I once caught a roach on a box grater. Exposed when I moved a bottle of vinegar, it ran across the work surface, brushing against a pile of shredded carrots as it went. It was a dimly lit corner in a dark kitchen, and I was horrified, which made my well-aimed strike all the more miraculous. Alerted by the yelling, my roommate came into the kitchen and tossed a tea towel onto the grater as we yelled options at each other. In the end, he held up a copy of National Geographic at counter level, so he could slide the grater over it, the creature tinkling against the moving metal. He then he opened the window. But when I was going to browse, it occurred to me that the roach might stick to the magazine, metal, or kitchen towel, so after taking a look, I dumped it all in the yard below.
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Two floors down, and relieved that we hadn’t run over anyone, we discovered that the magazine and dish towel had fallen among some neglected pot plants, while the grater had found itself on the concrete near the bike racks. The resulting dent wasn’t bad enough to render it unusable, just unstable, and the warped corner was the one between the sharp jaws and the vicious side which I never used anyway. Back at the flat, we tossed the carrot, cleaned everything with bleach, and headed out for a sandwich.
Years later, that rented flat and the grater are thousands of miles apart, and the vicious side of the box grater is the one I use the most. Or “the rough side”, as I heard it described the other day; the only side with outward-drilled holes, making them incredibly effective for producing fine crumbs of hard things – nutmeg, bread, chocolate, cheese – also knuckles and fingertips. As I said, vicious and ideal for pecorino romano, which grates finely into something between sand and soft sawdust. It’s a consistency that, and there’s no proof or evidence for this apart from 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). Not traditional though, because having danced with danger and a vicious grater, it includes the cautious step of making a very thick cream of grated pecorino and water. This is added to the hot pan of the gnocchi, coating it with hot fat and any residual water adhering to it, but away from any heat source, which would cause lumping. The residual heat and persistent gentle stirring are enough to melt the cream into a smooth sauce for a heavenly dish. You need firm gnocchi for this, so store-bought or homemade egg-fortified would be ideal, and streaky bacon can be substituted for the pancetta.
Gnocchi with bacon and pecorino
Homework 5 minutes
Cook 5 minutes
It serves 2
250 g of potato gnocchi
80 g bacon or baconcut into 2mm sticks or small dice
Boil a saucepan with salted water 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 seems too thick, add another tablespoon of water.
In a skillet over medium-low heat, fry the bacon or bacon until it releases its fat and is lightly golden. Lift the pieces and place them on a plate, leaving the fat behind and keeping the pan hot.
Cook the gnocchi in the saucepan of simmering water, then using a colander or spider, scoop them out, along with any residual water still clinging to them, and transfer to the warm, greased pan. Immediately add the cheese paste and, using two spoons or by moving the pan, gently stir everything together. Be persistent; the heat and residual water will melt the cheese into a sauce. Add the pancetta or bacon, shake again and serve immediately, if desired, with more pecorino grated on the vicious side of a grater which should not be missing from any kitchen.