The first recipe from a new cookbook is always a rite of passage. No collection can be judged by a single recipe, of course, but a good result gets everything off on the right foot. A disappointing result, on the other hand, brings doubt about one’s cooking abilities, book selection skills, or both.
A couple of weeks ago, I picked up Mark Bittman’s The Minimalist Cooks Dinner. I’ve been catching Bittman’s PBS show How to Cook Everything on an irregular basis on NJN tv. I like some episodes better than others, but some of the recipes look pretty good. In any case, when I flipped through the book, it looked like a good no-frills guide to cooking. Most dishes are western ones, but there are some Asian and Asian-inspired dishes as well. I also like the tips and variations for each recipe.
Yesterday, I decided to try Bittman’s version of pasta carbonara, which he lists as a variation of the “Pasta alla Gricia” recipe. Carbonara has historically been one of the things I buy as a frozen dinner, so the idea of making it for myself is attractive. I previously tried a Frugal Gourmet version of carbonara, but due to my use of 1% milk rather than whole milk, the results left something to be desired.
To start things off, I sautéed some pancetta in a couple of tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil until it was browned and crispy. Then I removed the pancetta from the heat and started to cook the spinach fettucini I was using for this dish (rather than the more typical spaghetti). While the pasta was cooking, I mixed three beaten eggs, a half cup of grated parmesan cheese and the pancetta and its juice in a warm pot. When everything was done, more or less at the same time (the egg was even starting to set in the bottom of the pot), I mixed it all up and garnished it with some more grated parmesan and pepper.
It turned out to be a rich pasta dish, quite filling and almost decadent (thanks to the eggs, no doubt). There was nothing remotely thin about this sauce. I probably used more pancetta than necessary; a little less would’ve balanced the ingredient proportions better. At times, I tasted a somewhat bitter undertone; I suspect that this was due to the fact that I used relatively cheap olive oil, or perhaps to overheating it. I had thought that cooking with extra virgin olive oil was a no-no (because of its delicacy), but Bittman cooks with it regularly in this book.
So, based on yesterday’s lunch, this cookbook looks like a worthy addition to my library.