Sunday, September 04, 2005

Fettucini carbonara

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.


Celeste said...

Fettucini Carbonara might be my favorite pasta. Although it's SO hard to choose. I make a 'poor man's carbonara' with diced ham, frozen green peas, skim milk and grated parmesan. Not nearly as wonderful as the real thing, but a quick and easy fix on a weeknight.

Winslow said...

Hi Celeste,

That's an interesting variant of carbonara. Of course, my attitude about these rich dishes is to splash out and go the whole hog periodically rather than trying to make them "healthier." It's good to know about this version, though, in case I change my mind about indulging someday.

Collin C. said...

We love Carbonara & you are right, it is most definitely a rich dish. We like to add a southern flair to ours by using bacon & while I love pancetta, I think i like using bacon better.

Winslow said...

Hi Collin,

I've never tried making carbonara with regular bacon. Since I'm a bacon fan, I think I'll put that on the to-do list for the next time I feel like having some hedonistic Italian food. Thanks for the tip and for stopping by!