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.

 

Summer Improv Cooking and Pasta Carbonara with Peas

Dull knives, wobbly pans, no pantry to speak of. . . .none of it mattered at the beach last week where I was for the annual family summer outing. My mother, sisters-in-law and I all brought fruit and produce and we feasted, simply (or not so simply on the night we grilled Alaskan Sockeye salmon) and with relatively little time spent in the kitchen. Being able to cook-with-what-you-have is even more useful when you’re on the road and don’t have all your familiar kitchen items so you can pull together something quickly with hungry, sandy children underfoot with minimal stress. With that I should note that I traveled with a mini pantry which included lots of fresh herbs from my garden, ginger, garlic, good olive oil, lemons, dry chickpeas, pinto beans and some cheese. All of this packs easily into a little bag/cooler and makes life in foreign kitchens much more delicious and fun.

My mother shelling the peas she'd brought from her garden.

One night I made Pasta Carbonara with the above peas. This is an inauthentic addition to the classic Carbonara which just includes eggs, cheese, pancetta (or bacon), lots of black pepper and pasta but it’s a mighty good one (recipe below).

I used some of the last of the season’s sugar snap peas, fava and garbanzo beans to make this impromptu three-bean/pea salad. I employed the fava bean cooking technique I’ve discussed here before and it was a winner. Since the peas were getting a little tough, sautéed them for a few minutes and then tossed them with the other beans, some crumbled feta, basil, lemon juice, s & p, and olive oil.

Fava bean, snap pea and chickpea salad with basil, feta, lemon, garlic and olive oil

My mother has one pie cherry tree and she brought enough cherries for a pie. There was an old copy of the Joy of Cooking at the house but oddly it didn’t have one, what I think of as straightforward pie dough recipe. They were either for flour paste pie dough or pie dough with oil or with baking powder. I know the ratio of my favorite pie dough in my head more or less and since we only had  very spotty internet connection I went with my spotty memory. It basically worked well, though I realized I used an extra 1/2 cup of flour so the dough was a little heavier than usual.

Cherry pie

Now life is settling back into routine at home. I’m weeding the garden, getting ready to teach a cooking class tomorrow, working on the fall schedule of classes (some of it already posted) and which will be complete soon. And I’m raiding my kind neighbors’ gardens too. You’ve heard about the enormous bay tree down the street and it got another good pruning from me this morning. Another neighbor’s summer squash is more prolific than mine so I benefitted there too and I’m always shy in the flower department, so thanks to yet another for these beautiful ones.

Neighborhood treasures

Happy summer and happy cooking!

Pasta Carbonara with Peas

Serves 6 as an entrée.

This is fast dinner to make and a very child-friendly to boot. This is a rich dish and needs nothing but a simple green salad on the side. The peas are an inauthentic addition but a very good one. If you want to make this vegetarian, omit the bacon (or pancetta) and add 4-5 cloves of finely grated or minced garlic to the egg/cheese mixture.

3 egg yolks and 1 egg (or 4 whole eggs but it’s richer with more yolks)

1 cup peas (or 1 pint snow or snap peas, trimmed and each pea cut into thirds)

1/3 – ½ cup grated parmesan (or other hard cheese like Asiago Stella)

3 tablespoons of cream (optional)

2 oz of pancetta or bacon, diced

salt/pepper (lots of pepper!)

1 lb spaghetti (or other shape of pasta)

You can cook the peas one of two ways. You can either toss them in with the bacon as it cooks or you can add them to the cooking pasta about 3 minutes before it’s done. Either way is delicious. Fry the bacon (and peas) in a skillet until the bacon has rendered its fat and the peas are just tender. I keep the bacon fat (makes it extra delicious) but you can pour it off or save it for something else if you’d like.

Beat the egg yolks and eggs in a bowl and add the grated cheese, cream, (if using), salt (remember that both the bacon and cheese are salty), and freshly ground black pepper. Boil pasta in generous amount of salted water. Scoop out and save ½-3/4 cup of cooking water and then drain when pasta is al dente. Return pasta to the pan, add peas and bacon, egg mixture and reserved cooking water and mix well. The heat of the pasta will cook the egg and create a lovely sauce. Serve hot with extra cheese if you’d like.  Carbonara is traditionally very peppery so don’t be shy with the black pepper.