I have a confession to share with all of you. Not so much a confession actually, more an embarrassing anecdote that speaks volumes about the life and times of me.
I was the biggest eater in my high school class. Literally. I was voted by my classmates to be the female member of the class with the largest appetite, and this was immortalized in the superlative section of my yearbook. I will not deny that there may have been truth to this claim, but to the wise yearbook advising teacher who allowed that travesty of justice to take place, and to all my classmates who thought I would enjoy that illustrious honor, I thank you. There will forever be a picture of me in the VRHS Class of 2001 TRIAD holding several luncheon sized bags of chips. I have not since been quite so proud. And to add to the injustice, I do believe I was wearing a corduroy jumper and cotton turtleneck for said photo shoot, and for that I can blame no one but myself. High school is a cruel and unusual place…
And this is relevant because I went running yesterday morning, and when I returned from my run, I ate a most delightful bowl of rice krispies with banana. I trotted off to work and drank a liter of mandarin orange spicy water, had some melon left over from a client visit, and then didn’t want an unhealthy lunch, and didn’t bring my own from home, so I had a bowl of raisin bran at noon. And that is it, all day. Two bowls of cereal and some fruit might be fine for any normal person, but it is certainly not a diet befitting the biggest eater of the VRHS class of 2001, which is why I found myself bolting from my cube at 5:05 afraid I might pass out from lack of sustenance, and craving an IV of complex carbohydrates for my evening repast. A perfect night for pasta carbonara.
Pasta carbonara should be easy. It is straightforward, doesn’t have very many ingredients, and comes together in minutes. A real, honest to goodness, traditional carbonara sauce contains olive oil, bacon, garlic, egg, parmesan cheese and black pepper. That’s it. No cream or anything else. The final result is noodles coated with tangy, peppery deliciousness. Not creamy exactly, but not oily or greasy either.
The tricky part of this sauce is the addition of the eggs without curdling them. You want the eggs to emulsify with the oil and bacon fat using the heat from the pasta and the oil, but without scrambling them, which is not what we are going for.
The pasta goes into the boiling water, and then the bacon and olive oil go into a saute pan. The bacon fat is rendered and the bacon crisps up, and then the garlic is added to soften for a minute. All basic so far. When the pasta is al dente, it goes into the pan with the bacon to get coated by the oil. Toss them together and then remove from the heat. At this point I had beaten the eggs and added the grated Parmesan cheese to them, and in order to avoid the scramble, I added a bit of the pasta water to the egg and cheese mixture while stirring frantically. Then off the heat, I added the cheese and egg mixture, and a bit more pasta water, and stirred frantically again to mix them all together. This (hopefully) cooks the egg and the sauce without scrambling them. Then voila! I grated some pepper over the top, plated them in my pasta bowls, sprinkled some parsley and more parm on the top and dinner was served. Success! I had failed miserably at this once before, so I was pretty proud of myself. And it was tasty. Even though I don’t usually like parsley, a little bit on each plate here really creates a nice contrast with the richness of the sauce, so don’t skip that part.
I think mixing the egg and cheese together, and then adding some pasta water before it went onto the pasta was the trick here. It tempered the eggs a little bit or something. Overall, this came out pretty well. I still could use some perfecting, and I think practice will help immensely, but it was quite good. I had the leftovers for lunch today, and they were fine, but this is one of those sauces that really should be served right away. Leftovers just don’t compute. The reheat doesn’t work out very well. But last night? It worked. And I enjoyed it with the rest of a bottle of Matanzas Creek Chardonnay (2006 I believe) that I brought home from my 30th birthday wine country extravaganza, and that we opened on Sunday night with the cod and didn’t finish. It paired pretty nicely, actually. So there you have it. Carbonara. It was good, it revived me from my trance like state that I was in when I left work, and I was so pleased with myself when the eggs didn’t scramble that I actually raised my hands above my head and did a silent cheer. What more can you ask for on a Tuesday?
Pasta Carbonara (serves 4 biggest eaters)
Adapted from Tyler Florence on www.foodnetwork.com
2 tbls olive oil (I never really measure this, if you take the cap off the olive oil and circle it around your pan twice, I think that would be about 2 tbls)
4 pieces thick cut bacon, cut into small pieces
4 cloves of garlic
1 cup Parmesan cheese
1/2 cup of the pasta cooking water
Freshly ground black pepper
1 lb long pasta. I used linguine
Handful of flat leaf parsley, roughly chopped, and additional Parmesan cheese for serving
Boil the water for the pasta. Grate the cheese and beat the eggs and mix them together. Cook the pasta to al dente. At the same time, heat the olive oil and bacon over medium heat in a saute pan, and cook until the fat is rendered and the bacon is crisp. Lower the heat to low and add the garlic. Let it soften for a minute or two. You want this to coincide with the pasta finishing its cooking, so lower or remove from the heat at any time to slow the process. Make sure you reserve a half cup of pasta water from the pot, and then drain the pasta. Add it immediately to the saute pan, and toss the pasta with the oil until it is totally coated, one to two minutes. At this time, add the pasta water to the egg and cheese mixture slowly, while mixing constantly, to make a warm sauce. Remove the pasta from the heat, and toss the pasta constantly as you add the egg mixture to prevent scrambling the eggs, and stir until the sauce comes together and coats the pasta. Add the pepper to the pasta and toss well. Portion into 4 pasta bowls, sprinkle with parsley and some additional Parmesan, and serve.