Lighter Spaghetti Carbonara

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I remember eating carbonara for the first time with my host family in Italy. Spaghetti noodles were tossed with a creamy, eggy sauce and speckled with pork pieces. I tried to convey my love for it to my host mom, but really all I could come up with was “mi piache, mi piache…” (I like, I like). We had it again several times in those two weeks.

Later, back in Bellingham, David, who was also in Italy and looks exactly like the Statue of David in Florence, charmed us with his take on carbonara. I think he asked our host mom to show him how to make it…or maybe it was his girlfriend’s Italian mother who showed him. It was one of those. If you knew David, you’d take one look at his floppy blonde hair, worn Birkenstocks and single pair of pants (brown corduroys) and say, no way can he pull off this finicky dish. On the contrary, I like his best. Last year on my birthday I had one request: that he make us a heaping pile of my favorite pasta. With a toss of cheese, whipping of eggs and dose of bacon fat, it was a hit. Another thing that’s important to know about David is that he loves bacon fat. He always keeps a necessary mason jar of it next to the stove to throw into whatever he is making (I try not to think about this when I am eating his french toast).

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David’s most recent birthday

Finally, I made my own carbonara, adapting a “lighter” recipe from Cooks Illustrated. The long editorial introduction explained that this recipe is lighter because it doesn’t have heavy cream in it. I didn’t realize any carbonara had heavy cream in it; it’s unnecessary. The recipe came together nicely with my homemade spaghetti noodles and local, thick cut pepper bacon. I personally would have liked it a tiny bit saucier, but do as the Italians do and appreciate the simplicity of great pasta lightly coated in sauce.

*Note: Don’t ignore the simple, seemingly frivolous suggestions like using 2 quarts of water exactly. It really does make a difference by making the pasta water more starchy to thicken the sauce. Also, read the instructions through because you should work quickly when it comes time to put the pasta water into the egg mixture and the egg mixture over the noodles. The hot noodles and water cook the raw egg.

Makes 4-6 servings/Adapted from Cooks Illustrated

Ingredients 

  • 8 slices bacon, cut into 1/2 inch pieces (I used pepper bacon)
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 tablespoons shallot, minced
  • 2 1/2 ounces Pecorino Romano, grated (1 1/4 cups)
  • 1 teaspoon pepper
  • 1 pound spaghetti (I may use a little less next time)
  • 1 teaspoon salt

Bring 2 quarts of water to a boil in a dutch oven. Set a colander in a large bowl (to catch the pasta water) and set aside.

Bring bacon and water to simmer in a 10-inch nonstick pan over medium heat. (Cooks Illustrated said this results in chewier, rather than crunchy, bacon.) Cook until the water evaporates and the bacon begins to sizzle, about 10 minutes. Continue to cook until the fat renders and begins to brown, another 5-8 minutes. Add garlic and shallot and cook, stirring constantly, for about 30 seconds.

Strain bacon through a fine mesh strainer into a bowl, measure out 1 tablespoon of fat and place in a medium bowl. To the fat, whisk in the eggs and yolk, pepper and cheese.

Meanwhile, add the spaghetti and salt to the pot of boiling water and cook until al dente. Drain spaghetti into colander. Measure out 1 cup of pasta water and discard the rest. Then, put the spaghetti back into the bowl that was just heated by the pasta water.

Slowly whisk 1/2 cup of the pasta water into the egg and cheese mixture. Don’t put it all in at once or the eggs may scramble. Then pour this mixture over the spaghetti and toss to coat. Add the bacon mixture and toss again. Add more of the remaining pasta water if needed. Also check for seasoning. Depending on your tastes, the salty bite of the cheese may be enough. For me, it wasn’t.

 

 

 

Maple Bacon Biscuits

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One of my favorite flavor combinations is maple and bacon. The sweet and salty, sultry and smokey is mouth-watering in almost any form. Because I have a place in my heart (and my arteries) for biscuits, I tried out Deb Perelmen’s, of Smitten Kitchen, maple bacon biscuits. Though they didn’t rise quite as much as I wanted, the flavor was really enjoyable. I broke one in half and smothered it with, of course, butter. It paired nicely with my otherwise average breakfast of scrambled eggs and fruit.

Makes 6 biscuits with a 2-inch cutter

  • 3 slices bacon (reserve 2 tablespoons of bacon grease)
  • 1/4 cup maple syrup
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon table salt
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter (1/2 stick), chilled, chopped into small chunks
  • 1/4 cup buttermilk

Fry the bacon until it is crispy (you don’t want fat chunks in your biscuits necessarily). Remove the bacon from the pan and drain it on a few stacked paper towels. Pour the bacon fat into a glass measuring cup to see how much you have and save 2 tablespoons. If you have less than needed, just substitute it with more butter. Place your measuring cup in the freezer, and freeze until fat is solid.

Chop the bacon into small bits, and put it in a small dish. Pour the maple syrup over the bacon and stir; then set the mixture aside.

Remove the solidified bacon fat from the freezer. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Mix the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a bowl. Using a pastry blender or your fingers, rub the chilled bacon fat and 4 tablespoons of butter into the dry ingredients until the mixture resembles a coarse meal. Add the bacon-maple mixture and the buttermilk. Stir this together with a rubber spatula until it is combined. Knead this a couple times (do not over knead) to form into a concise dough.  Pat out into a 1-inch thick slab on a floured surface, and cut it into biscuits with a 2-inch cutter.  Arrange the biscuits on the baking sheet, and bake them for 12-14 minutes, until they are golden. Serve them warm.

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Cape Cod Chopped Salad

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Consumed with writing essays for professors and working at a noodle bar, I have neglected this blog.  The other day a friend left a bag of my favorite Easter candy (Easter egg shaped Recees) on my doorstep.  It has taken all of my self control to not eat the entire bag in one sitting.  I promised myself that if I wrote a post I could have several pieces upon finishing.

This salad is positively scrumptious.  The dressing is light with flavors of citrus.  The acidic nature of it compliments the fatty bacon.  Crunch and chew are added with dried cranberries, apples and nuts.  To round it out, the cheese offers a hit of creaminess to the exceedingly fresh salad.  Ina Garten, whose recipe I adapted from, suggests using blue cheese.  Since I have an aversion to the stank of blue cheese, I am willing to give up the sophistication that Roquefort might bring to my life by instead using goat cheese.

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Serves 4 or 5

  • 8 ounces thick-cut bacon
  • 8 ounces baby arugula (I prefer mixed greens including spinach)
  • 1 large Granny Smith apple, peeled and diced
  • 1/2 cup toasted walnut halves, coarsely chopped
  • 1/2 cup dried cranberries
  • 6 ounces blue or goat cheese, crumbled (Even try feta and let me know how it goes!)

For the dressing:

  • 3 tablespoons good apple cider vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon grated orange zest
  • 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed orange juice
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
  • 2 tablespoons pure maple syrup
  • Kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 2/3 cup good olive oil

Toast the walnuts in a dry saute pan over medium-low heat for 4 to 5 minutes, tossing frequently, until lightly browned.  Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.  Place a baking rack on a sheet pan and lay the bacon slices on the rack.  This is an easy way to cook a lot of bacon at once and have it cook evenly without splatter.  Roast the bacon for about 20 minutes, until nicely browned.  Let cool.

In a large bowl, toss together the greens, apple, walnuts, cranberries, and cheese.  For the dressing, whisk together the vinegar, orange zest, orange juice, mustard, maple syrup, 1 1/2 teaspoons salt, and the pepper in a bowl.  Slowly whisk in the olive oil.

Chop the bacon in large pieces and add it to the salad.  Toss the salad with just enough dressing to moisten.  Sprinkle with 1/2 teaspoon salt and toss well.  Serve the salad immediately so that the greens don’t wilt.