Eat This Now: Marc Vetri's Carbonara with Katz Pastrami
On New York City’s Lower East Side, the 129-year-old Katz’s Delicatessen serves up 15,000 pounds of pastrami each week—typically doled out on rye with mustard—to crowds of tourists and longstanding regulars. The lovingly cured, spiced and smoked meat has also popped up elsewhere around the city, guest-starring in dishes like Joe Ng’s egg rolls (aptly served with a mustard sauce) at RedFarm and paired with bone marrow at Daniel Boulud’s DBGB, but for the first time ever, it’s hitting the road. For the summer, the iconic Jewish deli launched Pass the Pastrami, giving chefs around the country the chance to cook with the famed deli meat.
The series kicked off at Little Donkey in Boston with Jamie Bissonnette’s pastrami sopes, then headed to Harry’s Pizzeria in Miami where Michael Schwartz added pastrami, sauerkraut, mustard sauce and Gruyère to a rye-crusted pizza. Starting July 17, Marc Vetri will serve the stuff at Philadelphia's Amis Trattoria. The chef and founder of Vetri Family Restaurants is making pastrami carbonara with tonnarelli (a square-shaped spaghetti), egg, olive oil, pecorino and black pepper. Carbonara and other traditional Roman pasta dishes like amatriciana and cacio e pepe can usually be found on the menu at Amis, but it didn’t take the chef long to incorporate the classic Jewish meat, swapping in the pastrami for the dish’s usual guanciale, or cured pork jowl.
“We sauté it up, and the outside is sort of hard, but the inside stays real soft and nice, and it mimics the guanciale really well,” says Vetri. “It was really a no-brainer.” Of course, altering a classic Italian recipe in any form can raise eyebrows, as Nigella Lawson learned earlier this month. The English cookbook author posted her own recipe for carbonara (adding white wine and cream to the standard ingredients,) and her Twitter followers had opinions. But Vetri isn’t fazed—the chef has a healthy respect for Italian recipes and traditions. “As long as you kind of stay within the lines,” he says. “For example, in this dish, we’re switching out the guanciale for another similar sort of fatty meat.” Vetri says he would never add white wine or heavy cream, stopping just short of calling it sacrilegious.
The Philadelphia-based chef says he likes to break from tradition, but even while experimenting for his forthcoming pizza cookbook Mastering Pizza, whipping up offbeat pies like the carbonara with whisked eggs and parmesan and bacon, or dessert versions with fresh berries and whipped cream or crème brûlée, Vetri is still sticking with signature techniques and top-notch ingredients.
Katz’s owner Jake Dell aligns with Vetri’s philosophy. After taking over operations in 2012, the 29-year-old has injected some fresh ideas into the time-honored institution with updates to the business and bookkeeping side of the operation.
“What we do is really classic, but there are really talented people who can take something so classic and put a crazy, creative spin on it, and I love that,” he says. “But, as for the store itself, we don't want to change anything. We want it to look like 1888 in here. We want it to feel like it, smell like it and taste like it.”
Dell is also working to improve Katz’s shipping department. While the deli has offered mail order since World War II (popularizing the endearing slogan “Send a Salami to Your Boy in the Army,”) they now offer free shipping nationwide, and they’re working on growing to eventually ship globally. Imagine a world where anyone can taste Katz’s pastrami, whether in a dish like Vetri’s carbonara or the traditional way Dell takes it: “On rye with mustard, that’s it.”