Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Springtime...and the Chickens are Layin'!

When I went to pick up my last CSA order, I grabbed a dozen jumbo (organic, free-range) eggs from the fridge on the farmer's porch on impulse. They were a bit of a splurge at four bucks a pop, but well worth it, as they were so flavorful and had the most gorgeous orange yolks. So I had to try to find some ways to really showcase these beauties. Then I stumbled upon a package of diced pancetta at the grocery store, and that's when it hit me: CARBONARA!

Spaghetti alla carbonara became popular in America after World War II when soldiers who had discovered the dish while stationed in Italy returned home. Of course, in Italy, no heavy cream is used in the sauce, but it is often included in less authentic American adaptations. Guanciale is also the traditional meat in Italian carbonara, though pancetta is also common, and in the U.S., we often swap out regular bacon. There are several theories about the origin of the name, but the one I buy into is that the generous amount of pepper sprinkled onto the golden, eggy sauce looks like little flecks of charcoal ("carbone" is "charcoal" in Italian).

Regardless of its origins, I think pasta carbonara is a perfect dish to highlight spring's bounty by including both the lovely, fresh eggs and inviting some peas to the party as well (another inauthentic but delicious and seasonal addition). It's a supple and luscious one-dish meal that, while anything but low-cal, is the ultimate quick fix. Once the pasta has cooked, you're basically done. The heat from the hot pasta will cook the eggs, but you should make this recipe with the freshest, preferably local eggs, and anyone with a vulnerable immune system (children, the elderly, those with HIV/AIDS) may want to opt out, just to be on the safe side. In any case, here's my version of pasta carbonara for those who dare to try it. (Your risk will be rewarded tenfold!)

Pasta Carbonara with Pancetta and Peas

1 tablespoon olive oil
1/4 pound pancetta, small dice (or 8 slices of bacon cut into thin strips)
4 shallots (or one small onion), chopped
1 large clove garlic, minced
1 1/2 cups peas (fresh or frozen)
1 pound pasta (I used tagliatelle, though spaghetti is traditional)
4 large eggs (very fresh!)
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup parmesan (or romano or asiago) cheese, finely shredded
1 teaspoon black pepper (or to taste)
salt to taste
additional parmesan
fresh parsley, optional

Get a large pot of water boiling to cook the pasta to al dente. In a skillet over medium heat, add olive oil, pancetta (or bacon) and shallots (or onion). Cook until bacon is crisp and shallots are tender and beginning to caramelize (7 or 8 minutes?). Add the peas and minced garlic, stir, cook for another minute or two, then remove from the heat.

In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs, cream, parmesan, and pepper. Add the bacon mixture in fourths, whisking as you go. When the pasta is done, drain, reserving 1/4 cup of the pasta water. Whisk the water into the bacon and eggs. Add the hot drained pasta, and toss everything together. Put a plate or plastic wrap over the bowl, and let the pasta set for a few minutes. Taste, add salt if needed, and serve garnished with more parmesan and/or chopped fresh parsley.

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