Pasta Carbonara, a Spring Template (Many Green Things are Delicious Added to this Classic)

I cook as an expression of love and gratitude and hope and memories and nostalgia. I cook because I simply like to cook and express those feelings, and others. I also sometimes cook, not exactly as bribery, but as way to improve my 12-year-old’s mood.

 

Pasta Carbonara is pretty much a guaranteed mood-booster in our household. I like Pasta Carbonara, the Roman pasta dish of pancetta, egg, black pepper and Parmesan–brilliantly made in way that the residual heat of the just cooked pasta and a little hot pasta cooking water, cooks the eggy/cheese/peppery sauce.  But I like a little greenery, actually a lot of greenery and in the spring there are many ways to modify/augment this quick classic.

 

In this version I sauteed four heads of green/new garlic to which I then added the bacon (I never stock pancetta) and then when the dish was finished, stirred in three cups of radish seedlings (from my CSA) which just wilted from the heat of the finished dish. I loved this version, my 12-year-old not quite so much! Oh well!

 

Alternatively you can toss sliced asparagus or snap peas in with the pasta for the last few minutes of cooking and then drain them all together (don’t forget to save out 1/2 cup of cooking water) or stir in sauteed leafy greens of any kind or tender pea shoots. The silky sauce that defines carbonara is such a nice foil for all these green things.

 

May it lift your mood or those at your table!

 

P.S. I seem to be on an Italian kick these days. Here’s a quick TV segment featuring a Spring Vegetable Ragout. You can employ this method with many different spring vegetables from radishes to fava beans to leeks and garlic scapes.

 

Pasta Carbonara with Green Garlic and Radish Seedlings (or whatever greenery you’d like)

 

If you don’t have radish seedlings you can toss sliced asparagus or snap peas in with the pasta for the last few minutes of cooking and then drain them all together (don’t forget to save out 1/2 cup of cooking water) or stir in sauteed leafy greens of any kind.

 

You can also skip the bacon or pancetta. The garlic adds lots of flavor as do the greens.

 

Serves 4

 

3-4 eggs
1/4 teaspoon salt, more to taste
1/4 teaspoon or more, freshly ground black pepper
3/4 cup grated Parmesan
1 tablespoon olive oil or butter
2-4 stalks green garlic or small new garlic heads or 2 cloves mature garlic, finely chopped
2-3 oz pancetta or bacon, diced (optional–see headnote)
1 lb spaghetti, linguine (or other shape of pasta)
3 cups radish seedlings or tender pea micro-greens or other other greens (see headnote)

 

Heat the oil or butter in a small skillet over medium heat and gently cook the garlic for about 5 minutes or until softened and fragrant. Take care not to brown or burn it. Add the bacon/pancetta, if using, and turn the heat up a little and cook until it has rendered its fat. Take off the heat and set aside.

 

Beat the eggs in a bowl and add grated cheese, salt, and plenty of pepper. Cook pasta in generous amount of salted water.  Scoop out and save ½ cup of cooking water and then drain when pasta is al dente. Return pasta to the pan (off the heat), add garlic/bacon, egg mixture and a bit of the reserved cooking water and mix well. The heat of the pasta will cook the egg and create a lovely sauce. Add more cooking water if it seems at all dry; you want a silky sauce. Serve hot with extra cheese if you’d like.  Carbonara is traditionally very peppery so don’t be shy with the black pepper.

 

Time Well Spent & Salade Nicoise

When I was growing up I often woke up to the smell of frying onions and bacon wafting up the stairs, and not in an American-breakfast-hash-sort-of-way but in a German-Zwiebelkuchen-sort-of-way. Zwiebelkuchen is kind of a cross between pizza and Quiche with lots of sautéed onions, bacon and cheese. It’s a great dish to feed lots of people, keeps well, etc. So my mother, always needing lots of food for our household, started early while she was also making breakfast.

Other days she’d have a lentil soup simmering away while we were heading off to school. So the idea of getting a jump-start on dinner in the morning has often been part of my routine too. These days I’ve been hard boiling eggs and cooking potatoes and green beans in the morning so that I can throw together a Nicoise Salad in a few minutes at night. The warmer weather has inspired more cold suppers and one of my favorites is a pasta dish with a raw tomato sauce (just blanch a few tomatoes, peel them and whizz in the blender with 2 handfuls of basil and 4 tbs of olive oil and salt) that you toss with room temperature pasta and diced fresh mozzarella. So I cook the pasta in the morning, toss it with olive oil and it’s ready for the sauce and hungry boys in no time.

There are infinite ways to split up the dinner cooking whether you start the night before while cleaning up dinner or the next morning. And I feel downright smug sometimes when I sneak steps in that way.

You can make a pesto or other sauce in the morning and cook the starch in the evening or cook some rice in the morning and toss with a vinaigrette and fresh veggies at night. You get the drift.

So, here’s the Nicoise recipe and a link to my August classes in which we’re cooking fabulous summer fare like this.

Nicoise KD
My version of a Salade Nicoise, with a creamy dressing–and not lettuce or olives. It’s a great idea to adapt to your taste and what you have on hand.

Salade Nicoise

I have adapted this classic composed French salad to my tastes over the years so this is not entirely authentic but very delicious and one of my favorite summer dinners. It’s a complete meal and beautiful to boot. As usual, please use the quantities as a guide. They are approximations and I vary them depending on how much of what I have on hand. There are very few hard and fast rules about this. And all of the components keep and are wonderful the next day so don’t worry about making too much.

3 waxy, firm fleshed potatoes (anything but russets), scrubbed and cut into large chunks or left whole if you have time (they cook more quickly if they’re cut up)

2 medium tomatoes, cut into wedges or a handful of cherry tomatoes

½ lb of green beans, tipped

3-4 hard-boiled eggs, sliced in half

5 oz of canned Tuna (Oregon Albacore is wonderful, low in mercury, and available at many local farmers markets, at New Seasons, Pastaworks, etc.)

1 handful of cured olives

Cook the potatoes in salted water until tender but firm. Remove potatoes from water and let them cool. You can cook the green beans in the salted potato water so don’t throw it out. Add a bit more salt to the water and bring back to a boil and then toss in beans and cook for 4-5 minutes until tender but not mushy. The flavor of cooked green beans is much better (in my mind) when they are fully cooked and no longer “squeaky” but certainly not mushy.

Dressing

½ cup of either basic homemade mayo or aioli

1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh thyme

1-2 tablespoons capers, rinsed well and finely chopped

1 tablespoon finely minced onion or shallot

1 teaspoon Dijon-style mustard

1 teaspoon or more, lemon juice or white or red wine vinegar.

a few teaspoons of warm water or milk/cream for thinning down the mayo

freshly ground, pepper

Mix all ingredients together well. Adjust seasoning to your taste with more lemon, salt, or pepper. If you don’t have any mayo on hand the traditional Nicoise calls for a vinaigrette so substitute the mayo in the above recipe for 1/3 cup of good olive oil and add more vinegar or lemon juice.

On a large platter arrange the potato chunks, green beans, eggs, tomatoes, olives, and tuna. Drizzle everything generously with the dressing and serve.