This is a real in-the-moment kind of dish. It’s made fast, with heat and timing, and get’s your mind off whatever happened during the no-good-very-rotten very bad day that you may have had. The trick’s to have all of your ingredients prepped in small bowls within easy reach so that you can cycle everything into the pan.
If you haven’t made this before it can be a bit stressful on the first few tries. But once you learn the rhythm it’ll be like riding a bike – smooth, comforting and relaxing. And you’ll never forget.
It’s also a technique that allows you to play with different flavors, like bacon or pancetta, and come up with completely different tastes. Or, in this case, using truffle instead of mushroom. The truffle was a gift from some dear friends in Italy, and not something I normally keep around. But, boy, was it fun to use.
Spaghetti Carbonara (two servings)
- Spaghetti for two
- 3 tbsp butter (or olive oil)
- 2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
- 2 slices prosciutto, diced (skip this for vegetarian)
- 2 small sweet peppers, thinly sliced
- 2 mushrooms, thinly sliced and seasoned with coarse ground pepper
- 2 eggs, separated
- 1/3rd cup heavy cream
- 1/3rd cup parmesan or pecorino romano cheese (or a half cup. Who’s to know?)
First get the prep ingredients, placing them in small, easy to handle bowls. Slice the vegetables as thinly as you can because they will be cooked quickly. Add the course pepper to the mushroom, using a heavy hand because you want to have a deep and earthy taste.*
Notice that there’s no salt? The prosciutto and cheese have enough salt for everything. If you use salted butter there will be even more.
Step two is to pre-cook the pasta. Get it about two thirds done, then place in a strainer and bathe in cold water to stop it from overcooking.
Now the fun starts. Move all of your ingredients near the stove so that they’re within reach. Take a deep breath. And begin.
Place your frying pan over a medium heat and let it get good and hot. Throw in your butter and stir so that it melts consistently without browning. Then put in the garlic and prosciutto and give it a stir to incorporate everything in the hot butter. In a few seconds the butter will start to foam. When this happens add the pasta and cream and bring the heat to high, stirring to ensure that the pasta does not stick to the pan. **
Once the cream starts to bubble and thicken stir in the egg white. After a few more seconds it will begin to bond with the cream. It will quickly firm up, so you need to take the pan off the heat at this point.
Then add the peppered mushroom and egg yolk. Even though the pan’s off the burner the residual heat will finish cooking these last items. Plus you want the yolk to remain a little runny. Give it a few stirs and then add the cheese, which will bind all the ingredients into creamy cheesy goodness.
You can get fancy by lifting the pasta with tongs and then giving a twirl as it goes on the plate. That’s how you get the swirl effect that restaurants charge an extra $10 for. You can also dust it with a little chopped parsley as garnish. I like to pair this with a dry, light white wine. Try a pinot grigio.
* I didn’t use prosciutto this time (the reason why it’s not pictured with other ingredients) because I was cooking with truffle, and prosciutto would mask the taste. The truffle was also preserved and it’s liquid already had enough salt.
From Umbria, With Love
** The reason for finishing pasta in sauce is to let it become infused with flavor. You could stop at this point, let the garlic cream reduce into a sauce, and then finish with fresh herb (either basil, oregano or thyme) and salt and pepper.