Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Great Food, Fast

I think old man winter was making a point with today's cold and dreary weather.  Winter in Michigan is not quite over yet. On my lunch break today, I took a field trip to my favorite specialty grocer, G.B. Russo. I was supposed to be looking for a new tart pan and a good bottle of balsamic vinegar, but instead I found myself aimlessly cruising the aisles. Then I looked down at my cart and realized that maybe my wandering hadn't been so random, after all. I had picked up pasta, grated parmesan, and prosciutto; the makings for a winter blah-busting carbonara!

If you've never had carbonara, it's unbelievable and incredibly easy to make.  It comes together in less than twenty minutes. I guaranteed you'll be addicted. It's one of my favorite comfort foods. Since carbonara has so few ingredients, make sure to use the highest quality that you can.  Freshly grated parmesan does indeed taste a world different than the stuff in the green container.

The first time I made carbonara, I worried about the eggs.  Could it really have raw eggs in it?  The answer is yes and no. The sauce is simply hot water, egg and cheese. The egg is added to the hot pasta while it's removed from the heat.  The water from the pasta and the heat of the pasta itself help to cook the egg, albeit at a very low temperature.  The eggs reach a safe temperature in the dish so that they aren't considered raw. If you pay attention to the sauce, you'll notice the slight consistency and color changes as the egg cooks. That being said, I wouldn't feed carbonara to a very young child or anyone with immune system issues, just to be on the safe side.

My favorite carbonara recipe is from an old issue of Bon Appetit magazine. It calls for bacon, but I used prosciutto instead because I like it better. I also realized I didn't have any leeks, so I sauteed some onion instead. I always add a few grinds of black pepper to my pasta as well. 

Orecchiette Carbonara from Bon Appetit Magazine, April 2008

4 slices bacon, diced
2 medium leeks (white and pale green parts only), halved lengthwise, then cut crosswise into 1/3 inch pieces
10 ounces orecchiette pasta or small shells
2 large eggs, room temperature
1/2 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese, plus additional for serving
1 tbsp chopped fresh parsley

Cook bacon in a large skillet until crisp, about 8 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer bacon to a paper towel to drain. Leave 2 tablespoons of fat in the skillet.  Add leeks and saute over medium heat until tender, about 6 minutes. Turn off heat.

Meanwhile, cook pasta in a large pot of boiling salted water until just tender but still firm to bite, stirring occasionally. Drain pasta, reserving 1/2 cup pasta cooking liquid.

Whisk eggs and 1/2 cup parmesan in medium bowl to blend; gradually whisk in 1/4 cup pasta cooking liquid. Add pasta to leeks in skillet and stir to heat. Pour egg mixture over pasta and stir until sauce is just creamy and eggs are no longer raw, about 2 minutes (Return skillet to VERY low heat if eggs are runny; do not overcook or eggs will curdle). Add some of the remaining 1/4 cup pasta cooking liquid to the skillet if needed to moisten. Stir in bacon and parsley. Serve pasta, passing additional cheese separately.


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