Saturday, May 18, 2024

Spaghetti alla Carbonara Primavera



Many years ago I posted the recipe for Spaghetti alla Carbonara. At the time, I noted that it’s perfect for evenings when you’re feeling a little bit lazy…and your pantry is a little bit bare. It also fills the bill for those days when you are craving a little comfort food.

Sadly, it has also always felt like a bit of a guilty pleasure to me because it doesn’t have a vegetable anywhere in sight. You can of course make a salad to go with it. But that’s more work…and more dishes to wash. Today’s spring version of the dish takes care of the lack of vegetables…without adding any more work in the form of more dirty dishes. This Primavera incarnation of Pasta alla Carbonara is not only quick and satisfying…it is now a non-guilt inducing dinner (unless bacon makes you feel guilty…).

Even with the addition of vegetables, I still consider this a “bare pantry” kind of dinner. In the spring, if I don’t have asparagus on hand (and peas in the freezer…or one of those great little bag of Trader Joe’s fresh peas in the vegetable crisper), there is probably truly nothing in the house to eat. This time of year I buy asparagus every time I’m at the store or market (and I usually buy too much). I love asparagus.

I should probably point out that the fact that this dish is quick does not mean it is easy. It is in fact—at the end when you are finishing it—a bit tricky. I was reminded of this the other day when I made it for friends for lunch. I was in a hurry and didn’t pay as much attention as I should have at the very end when I was mixing in the eggs.

When you make Spaghetti alla Carbonara, you are essentially using the residual heat of the pot the pasta was cooked in…as well as the heat in the pasta…to “cook” the eggs. Yet, you don’t want visibly scrambled eggs. You want eggs that are cooked to the point of a stirred custard (like crème anglaise and similar), so that what you have is a lightly thickened, fluid sauce coating the noodles (and vegetables). This sauce is made up of egg, butter, bacon fat, Parmesan, and pasta water.



To get a sauce like this, you simply have to be paying attention. When you add the egg, make sure that you are stirring constantly. As you stir…and add each element (butter, cooked vegetables and bacon, Parmesan)…pay attention to the thickness and fluidity of the sauce. If you are having difficulty stirring (because the sauce is too tight), add a splash of pasta water. If the pasta seems like it is swimming in too much liquid (because the egg is not cooked…or you “splashed” in too much pasta water), set it over low heat and stir briskly until it begins to thicken.

The other day when I made it for lunch I didn’t add enough pasta water. The final dish seemed a bit sticky to me (noodles didn’t twirl smoothly, etc). But I share this mostly to let you know it was still delicious and I Hoovered it right up. So…if you don’t get it quite right, don’t worry. Enjoy it anyway. And then, make it again soon. So you can get in some more practice.

Spaghetti alla Carbonara Primavera

1/2 lb. Asparagus, trimmed (about 4 oz. trimmed weight)
2 strips bacon (about 2 oz.), thinly sliced crosswise
3 to 4 t. unsalted butter, divided
Freshly ground Black Pepper
Salt
1/4 c. fresh or frozen peas (thawed, if frozen)--optional
180 g./6 1/2 oz. spaghetti
2 eggs
1/2 c. (1 1/2 oz.) finely grated Parmesan


Slice the tips off of the asparagus at an angle. Split the tips in half lengthwise. Slice the stalks of the asparagus thinly on a long diagonal so that they are the same length as the halved tips. Set aside.

In a medium sauté pan set over medium-low heat, render the bacon. Stir and scrape to make sure it cooks evenly. When the bacon is browned and beginning to crisp and sizzle, add a tablespoon or so of water to cool the pan. Add a couple of teaspoons of the butter and a few grinds of black pepper and the asparagus. Season lightly with salt and toss to coat the asparagus in the butter and bacon fat. Cover the pan, reduce the heat to low and cook for a couple of minutes (until the pan is steamy and the asparagus is at an active, but gentle, sizzle). Uncover the pan and continue to cook, stirring occasionally until the asparagus is just tender—about 7 to 8 minutes. If adding peas, add them to the pan a couple of minutes before the asparagus is done.

When you add the asparagus to the pan of bacon, drop the spaghetti into a large pot of rapidly boiling, salted water. Stir to make sure the pasta isn't sticking. Cook until the pasta is al dente—about 7 to 8 minutes. (The pasta and asparagus should finish cooking at the same time—if the asparagus is done before the pasta, simply set it aside off of the heat.)


A couple of minutes before the pasta is ready, scoop out a half cup or so of the pasta water and set to the side. Crack the eggs into a small bowl and whisk until smooth.

When the pasta is al dente, drain it well. Return the pasta to the (now empty) hot pot and immediately add the asparagus/bacon mixture (scraping the pan well with a rubber spatula), the egg and any remaining butter. Stir briskly until the egg is thickened. If necessary, place the pot back over low heat as your stir. Stir in half of the Parmesan. Taste and correct the seasoning with salt & pepper. Adjust the consistency with some of the pasta water as needed—the spaghetti should be coated in a thin, fluid sauce of lightly thickened egg...it should not seem sticky or tight. Serve immediately with more Parmesan scattered over. Serves 2.

Note: Recipe is easily halved for one or doubled for four.

Printable Version



Monday, April 29, 2024

Some Updates

A little over a year ago I added a “tip jar” to my blog. It provided a way for people who wanted to support my work to do so without pressure or rules. It also provided some income for the work I do on the blog without cluttering it up with annoying ads/pop ups/etc. Many of you have contributed…and I appreciate it so much!

Last week I had to take the tip jar down. It was apparently being used by thieves to vet stolen credit cards. Most transactions (over 350 over the course of a month by the time I caught it) were unsuccessful. Two went through for very small amounts and with similar names (which is how I caught it). The only solution appeared to be removing the payment link since I didn’t want to force people to tip over a certain dollar amount—which would be the only way to discourage thieves who were using it.

The Departed Tip Jar

As much as I didn't want to do it, taking the tip jar down has given me an opportunity to promote another way for followers to support the work I do.   As I mentioned in my last post, I have started a monthly subscription newsletter.  It costs $30 a year to subscribe. The newsletter—called “Notes from For Love of the Table”—is very much like my blog: filled with recipes, tutorials on techniques…as well as my not-so-humble opinions. You can read more about it in my previous post (at the end)…or on the “About” page of the newsletter.

Because it involves money/income, the removal of the tip jar also provides an occasion for me to explain a little bit about what has happened with my cooking classes over the past few years. I know that many of the people who took my in-person classes have been disappointed that I am no longer offering them.

Prior to the pandemic, the place where I taught most of my classes operated the class program on a non-profit basis. Even so, they compensated the teachers generously while offering the classes at a price that anyone could afford. When the pandemic ended and the program started up again, they made the decision to restructure the way instructors were compensated. I was no longer able to make enough for teaching the classes to cover my time. I was very sorry to see my time there come to an end.

Around the same time all this happened, I was pursuing increasing the number of in-person classes I offered at another venue. My classes there never really took off. It takes years to build a consistent clientele—years when you often teach for the sake of building up a following and don’t earn enough to cover the costs and time involved. I am no longer in a position to be able to do this.

Zoom classes have been my solution…at least for now. I can offer classes on Zoom at a price most can afford (I charge $35—in-person classes cost upwards of $75, which many cannot afford) because I don’t have to cover the cost of ingredients for tastings or the considerable amount of time it takes to stage an in-person class. With these Zoom classes, even when only a few people sign up, I can make enough to cover the time I have spent.

Some (many? most?) people don’t like Zoom. I totally understand. Mostly I have shared all of this to explain why my in-person classes came to an abrupt halt—seemingly out of the blue. But I have to add here: if you liked my in-person classes, consider giving my Zoom classes a try!

As far as the tip jar is concerned, I was thinking about taking it down when I started the newsletter anyway since the newsletter had provided an avenue for people who enjoy my blog to support me. It had occurred to me that it would be unlikely that someone would tip and pay $30 a year to receive a monthly newsletter. But I could be wrong about that…so I had left the tip jar up (until last week).

The idea of the newsletter came about as I have tried to rework my career in the wake of the pandemic and my shifting teaching situations.  Like teaching, the blog was something I was already doing.  I have always loved my blog. I love everything about it: testing recipes, writing recipes, writing posts, taking pictures….   (And I’ve always been so gratified when I learn that others have enjoyed reading it and cooking from it.)  Unfortunately, I have never been able to figure out how to justify it financially. When everything came to a grinding halt in March of 2020 and every working moment had to produce an income, I had to let the blog go. I have posted a few times over the past four years…but obviously not as much as I would like. By adding a paid subscription newsletter, I will be able to give extra content to those who subscribe (plus Zoom class discounts!) and, if all goes as planned, eventually provide enough income for me to post regularly to the blog again (which will remain free and public). I might even be able to do an in person class or two.

To those who have subscribed already:  Thank you so much!  I hope you are enjoying it and looking forward to cooking from it...or enjoying the things you may have already cooked.

For those who didn't know about the newsletter yet: If you use my blog…and learn from it…and want to see more of the kinds of things I share here, I hope you will consider subscribing to my newsletter. Doing so will bring more content your way (right into your inbox every month) and it will help me continue to teach, write, and develop recipes.

Thank you so much for taking a moment to read this post that doesn't even include a recipe. I have always been so amazed by—and appreciative of—those who have followed along and cooked with me over the years. Thank you...  I'm looking forward to many more.

Subscribe to "Notes from For Love of the Table"



Monday, April 1, 2024

White Chocolate Cheesecake Tart with Lemon Curd Topping…and an announcement!


Yesterday was Easter Sunday. As has frequently been the case with me over the past few years, I am posting the holiday appropriate recipe after the fact. Three or four years ago I posted my recipe for Hot Cross Buns after Easter had passed. But as I pointed out at the time…the holiday happens every year. Posting the recipe while it is fresh and new works well for me…and makes the recipe available to all when the holiday does come around again.

In the case of the dessert that I made for yesterday’s festivities, the white chocolate and lemon flavors will be appropriate for many occasions. Mother’s day…for example (and which happens to be right around the corner). So in the long run, I don’t feel too bad about my tardiness…and I hope others won’t mind it too much either.

Yesterday’s dessert was mostly the serendipitous result of my continually changing pantry of leftovers. Due to some over-purchasing for some recent events, I had cream cheese, lemons and graham crackers on hand. All of this of course suggests cheesecake. But since I’m usually not in the mood for a tall slab of rich cheesecake after a holiday meal, I opted instead to make a “cheese tart,” (similar in style to the Marbled Chocolate & Pumpkin Cheese Tart I shared several years ago). The thin flat tart allows you to cut attractive, wider portions—without serving a dessert that is just too rich.

Because my favorite cheesecake happens to be white chocolate cheesecake, I decided that I would make a base layer of white chocolate cheesecake and top it with a thin layer of lemon curd. I thought the contrast in tastes: tangy cream cheese and sour cream…sweet white chocolate…and tart lemon—would be fantastic. And they were.



The tart is very straight forward to make if you are familiar with making cheesecake. There are no surprises in the crust…and the main thing to be careful about when you are making the batter is the addition of the chocolate. White chocolate is even more temperamental than chocolate and can seize or clump pretty quickly. When you add it, don’t mess around: add it all in one go and immediately whisk it in by hand so that it is fully distributed as quickly as possible.

If you have never made lemon curd, check out my post on the classic Tarte au Citron. You will be making half of the recipe described in that post. Applying the curd to the tart is the trickiest part of making the cheesecake tart. It must be applied to the cheesecake base while it is still warm, soft and wobbly. The surface tension of the mostly baked cheesecake will work in your favor, but you must be careful to apply the curd by holding your spoon/spatula/ladle very close to the surface—without  touching the surface—and apply it in a sweeping sort of motion (basically laying the curd in slabs/strips rather than plops). If you are too far above the surface of the tart when you apply it…or you apply it all in one spot…the weight of the curd will penetrate into the tart and you won’t have even/level layers of cheesecake and curd. Once all of the curd has been laid down on the tart, using a small offset spatula, go back and gently smooth it out to the edges, filling any holes left from the application process.

I was very pleased with this tart. Sometimes when you make something with flavors you think will be happy together, you can be disappointed when they all somehow manage to mute one another rather than enhance each other. I’m happy to report that this tart tastes of all the things you expect: cheesecake…white chocolate…and lemon. And it is just as delicious as you would expect. Berries, sweetened lightly with sugar, are an excellent garnish.

Announcing!


Finally, in the title I promised an announcement. Starting this month, I am offering a subscription newsletter! I am calling it “Notes from For Love of the Table.” I will be publishing once a month. There will be recipes…techniques…and of course, my opinions. For now I envision it as being primarily focused on the needs of those of us living in small households. Recipes will be mostly calibrated to one or two portions. And I will have a lot to say about how to go about organizing food preparation in a small household so that it isn’t wasteful or repetitive. If you have been reading my blog for very long, you know that this is right where I live. (Frequently the recipes I post have been inspired by the current contents of my pantry and leftovers. Today’s tart is a perfect example of that.) If you would like to read more about the newsletter, you may do so on the public “about” page. Subscribers will receive discounts to all my online classes…and right out of the gate will receive a free archived Zoom class of their choice.

I am excited about this newsletter. Charging a subscription fee (only $30 for a full year) will allow me to return to doing what I love to do best—developing recipes and writing about them. My focus will be on the newsletter, but if all goes as planned, I will also be able to post more here, on my blog (which will remain ad free and public).

I hope you will subscribe! You may do so here: Notes from For Love of the Table.



Lemon & White Chocolate Cheese Tart


Graham Cracker Crust:
167 g. (1 2/3 c.) finely ground graham crackers
40 g. ( 3 T.) granulated sugar
70 g. (5 T.) unsalted butter, melted

Cheesecake Base:
14 oz. (1 3/4 packages) cream cheese, room temperature (see note)
1/2 c. sugar
Pinch of salt
1/2 c. sour cream
2 eggs, lightly beaten
4 oz white chocolate, melted

Lemon curd:
100 g. (1/2 c.) sugar
75 g. (1/3 c.) strained lemon juice
2 eggs
2 oz. (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, cut into pieces


Make the crust: Butter a 10-inch removable bottom tart pan. Combine the crust ingredients until homogenous and press to the bottom and up the sides of the pan in a compact even layer. Place on a baking sheet and transfer to a pre-heated 350° oven. Bake until set and beginning to brown—10 to 12 minutes. Cool. Reduce the oven temperature to 325°.

Briefly beat cream cheese to break up. Beat in the sugar and salt until smooth; scrape the sides. Add the sour cream and beat in. Scrape the sides. Beat in the eggs in two or three additions, just until smooth and fully incorporated. By hand, quickly whisk in the melted chocolate. Scrape the batter into the prepared crust.

Bake the tart in a pre-heated 325° oven until just set—about 30 minutes. The filling will be just beginning to soufflé up a bit around the edges and the center will appear jiggly.

While the cheese tart bakes, make the lemon curd: Combine the sugar and lemon juice in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil over high heat. In a medium-sized bowl, whisk the eggs until homogenous. When the lemon syrup boils, whisk it into the eggs in a thin stream. Return this mixture to the saucepan and place over medium heat. Stir constantly until the mixture is visibly thickened—this will only take a minute or two. Remove from the heat and whisk in the butter, piece by piece. When the butter is fully incorporated, strain the filling into a small bowl and set aside.


When the cheesecake base is done to the point described above, remove it from the oven. 


Gently lay the lemon curd on the surface. Do this by carefully spooning it on with the spoon held very close (but not touching) the surface. If you just pour the curd on from too high above the tart, it will make holes/divots in the surface since the cheese custard will still be very, very soft. Don’t worry about making the curd perfectly smooth…or covering the entire surface…as you put the curd on the tart. Just get it on the tart so it is fairly evenly distributed. Then, when all the curd is on the tart, use a small offset spatula to gently smooth it out and make sure that the whole surface is covered.


Return the tart to the oven and bake until the curd is just set (like the cheesecake, it will still be a bit jiggly in the center)—about 8 to 10 minutes.

Cool to room temperature (about 1 hour). Chill, uncovered, until cold (at least 2 hours). Once cold, cover with plastic wrap.

To portion, remove the sides of the tart pan. Cut the tart using a thin, sharp knife dipped in hot water (and wiped dry) in between cuts.

Serve accompanied by fresh berries. Serves 10.

Note: If you don’t like it that this recipe uses a portion of a package of cream cheese, you may adjust the recipe to use 2 full packages (l pound) and then reduce the quantity of sour cream to 1/3 cup. If you follow the recipe as written you will have a little cream cheese left…to spread on toast/a bagel…make a half recipe of marbled cheesecake brownies…or maybe fold into some macaroni and cheese….




Thursday, March 21, 2024

Light Wheat Seeded Dinner Rolls




Last fall, a long time client requested a “brown seeded” roll to go with a luncheon that I was preparing for her. This wasn’t an item I had in my repertoire. Whole wheat is something that I enjoy in hearty, substantial loaves (brown soda bread…the home-made hippy-style whole wheat loaves of my childhood—toasted and drowned in butter…), but that I don’t tend to want in things that to me are inherently light or delicate—or that are typically made with white flour. I don’t really like whole wheat pasta, for example. And I was most definitely not a fan of my mother’s stealth additions of whole wheat flour to things like pancakes and French toast when I was a kid.  Even though I favor dinner rolls that are light and fluffy (like my Grandmother’s pan rolls)…or possibly light and crisp (like a classic petit pain)…I admit that I have on occasion had delicious light wheat dinner rolls, so I was certain I could find something I would feel good about making.

I looked in a few cookbooks…and online. I eventually decided to try out a recipe published by David Tanis. I have great respect for Tanis…the way he handles ingredients…his palate…the simple finesse of the foods he prepares. I figured anything he made would be good…if not excellent.

The recipe I found was called “Seeded Molasses Whole Wheat Dinner Rolls.” I’m sure they would have been fine if I had followed the recipe as written, but I admit that my desire for something lighter led me to cut some of the whole wheat flour with bread flour (the sponge in the original recipe was already all bread flour…but the rest of the flour was whole grain). I knew that this adjustment would produce something one would identify as a wheat roll, without it being too heavy.

Other than that, my changes were minor. I added more salt. And I altered the finishing mixture of seeds. The original rolls had a topping of mixed spices/seeds that seemed to be too strongly flavored for the luncheon I was preparing. So I just topped mine with sesame seeds (I love sesame seeds on rolls...sourdough loaves...hamburger buns...).

After testing the recipe, I looked no further. The rolls were fantastic. They have a complex flavor…are sufficiently “wheaty”…yet have a nice light texture. The mixture of seeds

Clockwise from top: Flaxseed, Millet, Sunflower seeds, Pepitas

is flavorful and adds a subtle crunch. I suspect you could alter the mix to suit your pantry. But I like it so much as is that I haven’t bothered to experiment.

I have since made these rolls several times. You could definitely say they are now a part of my regular repertoire. I love having them on hand to go with soups and salads (they freeze/thaw beautifully). I like serving them just slightly warm. And they are delicious when split and toasted. The recipe makes 24 fairly good sized rolls (about 3 inches in diameter and 2 inches tall). This is actually larger than what I think of as a dinner roll, but it somehow seems just perfect with the aforementioned soups and salads. They could be made larger and serve as a sandwich roll (would be amazing filled with egg salad)…or they can be formed into 32 smaller rolls and tucked into square baking pans to make “pan rolls.”

Split and toasted with a salad and frittata....

Even if you are not adept at bread making, if you have a stand mixer with a dough hook, you should be able to make these rolls without difficulty. The most important thing is to resist the temptation to keep adding flour. The rolls will be heavy if you add too much flour. The dough will seem wet…and will remain slightly sticky as you work with it. If you are worried that it will be unmanageable, follow the original recipe’s instruction and allow the dough to rise overnight in the fridge. The chilled dough is much easier to handle. If you must add more flour, I included a measured extra amount in the recipe (45 grams) to be added gradually as necessary during the kneading process.  You may add up to the full amount listed without adversely affecting the lightness of the rolls.

I'm so glad my client requested these rolls.  I hope you will give them a try...even if you think you're not really a fan of whole wheat bread....




Light Wheat Seeded Dinner Rolls

Sponge:
20 g. molasses
7 g. instant yeast (2 t.)
350 g. room temperature water
250 g. unbleached bread flour

Dough:
40 g. flaxseed
50 g. millet
40 g. sunflower seeds
40 g. pepitas
100 g./2 eggs, beaten
55 g. olive oil
140 g. spelt flour
200 g. whole wheat flour
100 g. unbleached bread flour, plus up to 45 g. more for kneading
14 g. kosher salt

Topping:
1 egg beaten with a pinch of salt
2 1/2 T. sesame seeds
Flaky salt for sprinkling




Place the molasses, yeast and water in the bowl of a stand mixer and stir to dissolve. Whisk in bread flour to obtain a batter-like consistency. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and leave at room temperature until mixture looks active, about 30 minutes.

the active sponge....

Meanwhile, soak the larger seeds for the dough: Put flaxseed, millet, sunflower and pepita seeds in a heat-proof bowl and cover with boiling water. Leave to soak for 30 minutes, then drain. Rinse with cool water and drain well (let sit in a strainer if necessary…seeds will absorb anywhere from 120 to 150 grams water). Stir the soaked seeds into the sponge mixture.


Add eggs, olive oil, spelt flour, whole-wheat flour, bread flour and salt. By hand, mix well until dough comes together in a shaggy mass. Using the dough hook, knead on medium low for about 10 minutes to develop the gluten, adding more flour if necessary (only add enough so that the dough can be handled). Turn out onto a lightly floured work surface and form into a smooth ball.



Transfer dough to an oiled bowl 


and let rise until doubled (about 1 to 2 hours).

Fully risen/doubled when you can stick  your finger into the ball of dough
and the hole doesn't fill back in.

Alternatively, transfer the dough to the refrigerator for a slow, cool rise overnight.

Heat oven to 375 degrees. Put risen dough on a lightly floured work surface. Cut dough into 24 65-gram pieces. Form each piece into a tight ball. Divide among 2 parchment-lined baking sheets, spacing evenly. Cover dough balls loosely with a large piece of sprayed plastic wrap and place baking sheet in a warm spot until balls have doubled, about 1 hour.

Uncover and paint tops of balls lightly with beaten egg. Sprinkle with sesame seeds and with sea salt, if using.

Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, or until nicely browned. Cool on a rack.

Makes 24 large dinner rolls.

 

Notes:
  • Making the dough a day in advance and letting it rise slowly in the refrigerator gives it a more complex character and makes it easier to handle. You can keep the dough in the refrigerator for up to 3 days before baking, or freeze raw dough for up to 1 month.
  • For a smaller roll, form into 32 50-gram balls and place in two 9- by 9-inch greased baking pans. After the rolls are cooked through (about 20 minutes) tip them out of the pan. If the bottom of the raft of rolls isn’t slightly golden, place them back in the oven (directly on the rack) for a few minutes.
(Adapted from New York Times, David Tanis)