03 January 2011

This is why I still eat meat

Spaghetti Carbonara*

Okay, everyone single should be able to cook at least one thing, because it is such a great way to seduce people. This is also a recipe for people who don't cook. You don't have to be cheap and busy to appreciate this recipe, but it might help.

You can fancy it up with some creative shopping but every basic component can be the kind of thing that keeps forever - especially if you're using jarred pesto and skipping the ricotta. (The eggs ought to be fresh too, but I suppose you could substitute shelf-stable-forever EggBeaters. If you're camping or something. Or you could use two tablespoons of water mixed with a tsp of flax seed if you're vegan** or super grossed out by EggBeaters (I am). But fresh eggs are best.)

3/4 lb of pasta
2 egg yolks
fresh ricotta
1 tbsp pesto, or more if you prefer.
2 tbsp butter
fresh parmesan
pinch of nutmeg
ground pepper
4 tbsp white wine or vegetable stock
100 grams/3 oz cubed pancetta, about 1 cm x 1 cm. Bacon is fine too.

Put the pasta water on in a big pot to boil. The water for pasta should be "as salty as the Mediterranean", whatever.

Cut up the pancetta. Dump it in another large pot with one tbsp of the butter. Cook until the pancetta has started to brown a little and then add the wine or stock. Cook until the liquid has reduced to about 2 tbsp.

If the pasta water has started boiling yet, put it in and set a timer for the cooking time on the box or just cook it until it's the texture you like. I always use the timer because I can't be bothered to keep testing the pasta.

While the pancetta is browning, you can start the egg sauce. In a smallish bowl, beat the eggs with the cheeses. If you aren't using the ricotta, add a couple of extra tablespoons of cream/milk/stock/pasta water. Remember to check on the pasta, by the way. Don't let the pancetta stick and burn, either. Add the nutmeg to the egg sauce. (If you are like me, you got a microplane from your sister for christmas and you will become childishly happy at the prospect of using the microplane to grate the cheese right onto the eggs and then using the exact same microplane to grate the nutmeg in right after. But I think I'm the only one like me.) Grate some pepper over the sauce. The Parmesan and the pancetta are both pretty salty, so you probably won't need salt.

Turn off the heat under the pancetta. Add the other tbsp of butter and the pesto. If you're using electric burners, that's too bad, and it also means that you're going to need to remove the pancetta pot from that entire burner. Turn the drained pasta back into the pancetta pot and toss it around a little, enough to get the pasta pretty well coated all over with the delicious salty bacony grease. Add the egg sauce. Stir well until it has all amalgamated into a deliciously sticky, heart-stoppingly delicious blaze of creamy sauce-bacon-pasta glory. Weep for your arteries. Be so fucking glad that you aren't a vegetarian.

*This recipe is actually so far from the original spaghetti carbonara that I am probably justified in renaming it Pasta Carabonara except that seems like the kind of silly pun an editor would make.

** Did you know bacon bits are vegan?

Vegan Substitutions

For the ricotta I would probably substitute plain soy milk into which you've warmed and steeped a dried porcini, crumbled into tiny bits. If you have advance notice for this meal you could also buy some fresh mushrooms - whatever kind you like - and saute those in olive oil lieu of the pancetta.

When you drain the pasta, reserve a bit of the cooking water.

Right before you put the pasta back in, add another slug of oil and a pinch or two of flour - maybe a teaspoon or so. Push it around in the pan until the flour is golden brown or doesn't taste raw, whichever way you want to judge it. The mushrooms will make everything look brown so you might want to go by taste.

Add the wine and cook most of the booze off. Then add the bacon bits. Those little motherfuckers are salty so you probably won't need to add salt. Add the pesto. Add the soy-porcini stuff. Stir until you've got a sauce that has the texture you like. Technically you made a roux, which is another way of saying gravy, when you added the flour to the fat, and rouxes are magical creatures that allow you to marry fat with water-based liquid in a smooth sauce, as opposed to something lumpy that separates and looks curdled. If the sauce doesn't look liquidy enough, you can add some of the reserved cooking water (or soy milk or vegetable stock or ... water) tablespoon by tablespoon.

Once the sauce is done, put the drained pasta back in the pot and stir it to get things pretty well distributed. Serve, garnished with fresh basil if you're feeling froggy.


Jana said...

Yum! I can't wait to try that. Thanks so much for the little plug with the Microplane Adjustable grater. I get very excited to use it too! :)

lisa peet said...

Oh, that looks awesome. I myself would change it to "This is why I still eat bacon," because it's pork that I have the big ethical problems with. But my goodness, that looks delicious. It's amazing how a little pesto peps up all sorts of things.

constance said...

"Okay, everyone single should be able to cook at least one thing, because it is such a great way to seduce people."

Heh. My meal for that is a shrimp and pea risotto. I happen to have plans to wield it tomorrow evening. Not that he needs much seducing. ;)

I think it originally came from what's-his-face, that Naked Chef Brit kid.... Jamie Oliver? It's creamy and savory without being too heavy. Lemony and bright (with the right frozen peas) and the shrimp is a nice delicate foil to the heft of the risotto.

Risottos in general are probably my forte. Deceptively simple for the response that they get. But I'm interested in trying some more complex dishes. You've perhaps inspired me to give this a go and take a peek into some of my dusty cookbooks. After Snowpocalypse 2: Hysteria's Revenge is over, of course.