‘This scrumptious, feel-good autumn dish serves two, making it absolutely perfect for a night in. Open a bottle of wine, cook together, then collapse in front of a roaring fire. I can’t imagine a better way to spend a wet, windy November evening’
Extract from Valentine Warner’s The Good Table: Adventures In And Around My Kitchen
Published by Octopus Publishing
I visited the Valle d’Aosta, a wonderful part of northernmost Italy that nestles right up against the Swiss border, and is the country’s smallest region. Full of many delicious foods, it is the proud home of Fontina cheese. Obsessively enjoyed by every resident, this seems to be included in a good majority of the Aostan culinary repertoire, and is melted into everything from beef stews to pasta dishes. Although Britain is only drip-fed with valuable Fontina, it is easily found in good cheese shops. This was a dish I invented to sum up my snowy winter stay in its homeland.
12 small button onions, skins left on
1½tsp caster sugar
1tbsp balsamic vinegar
Flaked sea salt
4 thin slices of pancetta
100ml double cream
50g Fontina cheese, rind removed, grated
½ handful of whole, toasted and barely chopped hazelnuts
Drop all the onions into a pan of rolling water and boil for seven minutes. Drain and allow them to cool. Carefully trim them of any whiskers and a fraction off the root end, as you need to keep them intact. Remove their jackets and tops. Fill a small saucepan with water for the pasta, and put
it on to boil. Melt the butter in a frying pan, and when it’s foaming, add the onions and fry for 8-10 minutes.
Stir them occasionally and regulate the heat if needs be, as the butter must not burn. The onions should end up richly coloured and tender, and the butter nutty brown. Sprinkle over the sugar and vinegar, then swirl the onions around until the balsamic has reduced and the sugar caramelised and stuck to the onions. Season generously with salt, then turn off the heat.
Drop the macaroni into the boiling water and cook for eight minutes, or until firm yet tender but not mushy. Just before it’s ready, put the onions back over a medium heat. Push them to one side and wipe the empty half clean with kitchen paper. Lay down the pancetta. It will not take long to cook-three minutes or so. Turn it once and be careful not to burn it. It should be crisp and brittle. Turn the onions so that they warm through evenly.
When the pancetta is done, turn off the heat. Drain the macaroni and tip it back into the pot. Pour in the cream and scatter in the cheese. Put the pan back over a low heat and gently fold all together until the cheese has melted. Check the seasoning, adding a little salt if necessary.
Spoon the macaroni between two warm plates. Nestle six onions in the middle of the pasta, cut each pancetta slice in half and arrange between the onions. Lastly, scatter over the hazelnuts. Eat immediately, as mountain food is better hot.