Sometimes cooking is the most fun when you have the least to work with. I love it when my planned trip to the grocery store is a day or two away, supplies are perilously low, and I have to scavenge in the pantry. It’s a challenge to make something great for dinner, and you know I love a challenge.
So. The fridge was down to some scraps of leftovers, our usual assortment of several thousand different condiments, and, well, maybe a few root vegetables. But there’s always parmesano reggiano. Always pasta. And always, always some form of bacon in the freezer. Add an egg or two, and even my limited mathematic abilities come up with carbonara.
Lorenza’s Pasta, by Lorenza de Medici, was the book I pulled from the shelf. I would so love to be named de Medici, wouldn’t you? I mean, people really would just get the hell out of the way. And yes, she is related to those Medicis. Nevertheless, I do not fear her cookbooks. They’re quite good. And pretty to boot.
Pasta alla carbonara is a simple dish, and one, like many classics, which is surrounded by a complicated and contradictory mythology. Who knows where the recipe really came from? I haven’t got a clue, although given my love of arcana and conspiracy theories, it would be wonderful to think that it was created by a member of the secretive Carbonari. No, I didn’t make that up. Click the link.
Better to make it than to overthink it, I say. Aside from pasta — and a long, thin, squiggly shape like spaghetti probably works best — here’s what you need:
Fry the garlic — peeled, but not cut — in a little olive oil, until it turns golden brown. Then you toss out the garlic. I know, I know. I love garlic. But really, it’s okay this time.
Then cook the bacon in the same oil. Ms. de Medici’s recipe calls for pancetta, but I didn’t have any so I substituted slab bacon. It was fabulous.
Beat the egg in a bowl (one egg for every two people), and throw in some salt and pepper and grated parmesan. Again, the recipe called for a mix of parmesan and romano, but I only had parmesan. We were entirely happy without the romano.
This is one of those “make darn sure everything’s ready before you do the final step” recipes. So while the bacon’s cooking, set the table, open wine, wrangle any errant family members and get anything else you plan on eating set to go, because the last steps move fast and carbonara has to be eaten right away.
Once you’ve gotten the rest of the household off the internet, you can cook the spaghetti. Reserve a little bit of the cooking water before you strain it: about 1/4 cup if you’re cooking half a pound (for two people) or 1/2 cup if you’re cooking a pound (for four). Put the drained pasta, and that little bit of water, in the pan with the bacon and stir it around and cook it just for a minute or two. It will very nicely deglaze the pan and pick up all the bacony goodness that’s stuck to the bottom. Makes pan scrubbing easier later on, too.
Now. This is the fun part. Take the pan off the heat. I laid out a towel on my counter and put it there. Quick like a bunny, stir in the egg and cheese mixture, and keep stirring like crazy until the pasta is completely coated. The egg shouldn’t scramble, it should just coat the strands of pasta so that they look nicely glazed.
Serve it up (still moving at quick bunny speed), and eat. This was so good, it made me wish that every night was didn’t-get-to-the-store night!
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