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. Here we go!

Pasta Carbonara – Serves two

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

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!


Kickin’ Sausage Cheese Balls

Many of you may have seen these little gems before, as they are a popular party food item. I certainly know better than to try to claim originality with the base of this recipe. Yet, I also wanted to make it worth your time to give my post a read, so I really thought about the reviews I’ve read on Ms. Crocker’s website as well as my own opinions on improvements and amendments. You’ll see the changes reflected in the recipe below. My goal was to give them a bit more kick and maybe make them a wee bit healthier. I served these at an appetizer party I had recently, and they got lots of compliments; I was quite pleased!

Kickin’ Sausage Cheese Balls (adapted from here)

3 cups Bisquick HeartSmart®
4 cups cheese: I used 2 cups sharp cheddar and 2 cups Jalapeño Jack, pre-grated for convenience.
1 lb light pork sausage
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 cup milk
2 medium Anaheim peppers
up to 1 tsp garlic powder
up to 2 tsp fresh minced rosemary or 1 tsp dried rosemary (optional)

1. Pull the sausage out of the fridge to come to room temperature. Your hands will thank you for this later. Measure your milk, and let it also come to room temperature while you are working on the other steps.
2. Finely mince the peppers and rosemary (if using).

3. Combine your Bisquick®, cheeses, garlic, pepper, and rosemary (if using) in a large, roomy bowl.

4. While not mandatory, I recommend donning the gloves I suggested you invest in, previously. It will make life easier in just a few moments. I’ve done this without gloves, and I don’t really recommend it.
5. Slice open the package of sausage and scrape it into the bowl.
6. Add the milk.
7. Using your best kitchen tools, aka your hands, get in there and begin mixing it all up. You will work it all together, kneading it, squishing it, and making sure it’s all mixed together. Remember how I said your hands will thank you later? Well, now it’s later. Hopefully your sausage has warmed up a bit because working with ridiculously cold sausage makes your hands hurt!
8. Once it’s all come together in one large lump, use a tablespoon to scoop out each piece. Repeat until all the mixture has been shaped into balls.

9. For freezing, place close together on a cookie sheet (I can fit 48) lined with parchment paper. Place cookie sheet in freezer until they are frozen. They’ll keep for quite a while in a zip-top bag. Happily they defrost fairly quickly.

10. To bake, pre-heat to the ubiquitous 350 degrees. Use either a parchment paper-lined pan or a greased, foil-lined pan. If you have a pizza stone, you can cook them directly on the stone. Defrosted, they’ll take 15 – 17 minutes. When I’ve cooked mine frozen, they’ve taken 25 – 30 minutes.

If you have the time, I recommend making and baking a few balls (I like 4) before you commit to freezing or baking all the rest. This lets you have an idea of the flavor and if you want to make any adjustments. Honestly, sometimes I do this and sometimes I don’t. When I used the peppers, I did because pepper heat varies so much from one to the next. However, if I’m using just the rosemary and not the peppers, I don’t taste test as often because I’m more certain of the flavors. Time for true life confession: Below in the ingredients picture, you’ll see the rosemary, and it’s listed above in the ingredients list. However, I didn’t actually put it in these because this is the first time I’ve added the peppers and I was uncertain about pepper plus rosemary flavor. As these were for a party the next day and not just me, I didn’t want to make a fatal error. I promise before too long, I will make some with both rosemary and peppers and report back.

When I was assessing the heat level, I was not knocked on my heels by the heat, which I actually enjoyed. It was noticeable, but still subtle. By the time I’d eaten my four taste testers, the heat had accumulated just a bit so my nose had a bit of sniffle, but not a full-on run. Again, as I was preparing for a group of people with varying heat tolerances, I felt that was a good balance. Now, if I was making these for some of my family members, I probably would have added another Anaheim and maybe even a jalapeño. I am certain that a few more peppers would have turned out just fine for those who tolerate spice well.  If I used 4 cups cheddar instead of the two cheeses, I would have definitely tossed in a few jalapeños. Now that I’ve broken the heat barrier, I feel like it’s a whole new world. I will probably experiment with fresh garlic, onion, and various kinds of peppers. If you beat me to the experimentation, please do tell.

These are good for a party as they are still tasty even when they are not right-out-of-the-oven warm, and they are good for the single gal (or guy!) because they do keep so well in the freezer. Plus the batch makes a ton! This last go-round, I made 58 of them. I reserved some for breakfast the next few weeks and STILL had plenty for the appetizer party. How great is that?!?! If I forget to take them out of the freezer the night before, I’ll pull them out while the oven is pre-heating and I’m in the shower. By the time I’m ready to put them in, they are partially defrosted and are usually done in about 20 minutes because I like mine fairly browned.

I hope you enjoy the addition of some heat and a bit of a nod to your health with the light sausage and the Bisquick HeartSmart®. I am firmly convinced that neither one adversely affects the flavor or texture of the final product. Happy eating!

Nutritional Information – 1 ball
Calories: 74
Fat: 4 g
Carbs: 4.5 g
Protein: 4.6 g
Calcium: 7.2%

If you are a diligent reader who clicked through to Ms. Crocker’s website and examined her nutritional information against mine, you may also be startled to see her sausage cheese balls check in at 40 calories each. A closer examination reveals she suggests making 1 inch balls. I surely did go measure mine, and they are 1.5 inches. If you make yours with a smaller measuring spoon, you might be able to get 102 out of the recipe, as she says it makes. If this is the case, then the nutritional information will change. While the nutritional information technically isn’t “healthier” than that of Ms. Crocker’s, I still believe using the healthier mix and sausage is a good thing for my body.

Tomato Basil Soup

For years, I turned my nose up at tomato soup. I can’t even tell you why I didn’t like it growing up; I just didn’t. All I knew was Campbell’s canned soup which did not look appealing or tasty to me. At some point in my late high school or early college years, I went to La Madeleine and bravely tried their tomato basil soup. The skies opened, and my taste buds rejoiced at the deliciousness I was consuming. Seriously. It was so good. My best effort at explaining why this soup was so good usually went like this: “I don’t know why it’s so good. Maybe because it’s a thicker soup than Campbell’s?” So eloquent of me, I know. Many years later as I was discovering my culinary inclinations, I began to wonder if I could replicate this soup. Thanks to Google, I found a knock-off copy recipe that swore to be just like that which La Madeleine serves. Sadly, the nutritional content is listed next to the recipe which made it impossible to ignore the facts in front of me. The reason this soup is so good is because 82% of the calories in the recipe come from fat. Yes, dear friends, 82%. I’ll just give you a minute to wrap your brain around that.

The first time I made the soup, I followed the recipe mostly exactly the same. I did misread the recipe from the very beginning and immediately cut the butter from a FULL STICK to a half  stick. Beyond that, I did what the recipe asked. Holy tomato soup deliciousness, Batman. It was SO.GOOD. Although it was a bold claim to be just like the soup from the restaurant, it was not an inaccurate claim. I ate it that way for many years. But then I started to make more healthful food choices and didn’t feel good about there being so much fat in my soup. Thus began my slow journey to create a delicious soup that wasn’t a bajillion fat calories. It’s hard to figure out how much butter and cream you can reduce or replace and still keep your soup tasty. I tend to enjoy a thicker soup, as a general rule, but thin soups are a great vehicle for using your homemade croutons. With less cream and butter, the soup thins out a bit, but the taste is still delicious to me. I hope you enjoy it too!

Tomato Basil Soup

3 cans diced tomatoes (I use 14/5 oz cans which is roughly 10 cups)
1 can tomato juice (My can was 11.5 oz which is approximately 1.5 cups)
4 cups chicken broth/stock
basil leaves – I used a lot! A lot = about 60 of various sizes2 tbsp butter
1/3 cup and 2 tbsp heavy cream
1 tsp sugar
4 tsp of lemon juice
pinch of salt

Lots of Basil!!

1. Combine tomatoes, tomato juice, and chicken stock in a stockpot. Simmer for 30 minutes.
2. Add the basil leaves and blend.
A. If you have an immersion blender, bust that baby out, and put it to work on those basil leaves and tomato chunks right there in the pot.
B. If you use a regular blender, you’ll need to work in small batches (1 or 2 cups, max, per batch). If possible, remove the center knob from the lid of your blender so the steam can escape without blowing the top off. Work slowly and carefully. This step does add more time and dirty dishes as you’ll need to move the unblended soup to a large bowl so that you can put the just-blended-soup back into the pot. Be careful in transferring that much red liquid. Might I suggest wearing an apron? When all the soup is blended and back in the pot, you are ready to move to step 3.

3. Add butter, and stir to melt and combine.
4. Slowly drizzle in cream, and stir to combine. If you are using real heavy cream, it should NOT curdle when you put it into the soup. If it curdles, something’s wrong with it.
5. Add sugar, salt, and lemon juice. Let it sit for a few minutes so flavors can combine.

If you plan to make this soup a staple, I highly recommend growing your own basil as basil in the grocery store can be pricey. You don’t have to use 60 if you are intimidated by that. I have a prolific plant, and I love basil. I also STRONGLY recommend investing in an immersion blender. It really will enhance your soup-making experience. I’ve also used it in salsa-making with great success. It’s a pretty great tool.

I experimented with different kinds of dairy products in my efforts to reduce the fat content, with varying results. Half and half curdled lickety-split. Some research claimed that if I slowly heated the half and half prior to adding it to the soup, it wouldn’t curdle when I put it in. I wasn’t confident enough to go down that road again, though. Evaporated milk did okay, but it impacted the taste a bit. It wasn’t bad, just not what I was looking for. Less butter seemed to be an okay decision. Then it occurred to me that I could theoretically increase the rest of the main ingredients and use a smaller amount of heavy cream. If my math is correct, that should significantly reduce the fat content. I learned that heavy cream is the most stable dairy product out there, so I decided to keep the original ingredient, just reduce the impact it has, in terms of quantity. I’m certain I’m not done playing around with the recipe, but I felt good enough about it to share with you. If you prefer a thicker soup or don’t have croutons, I think you could use less liquid for a thicker consistency.

As best I can tell, heavy cream and whipping cream are the same thing, give or take a fat gram or two. At my grocery store (HEB), there is an orange container that has one or two fewer grams of fat than the purple container. That is the only difference I can tell. I’ve made this soup with both the 5 fat grams/serving cream and the 4 fat grams/serving cream. I don’t think I’ve ever been able to tell a difference. With what I know now, the more fat it has, the more stable it is. I’m just not sure I understand the impact of having one additional gram of fat per serving. If you know the impact, please do let me know. Check out the Food Education page for a link to one of the more informative pages I looked at in doing my research.

Cooking for One Tip
This recipe makes ten servings!! That’s so freaking much soup for one person! This is actually very good news for the single gal. The whole recipe takes less than an hour to prepare with most of the time being inactive cooking time so it’s pretty easy to make. Eat a bowl for dinner, and then put up NINE bowls in your fridge/freezer for consumption at a later date. No sense in trying to halve or quarter a recipe to make only that you’ll eat that night for dinner when you can make nine more meals in the same amount of time. I take a bowl to work for lunch or pull a bowl out for an assist with dinner. If you’ll recall my tip about using water to help defrost your food, I use the same concept for the soup.  If I’m taking soup to lunch and forget to take the soup out before I go to bed, I’ll put it in the sink with a couple of inches of cold water which will hasten the thawing process before I take it to work. It’s a great go-to, to have in the freezer. Alternatively, it’s an easy soup to make if several friends are coming over for dinner. I’ve gone that route several times, too.

I’ll keep you all posted as the soup continues to develop. In the meantime, happy eating!

Nutritional Content – 1 cup (8 fl oz)
Calories: 148
Fat: 6.5 g
Carbs: 19 g
Fiber: 4.5 g
Protein: 5.4 g
Vitamin A: 31%
Vitamin C: 46.3%