There is a lot going on with this dish and yet each mouthful is pure, refreshing, almost crisp. The multi-layered flavor profile of the Mangalitsa pig jowl probably has much to do with the fact that the rest of the dish unites so beautifully. There is a lot to cling onto in the jowl, and it helps each of the other ingredients to shine in a different way. I had the great pleasure of meeting Heath Putnam recently, proprietor of Wooly Pigs. Heath is all about Mangalitsa pigs, which are a highly specialized breed of pig whose main distinguishing characteristic is that they are much fattier than typical American pigs, including most heritage breeds. Since we all know that fat is flavor, you can imagine how creamy and succulent these babies taste. The Mangalitsa was first imported to the US by Wooly Pigs, and to date they remain the primary stateside supplier. The company was founded a few short years ago, and has the noble distinction of selling their first pig to none other than The French Laundry. I encourage you to learn more about this robustly flavored breed, as well as the European slaughtering techniques that produce more globally classic cuts of meat.
I picked up a jowl from Heath recently, and I gave it the true attention it deserved. If you know me at all you know I can’t resist throwing things into the sous vide, but I wanted to add depth to the flavor, so I lightly smoked the jowl first. It was a challenge keeping my smoker at 150°, so I only smoked it for an hour, but it was enough- the smoke clung to the brined jowl in just the right way. After smoking, I tossed it in the sous vide bath at 150° for 36 hours. Once I removed it it was tender as filet mignon, lightly smoked, and ready to transform ordinary pasta dishes into otherworldly palatial experiences (yes, that’s a pun on palate- no, I don’t apologize for it). I used the jowl in a typical ragu one evening, unfortunately it was dark, much wine was imbibed, and the camera sat languishing in the corner. Suffice to say that if you ever find yourself laden with smoked sous vide Mangalitsa jowl, you can’t go wrong replacing the pancetta portion of a typical Bolognese with it. Remarkable.
From the success of the ragu I knew I wanted to spruce up another pasta with the jowl, and I’ve been on a bit of a gnocchi kick lately, hence these perfectly coddled gnocchi made from Okinawan purple sweet potatoes. The sweetness in the potato highlights the smokiness in the jowl and becomes richness personified. I only added the favas and chickpeas because they were in season, startlingly fresh, and both provided two welcome textural additions to the otherwise relatively soft dish. I will leave you with a quick warning about shelling the peas and beans of spring. BUY EXTRA!! Half inevitably meet their fate in your mouth before they ever see the inside of a frying pan. They are worth the time it takes to shell them, since one secreted bite of raw chickpea or fava is like eating spring.