Pasta Carbonara

One of my criteria when I go out to eat is to order a dish that I can’t, or won’t, make at home. Why spend the money on a dish that I can likely make for less money with a higher degree of ingredient control in my own home? Do any of you all have this rule, also? Every so often, I will take a dish that has previously been deemed “out of my league” and tackle it at home in the hopes that I don’t have to wait to go out to eat in order to enjoy its deliciousness. Spaghetti carbonara was one of those dishes that was always deemed out of my league. Cooking eggs with carryover heat to create a sauce? I was skeptical, at best. I’d seen some shows on Food Network on how to make it, and I’d eaten plenty of plates of carbonara from local Italian restaurants. I was content to let the professionals tackle such a complicated dish. But then, one day, I just decided I would not be bested by eggs, cheese, pasta, and heat. Y’all, I’m here to tell you a secret. Listen closely. It isn’t all that complicated. Not.at.all. Here we go!


Pasta Carbonara – Serves two

Ingredients
4 ounces pasta – I like linguine, personally
4 eggs: 2 whole and 2 yolks
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
2 cloves garlic
8 Kalamata olives
1/3 cup diced onion
2 – 4 cups chopped spinach (I only had 2 cups this time, but I wish I’d had more.)
1 tablespoon of oil or butter (for cooking the onions – your preference)
Basil or parsley leaves for garnish if desired

Steps
1. Put a large pot of water on to boil for your pasta. Salt the water liberally as this is your only chance to season your pasta. A Food Network chef once said, “The water should taste like the ocean.”
2. While the water is boiling (and doesn’t it always seem to take forever??), dice your onion, drain, blot, and chop your olives, and grate your cheese.

3. Heat a skillet over medium heat. I typically use 5 out of 10 on the dial on my stove. Add your butter or oil, and let it heat up for a minute or two. Add in your onions, turn the dial down to 3 or 4, and let them sauté until they reach your preferred level of softness.
4. Usually while my onions are cooking, my pasta water is ready. Add your pasta and cook it for the time given on the box. This is semi-critical for the remainder of the recipe. I suggest you set a timer to keep you on track.
5. Crack your whole eggs into a bowl. Carefully crack the eggs you need to separate over the sink and separate using your preferred method, adding only the yolks to the bowl. Add the cheese and beat well. It will be thick, and this is okay.
6. Chop the spinach, and check on your onions to make sure they aren’t burning – just sautéing and even caramelizing just a bit.

7. With about 2 minutes to go on your timer, turn your heat down to low (I go with 1 or 2 on my dial), add your spinach to the onions and mix them together. The spinach will cook and wilt a little bit. You can cook it higher or longer if you prefer your spinach to be more wilted or cooked. I do not. Add your olives just at the last minute, and toss them around.
8. When the timer goes off, drain your pasta, and then add it to the pan of veggies. Gently stir to mix it all up. Now you can choose your level of bravery and comfort. Officially you can turn the heat off and proceed, or you can leave it just barely on low. It’s up to you.
9. Once your pasta is all mixed up with the veggies, add your cheese-egg mixture, stir like crazy, and don’t stop for a good 90 seconds – 2 minutes. Keep stirring! For a split second, you may think it resembles something that might want to be a scrambled-egg pasta. Keep stirring, and something magical will happen as it transforms into a creamy, cheesy egg sauce for your pasta. It will be pale yellow/light white and well combined when all is said and done.
10. Transfer to a plate, top with your desired garnish, and enjoy your impressive feat.

Pour the sauce mixture into the pasta pan.

Stir and keep stirring!

Whip it around the pan!

Fold, turn, rotate, and keep stirring!

Don’t be shy now. Keep it up!

Soon and very soon you’ll have pasta sauce!

How ’bout them apples? It’s pasta sauce!

A few recipe notes: This is certainly not a traditional carbonara. Traditional carbonara is simply the pasta (which ought to be spaghetti to stay within tradition), the egg/cheese sauce and a crispy pork product like pancetta or bacon. The cheese should be Parmesan if at all possible. However, I first made this recipe for Meatless Monday, and I wanted to balance out what I assumed to be a high calorie/fat content with some vegetables and to add some additional flavors while removing the bacon. In my carbonara research, the “experts” and purists were emphatic that cream did not belong in a carbonara recipe. Nonetheless, there are many recipes out there with cream in them. My thought, however, is that there is already a CUP of cheese and FOUR egg yolks in this recipe. Do we really need cream? I think not, friends. Let us show some restraint somewhere. 🙂 Last note, I’ve mixed my sauce and pasta both over heat and off heat. For my current, personal comfort level, I prefer to mix it over the barest level of heat, but I’m also sure that the one time I did it off heat, my boyfriend and I survived without contracting food-borne illness. So maybe one day soon, I’ll graduate to full off-heat mixing.

Since I’ve clearly made my peace with a non-traditional carbonara dish, I do encourage you to experiment with variations of your own pasta carbonara. To me, this dish is simply begging to be experimented with, be it with pasta type, different kinds of veggies, or various kinds of crispy pork bits. So far, I’ve made my carbonara with combinations of kale, spinach, onions, shallots, garlic, tomatoes, Kalamata olives, green onions, bacon bits, and broccoli. The combination I gave you above is my preferred Meatless Monday combination. I did really enjoy the crispy bacon bits the one time I had them, but they aren’t a deal maker for me. The green onions are also really nice on top. A word of caution about the tomatoes, if you choose to try them: they will make your sauce much looser than you might anticipate. As they are made up of so much water, it’s hard to get it all out before you cook them; they will release their liquid into your skillet, and thus, it will end up in your sauce which will be a little thinner and a little pinker than you were ready for. Just a heads up. I’d love to know what combination of vegetables you use in your pasta carbonara!

If you are unused to separating eggs, let me offer you a few tips. First of all, you do not need any special kitchen gadgets to separate eggs! And this is serious business coming from a lover of all kitchen gadgets. Your clean hands or the egg shells will work just fine. Some folks prefer to use their hands to separate the egg, cracking it and pouring it into their hand over the bowl or sink, depending on which part you need. You can let the whites run out between your fingers, leaving the yolk behind. Alternatively, you can carefully crack the egg in as close to half as you can get and then, leaving the yolk in one half of the eggshell, let the whites run out over the edges. Gently shift the yolk to the other half of the yolk, and the rest of the white will run out; if you do this maybe 3 or 4 times, you will get a white-less yolk.

Sometimes the yolks break and that’s okay.

If you are cooking for one, this is a great dish for that as it scales easily. Just adjust your eggs at one egg and one yolk per person and a half cup of cheese per set of eggs for the sauce. Past that, it really is all about your vegetable preference. When I’m making it just for me and not for my blog, I’m less likely to measure and just to eyeball instead. Maybe it’s a little extra onion-y and garlicky that night, but if it’s just me, who cares? I encourage you not to care either. Throw caution to the wind, and go with what your taste buds tell you sounds good!

Leave me a comment, and share what veggie combinations you have tried or are planning to try. I’d love some inspiration myself, and it is always good to share the foodie love with others. Good luck and don’t be intimidated; you can do it! Happy eating!

Nutritional content: per serving
Calories: 643
Fat: 43.3 g
Carbs: 49.8 g
Protein: 38 g
Calcium: 79.2%
And that’s without the bacon or pancetta, y’all! I may never put bacon in it again!

Onion Herbed Meatballs

I have been away for far too long, my food loving friends. I apologize. Sometimes, as we know, life happens. But the good and delicious news is that I am back! And I plan to stay back! As we all also know, I am a big fan of food that you can make ahead of time and freeze to have available at your disposal when you need it. Mayhap it is cooked and only needs to be thawed and reheated. Perhaps it is still raw and needs to be cooked upon defrosting. The details of that depend on the particulars of the situation. However, the more work you can do in advance to help you out when you are short on time, need something to take to work for lunch, are short on energy, or otherwise need a boost in the kitchen, the better. One of the dishes that I’ve recently come to be a fan of in this department is the meatball. You can make a whole passel of them without too much trouble, freeze them right up, and then you have them at your beck and call to parcel out as you need. How beautiful is that?? The recipe below is my second pass at these meatballs, and I’ll probably continue to play with the recipe, so keep your eyes and taste buds on the lookout for additional meatball recipes in the near future.

Onion Herbed Meatballs and Pasta

Onion Herbed Meatballs (inspired by recipes in my cookbooks by Alton Brown and Mark Bittman – those are some good cooks, y’all!)

Ingredients
1 lb lean ground beef (I used 93% lean)
1 lb Italian sausage
1 cup minced onion
2 tbsp minced garlic
½ – 1 tablespoon butter or olive oil (your preference)
1/2 cup low fat ricotta cheese
1/2 Panko bread crumbs
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 egg
2 tablespoons chopped fresh Italian flat leaf parsley*
2 teaspoons dried pasta sprinkle (From Penzeys: dried oregano, basil, garlic, thyme)
1 teaspoon dried basil (not pictured – late addition)
Pinch of salt – to taste

Steps
1. Sauté your minced onions in a little bit of either the butter or olive oil (your preference) until they are soft and translucent. I let mine go until they got just the slightest bit of brown around the edges of a few. Take them off the heat, and let them cool while you work with the rest of the ingredients.
           
2. In a regular bowl, combine your ricotta cheese and bread crumbs. They can sit together for a few minutes to combine a bit.

3. In a large, roomy bowl, put in your beef, sausage, garlic, Parmesan cheese, salt, and herbs.
(When I was chopping my Italian parsley, I started with an overflowing, loosely packed 1/2 cup of leaves. I chopped them into a regular packed 2 tablespoons with a bit left on the cutting board. You can check out the pictures to see what I mean.)
                   
4. Beat your egg and pour into the bowl.
5. Add the ricotta and breadcrumb mixture.
6. Add the onions.
7. Using your kitchen’s best tools – your hands (how often do you hear that on the Food Network??), mix it together. Try to do it quickly and without too many passes through the meat, but also making sure the cheese and herbs get evenly distributed. The less you work the meat, the better. The more you handle the meat, the more likely you are to have a dense, tough meatball. It’s a similar concept to pie or biscuit dough.

8. I use a ½ tablespoon measure to scoop out a couple of measures of meat, loosely form them into a ball, and pan-fry them to taste-test for seasoning and flavor. You may wish to add an additional pinch of salt after tasting, more herbs, or more garlic. This is when I adjusted many of my seasonings that made the final ingredient list for your benefit.
9. Once your taste-testing has been done, and final seasonings added and mixed, preheat the oven to 400 degrees, and set a jelly roll pan up with foil underneath a cookie cooling rack. (See picture below for set-up.) Begin to scoop and roll. Scoop and roll. Scoop and roll. Keep at it until all the mixture has been made into your meatballs. Mine didn’t all fit on the sheet at once, but I rolled them anyway to be prepared. Be gentle when rolling your meatballs. Remember – the less handling the better.
         
10. Bake for 10 minutes, flip, and bake another 9. Take out of the oven and place on a paper towel lined surface. Repeat if necessary. Let cool just a bit before putting in the fridge. I recommend time in the fridge before freezing. And if you eat some while they are hot, I won’t judge, but mind that they don’t take the top layer of your tongue off.

Baked Meatball Deliciousness

*I used Italian flat leaf parsley because that’s what I had. Really any mixture of Italian herbs would do. I might use basil if I had some available or oregano or perhaps even rosemary. Use what you have at your disposal. I think it might be hard to go wrong with fresh herbs here. Unless you were using mint. That might not be good eats.

An additional note, these are quite onion-y as a cup of minced onions is a fair bit of onions. Sometimes when I make a dish the first time, I’m just winging it as I go along and not really measuring at all. The second time, when making for the blog, I usually tend to over-measure which I think I did with the onions. I like onions so I am okay with it, but if you are less of an onion fan, you might want to consider reducing that amount. I may even reduce it the next time around to let other flavors shine through. However, the boyfriend who is frequently in the anti-onion camp was just fine with them, so it just might be alright.

The rationale for my advice to you for letting your meatballs spend some time in the fridge prior to putting them in the freezer is fairly simple. You don’t want to put warm or hot food in the freezer next to other foods where it could bring the temperature of said food up. Certainly it won’t unfreeze, but if it gets a little melty and refreezes around the edges, that’s not good for your food. I’ve never done this myself, but I would be suspicious that if I put too much hot food in my freezer at once, it would be quite negative for the overall temperature of the freezer. Thus, I put slightly cooled foods in my fridge to cool all the way down. That is bacterially safer than letting it cool all the way down on the counter. I try not to put warm food next to anything dairy in the fridge, or near anything that makes me nervous in my gut for heat transfer. If possible, I’ll put some space around the cooling food to help with air circulation. Food safety first, people.

One of the reasons I choose to go with such a lean ground beef in this recipe is because the Italian sausage has quite a bit of fat in it. It is, after all, sausage. It more than makes up for the lack of fat in the ground beef, and the ricotta also helps keep the meatballs from being dry. Please don’t be afraid of using a lean beef in conjunction with the sausage. I promise, it is okay. I’m even considering exploring turkey with the sausage. I know that’s a little odd, but hey – someone’s got to try it, right? I can take one for the team. My grocery store carries the Italian sausage ground without the casing which is quite handy. If you can’t find that, just get mild Italian sausage with the casing, and then cut the meat out of the casing, dispose of the casing, and proceed onward. It might be tasty to explore a flavored Italian sausage here as well. LOTS of possibilities!

My recipe made 54 meatballs, all told. I think this is fantastic because now I’ve got tons of frozen meatball goodness in my freezer, and they are small enough to defrost quickly after work on a night when I was forgetful to pull something else out, or they can thaw in the time between breakfast and lunch so I can eat them for lunch at work. And friends, let me tell you, my last batch smelled so good that my co-workers were perpetually jealous of my lunch every time I heated up these meatballs. They were that good. Fifty-four meatballs will last the single eater (or even double eaters) quite a while. It’s such a great plan-ahead item. And with lots of room for improvising, I can’t wait to hear how you made these your own meatballs! Happy Eating!

Nutritional Information – Per Meatball                 

Calories: 50.7
Fat: 3.6 g
Protein: 3.7 g
Calcium: 1.3%
Iron: .8%

Jalapeño Bacon Bites

Greetings and Happy New Year, my dear blog readers! I hope you all had a lovely and tasty holiday season! I know I did! Here’s to a new year with more delicious recipes and sharing the foodie love all around.

If I could, if I could convince myself it was acceptable, I would eat these all the time, y’all. I love them. Because I love them so much, I’m excited to share them with you as well. Because I also love you all, I will admit up front, these should not be eaten willy-nilly. I did go through a phase when I made them nearly weekly. That time in my life is past, but these do come out on nearly every special occasion. Birthday? They’re on the menu. Celebrating a promotion/getting a job? On the menu. Having friends over for a holiday appetizer party? Definitely on the menu. Fourth of July meal at my dad’s? Absolutely on the menu. In fact, that’s where I first had them. He has this gizmo where the peppers rest upright in the grill, which changes the whole approach. As I don’t really grill (yet), I had to modify my strategy. Plus my sister and I both agree that limp, half- cooked bacon is not good eats and can ruin the whole thing. Thus, it is important to me to have crispy bacon around the whole pepper. I think I have achieved a near perfect jalapeño bacon bite, which I believe you will enjoy. It is more of a method than a recipe, so feel free to adjust as you see necessary. If you feel the need to make a test batch before you debut this for company and you end up scarfing the whole lot of them, I won’t judge you. Just make sure you have company coming for the next go-round.

Deliciousness on a Plate

Jalapeño Bacon Bites

Ingredients
Jalapeño Peppers – Each pepper makes about 4 bites. I usually use about 1 or 1.5 peppers per person. Estimation is fine.
Cream Cheese – I used 4 ounces for 14 peppers
1 tbsp Adobo Seasoning – more would not be a bad thing
1 package center cut bacon

Steps
1. Set your cream cheese out to soften. I usually set mine out 15 or so minutes before I begin the pepper prep. I know it’s already soft, it’s just easier to stir in the spices when it’s super soft.
2. Don your trusty rubber gloves, and for each pepper, cut the tops off, and slice in half, lengthwise. Seed and cut out the ribs, according to your preferred heat preference. The more seeds and ribs of the pepper you leave in, the hotter the bite is likely to be. Cut the pepper “boat” in half again so you have 4 quarters per pepper.* Continue until all peppers are prepped.


3. In a bowl, mix your cream cheese and Adobo seasoning.
4. Using a butter knife (and leaving your gloves on), fill each pepper piece with a dollop of the cream cheese. It doesn’t have to be tidy. You want to make sure the dollop at least comes even with the edge of the pepper. Repeat for all your pepper pieces. Leave the gloves on because your fingers will get right messy holding those wee pepper pieces.

5. Preheat your oven to 450 degrees.
6. Using some kitchen shears, cut your bacon into thirds or quarters, depending on the size of your peppers. Test cut one piece before you cut too many slices. I cut two slices of bacon at a time.
7. Wrap a piece of bacon around your cheese-filled pepper piece. The great thing about bacon is that it stretches. This will work to your advantage. Wrap the bacon piece so that it covers the open ends. I wrap all mine and then secure each one with a toothpick.


8. Line a jelly-roll pan (a cookie sheet with sides) with foil (for easy clean-up), and place a cookie cooling rack on it. Your wrapped bites will go on the rack. They don’t need a super lot of space between each one, but they shouldn’t be touching.


9. Bake until the bacon is your desired crispiness. This could take 20 – 30 minutes. My personal desired crispness takes about 22 – 25 minutes.
10. Do NOT eat these straight out of the oven. They are boiling-lava hot and will scald your tongue. Let them cool before you enjoy.

If you are anxious about your toothpicks being in the oven on such a high temperature, you can set them to soak in some water before you start the whole process. Just know that when you put them in the oven and things begin to cook, there will be a lot of sizzle and snap as the oil and water fight it out in the oven. No harm will come to anything or anyone (as long as you keep your hands out of it). It’s just what those two do when they come into contact like that. Alternatively you can leave the toothpicks dry and just check on them. They may char, but it’s highly unlikely they’ll combust in your oven. At least mine didn’t!

*An additional alternative method is to save the quartering of your peppers until after you’ve filled them with the cream cheese mixture. I’ve done it both ways and think maaaaybe it saves some time to fill the larger halves of the pepper before slicing into quarters, but I can’t be certain as I’ve not actually set a timer. I suppose it just comes down to personal preference. It’s your kitchen, and you are the boss of it, so you do what makes you happiest!

Garden Peppers vs HEB Peppers

Any bacon that is leftover you can wrap and freeze for a later date. I had a few strips leftover so I just tightly wrapped them in plastic wrap and popped in them in a zip-top freezer bag. It’s important to wrap tightly to protect from freezer burn. Bacon is another one of those meats that defrosts super quickly when it is only 2 or 3 slices thick per personal package. These smaller packages are perfect for the single cook who won’t be defeated by packaging meant for a family of 4 – 6. I’ve taken to separating a larger package of bacon into the smaller units much like I do chicken or ground beef.  Alternatively you can buy bacon by the slice at the deli counter, which also eliminates waste and allows you to buy precisely as much as you need. However, I think it might be more expensive and sometimes…sometimes it’s early on a Saturday or even mid-day on a Sunday, and you want bacon but have none, and the thought of a trip to the grocery store is murderous. In that moment, my friends, you’ll be thankful for your single-serve packages of bacon in your freezer. I know I am.

I hope you enjoy the jalapeño pepper bites! Make some just for yourself so that you can get them just right and then share the tasty tidbits with your friends at your next shindig. They will be most grateful! 🙂 Happy eating!

Just a Few Ingredients!

Just as an FYI – I tend not to keep track of party food nutritional information. But if you really want to find out, you could take the information for your ingredients and enter them into the calorie calculator up on the left hand side, tell it how many bites you made, and it will tell you the calories per bite. Please don’t tell me. I’m happy living in ignorance. Thanks! 🙂