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
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 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.

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