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!

Advertisements

Mini Fritattas

Do you say “to-may-toes” or “to-mah-toes”? What about “po-tay-toes” or “po-tah-toes”? What about “mini-fritattas” or “crustless quiche”? Yes dear friends, they are practically the same – as best I can tell. Truthfully, the label doesn’t really matter to me so much as the taste and ease with which they can be made. These are delicious and the variation possibilities are practically limitless – bound only by your taste buds and imagination. These are incredibly easy to make, as well. If you can make an omelet, you can make a fritatta, quiche, or mini version of either. This is a good dish for entertaining as it’s easy to serve, customizable, and still stress-free in the making.

I made mine for some girlfriends who came over on a Thursday evening for a bit o’ Project Runway and breakfast for dinner. I enjoy breakfast for dinner as I don’t always have the time in the morning to make or eat a big breakfast. Thankfully, my friends are also “brinner” eaters! Hooray! We paired our mini-fritattas with some avocado, fruit salad, and breakfast bread from Central Market. It was quite delightful. The original recipe came from Food Network, courtesy of Giada. I did some modifications to improve the nutritional content and judges’ ruling was that taste was not adversely affected. Hooray!

Mini Fritattas

Ingredients

4 eggs
4 egg whites
1/2 cup 1% milk
4 ounces chopped ham (this generated nearly 1 cup)
1 cup grated sharp cheddar
2 tbsp chopped green onion (5 stalks – no white parts)
1/4 cup chopped peppers – I used a mix of 3 anaheim and jalapeño from my garden.
bit of salt and pepper
non-stick spray

Steps
1. Preheat oven to 375.
2. Prep all your “mix-ins” – grate cheese, chop ham, onion, and peppers.
3. In large bowl, whisk eggs, egg whites, and milk until a bit bubbly or foamy.
4. Add “mix-ins” to your egg mixture and stir to combine. Season with salt and pepper.
5. Spray a 12 cup muffin tin with non-stick spray.
6. Using a 1/4 cup measure, fill each muffin tin nearly to the top. One scoop should pretty much fill one muffin cup.
7. Bake until mixture sets, puffs a bit in the middle, and is a wee bit golden on top. This should take about 20  minutes, total.
8. When you remove from the oven, use a rubber spatula to loosen and remove from the pan. Don’t leave them in the pan to cool as they will condense underneath and create sort of soggy egg fritattas.

Tips and Additional Modifications
As a sub for the milk, if you are feeling especially decadent – you can use half & half or heavy cream. You can also use 8 whole eggs if you don’t want to mess with separating the eggs. This will up the calorie and fat count, but sometimes a splurge is appropriate. 🙂 My suggestion for chopping the green onions is to get a pair of kitchen shears and put them to good use. My experience is that the scissor cutting method makes quick work. I grow green onions on my balcony – they are so easy! You take the tail end of the white/root part of the onion and stick it in some dirt. Water and wait and within days you will begin to see new growth. I have three pots so I can always snip what I want – and they always regrow! It’s pretty awesome and I’m never out of green onion.

For your mix-ins, I recommend using no more than 4 or 5 ingredients so that you can still taste individual flavors and not have it too muddled in your mouth. Any cheese and meat combination would work. If you use a saltier cheese and/or meat, make sure you adjust your salt seasoning accordingly. Herbs would be a great addition: parsley, cilantro, rosemary, etc. Regular onion either raw or sauteed a bit prior would be delicious. In my opinion, any kind of pepper would be good – adjust the heat by leaving in or removing the seeds and ribs. Keep it traditional for brunch/breakfast sharings or try shrimp and goat cheese for an evening soiree. Use spinach, tomato, and mushroom to keep it meat-free. Think of the egg/milk mixture as a blank canvas willing to take on whatever colors and flavors you wish to impart. Lastly, if you own mini-muffin tins, you could use that to make bite-size appetizers. According to Giada, the recipe should make roughly 40 mini fritattas and only needs to bake about 10 minutes.

As a single gal, having either 40 mini or 12 regular size muffin fritattas is a wee bit much. The reviewers on Food Network claim that these make good leftovers for the week. I haven’t personally had this experience because my typical MO when I want to make something like this is to see who of my friends is willing to come over and be a culinary guinea pig. Thankfully, they are frequently willing. 🙂 Alternatively, because all the ingredients are easily dividable, one could cut the recipe into half or even quarters (use 1/8 or 2 tbsp milk) to cook a smaller batch.  Thursday night the three of us scarfed all 12 of these down without a problem. And they are pretty nutritionally smart so I didn’t feel so bad about it at all! I hope you and your friends enjoy these too. Happy eating!



Nutritional Content – 1 muffin

Calories: 85
Fat: 5 g
Carbs: 1.5 g
Protein: 10 g
Calcium: 10%