One of my favourite things to do, cooking-wise, is to take bit of a staple and give it a bit of a nudge; make it my own, give it my own spin. Clearly, spaghetti is the best kind of pasta that there is. And I love bacon (and, indeed, all pork products). So, logically, pasta carbonara is going to be a bit of a fave at Chez Omni.
In its essence it is a very simple dish - bacon, egg (yolks), spaghetti, parmesan. Whenever there is the suggestion of adding cream, I am reminded of my buddy Bart's directive; "DO NOT PUT ANY CREAM ANYWHERE NEAR MY PASTA!" And, while a creamy pasta sauce might, very occasionally, be just the ticket, I reckon there are more subtle ways to impart flavour, and texture, and even a nice, creamy quality - without adding cream.
To make the re-upped Omnivore carbonara (for two), you will require;
-half a dozen bacon rashers
-two egg yolks
-a fistful of spaghetti
-a handful of breadcrumbs (panko crumbs are especially nice)
-salt (I am currently really digging kosher salt - cheaper than sea salt, nice texture)
-two garlic cloves, chopped
-curly parsley, chopped
-a generous amount of grated parmesan, Grana Padano or other hard, flavoursome cheese (pecorino will give an interesting twist)
-zest of a lemon
-olive oil to serve
Boil a large pot of water in which to cook the spaghetti - make it nice and salty (but don't use expensive Maldon sea salt - waste of money for this purpose). Chop the bacon and fry over a moderate heat until it is crispy - you may want to drain fat from the pan during this process - don't throw it away! Take the bacon from the pan and set it aside.
Toast your breadcrumbs and the chopped garlic in the remnants of the bacon fat until it is golden brown - this will make a delicious topping for the carbonara.
When the pasta is just cooked (soft, but still with a little bite), drain it from the cooking water through a sieve - and save the salty, starchy cooking water!
Add the pasta back to the pot over a low heat, and add a glug of olive oil to loosen it and stir it through. Add the bacon and some of the parmesan, lemon zest and a whole heap of grated black pepper - heaps of it. I reckon this is key. Then, mix in the two egg yolks - adding the cheese and crispy bacon should have cooled the pasta enough that you don't wind up with scrambled eggs.
And now - the magic part; still over the low heat, start to reintroduce the pasta water and mix it through until you have achieved the desired consistency - some will like it wetter, some drier, but whichever, doing it this way should give you a lovely silky, creamy finish without the need for extra cream. The starchy, salty pasta water gives you something to bring together the cheese and bacon and egg - it's like magic!
Give the pasta a twirl with some tongs and serve it with extra parmesan, the garlic/ breadcrumb topping, some chopped parsley and a little extra virgin olive oil. Et voila! A resolutely cream-less, yet still creamy carbonara, with extra texture courtesy of the crumbs, and a bonus hit of flavour from the lemon zest and toasted garlic.
So - there you go; my version of the classic carbonara - a tweak on a classic that is perfect for this time of year. How do you make carbonara - to add cream or not to add cream? Any other suggested tweaks? Or, subtle tweaks to other simple dishes that have made them your own?
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