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.

 

Change

A quintessential last minute dinner: Quinoa with bacon, peas, and hardboiled egg.

I’ve been thinking about change a lot as I develop and gear up for my new cooking class series entitled Eat Better: Kitchen Fundamentals, Pantry Stocking and 30-Minute Dinners.  It seems that in the world of cooking, foods and methods of preparation have changed as our lives have changed. We’re busier, we work outside of the home for longer hours, we have other priorities. So I devise a series on how to make cooking real meals with whole ingredients possible in this kind of a world. But even 30 minutes of solid cooking in the evening plus the time it takes to keep that pantry stocked and a few things prepped here and there is a big shift for many of us.

So the question I keep asking myself is how to find that balance between offering lots of creative short-cuts and menus that fit into our busy lives and helping people want to spend a little more time in the kitchen because the pay-offs can be so, so great. So maybe having our lives change just a bit to enable real, good food to hit our table more often, means that instead of needing the cooking to be crammed into our crazy lives we decide to make our lives a little less crazy in order to fit in some real cooking.

Even though I work from home and my work is food, I still often don’t know what I’m going to make for dinner when 5:30pm rolls around. I do have a very well-stocked pantry and several decades of cooking under my belt so the task is not so daunting and often a nice break from the computer. But even with my time at home and years of experience, I chuckle when I read cookbooks  that say things in the head notes of a recipe like this: Serve this ____ main dish with ___ salad with ___ dressing and ___ vegetable dish for a simple satisfying supper. What?!  I can’t count on 2 hands the times my regular week night dinners have included the above components in the last six months. Maybe I’m unorthodox in my focus one one-dish dinners or one dish plus fried egg or one dish plus slice of bread or one-dish plus something I had in the freezer or made extra of the day before, but that is my reality and I find truly simple meals like this very satisfying. And I don’t think I’m feeding my family nutritionally unbalanced meals. This way of cooking certainly is informed by growing up in a household with three brothers and usually an exchange student or two and two parents who liked to eat. My mother just made quantities of one or two dishes and that was that. It was always delicious. And, I should add, she always made some kind of dessert because my father mandated it!:) But I digress.

What I think I’m trying to say is that real, good food can be made fairly quickly and regularly and the investment in time it takes to build that skill and confidence level is worth it.

The first time Ellis actually saved me time in the kitchen. He perfectly hollowed out both halves of this squash–no stray strings or seeds! So, if you have kids, put 'em to work!:)

So I’ve tried to tackle a big subject in these few muddled paragraphs and I would love to hear your thoughts on how you find a balance between cooking and all your other interests, demands, needs, etc. And I’m curious whether you would like to spend more time cooking, less time, would like to cook differently, more simply, more creatively. . .

Happy New Year and happy cooking and thanks for reading.

Katherine

P.S. In case I haven’t mentioned it before, I’m a guest blogger at Culinate these days and if I’ve missed a blog post or two of my own lately it’s because I’ve been posting there as well and there are only so many hours in the day. . . So if you’re curious, there’s this recent one and this one. Enjoy.