Firstly, you need to peel and dice the potatoes. By diced, I mean cut the potatoes into chunks a little bigger than a sugar cube. Secondly, separate all the cloves from your head of garlic and peel off all the papery stuff. Thirdly, peel and chop the onion very roughly – you want nice, big pieces. Fourthly, make sure you have everything else at the ready, including a large frying pan, a wooden spoon, and an ovenproof, shallow dish. Now, at last, you're ready to go.
Heat the oil in the pan and start to fry the pancetta. You need to fry it quite slowly – I keep the heat on the number two setting on my hob, which is one of those halogen affairs. Let it sizzle away until the pancetta starts to turn just the slightest bit crispy, and when it does, add in the onion and cloves of garlic. Carry on sizzling with the same low heat until the onions are softening and starting to look translucent. At that point, tip in the potatoes and sizzle away, stirring the mixture around a bit every so often. Remember to keep the heat low, remember to stir occasionally, but don't keep stirring. You need to keep going until the pancetta is really crispy, the onions look very slightly caramelised and the potatoes are just starting to look golden. All this frying will have taken about twenty minutes of your time, I'd guess.
Now, tip the whole mixture – it smells wonderful already – into the ovenproof dish. Pour the cream over the top and finish with a layer of the sliced cheese. Then it's into a hot oven (about 200º) with it, and finally, some nice sitting around with a glass of wine for another fifteen or twenty minutes. Your TPaPT is ready when the cream is bubbling and the cheese has melted. And boy, will you enjoy it. It smells divine and it tastes divine too; dripping with the sweetness of the onion and garlic, tempered with the floury potatoes, and made rich with the pancetta, cream, and cheese.
I like to serve TPaPT with a big pile of green vegetables – broccoli in particular – or a salad of peppery green leaves – watercress, spinach, Chinese leaves – for it is a very rich dish. You need some greenery, I think. You can drink beer with it, but make sure it's a good, strong beer: anything inconspicuous in flavour would simply be lost. I prefer a bottle of sturdy and robust red wine, um… in other words, plonk! TPaPT needs a strong partner, you see. Mind your head in the morning!
You can use any potatoes, it really doesn't matter – old, new, whatever, although don't be silly and waste your Jersey Royals. If you're in a hurry you could parboil them for a minute or two first. You can't use streaky bacon instead of pancetta though, unless it's a very good quality, dry-cured and smoked streaky bacon, that is. And don't buy the pancetta that's sliced a la "wafer thin". You need little chunks of the stuff. It doesn't matter if your onion is red or not, really, but I use red because I prefer the slightly sweeter flavour. Try and make sure your garlic is as fresh as possible. If you don't have Emmenthal cheese you could use mozzarella or anything that melts well, and at a real push, you could use Cheddar, I suppose. Whipping cream will do, single cream won't, neither will the kind of "extra thick" double cream that needs spooning, not pouring, from its container. Make sure your dish is nice and shallow, and a non-stick frying pan is a good idea.
TPaPT is best enjoyed, as is everything, in the company of good friends and good conversation.