I remember the first time I ever made carbonara. I was living in Montreal, and my boyfriend at the time had invited me over for dinner. The menu was his inspiration, and this was in the early days of Internet recipes. (He also insisted on pronouncing béchamel as “bockamell” for the duration of our relationship, so I was already a little suspect.) I have a vague memory of an open laptop on the table, a bit of erotic panic at the idea that we were about to mix raw eggs into our meal, and a frenzied moment where it all came together and we stirred like there was no tomorrow to prevent the threatened scrambling. And, I remember both of us taking a few token bites, congratulating ourselves for thinking outside of the box of the typical college-age go-tos of quesedillas and tofu curries, and then admitting that we were totally disgusted, no doubt moving on to an equally exciting dinner down the street at any of the 24-hour eateries that surrounded both of our glamorously bohemian apartments. Le sigh.
My relationship with raw eggs has come a long way since then. I still won’t order eggs sunnyside-up for brunch, or drink an egg white cocktail, but I WILL make an over-easy egg at home and enjoy how a runny yolk with salt and pepper can be the perfect complement to some fluffy artisan toast; I will slowly beat an egg into hot Asian noodle soup and watch the wispy strands curdle with delight; and I will poach an egg and put it over nearly-any-vegetable-and-brown-rice and call it a meal.
I have 12 more years of experience watching ingredients transform since that night on Boulevard René Lévesque, and now, I feel fully supportive of pasta carbonara being a legit meal, and serving it to my family for dinner. It’s good, guys. Don’t worry about the eggs. If you eat pho — and everyone should eat pho — then you can make and eat this meal.
So, let’s go. Pasta carbonara. Even though it sounds (and tastes!) fancy, it’s a supremely simple dish — the crux of which is some really delicious bacon.
So first things first, I chopped up 8 oz. of some applewood smoked bacon I’d bought earlier, and fried it up in my smaller cast iron skillet. I poured the extra fat into a dish to use for future cooking oil, drained the bacon chips on a paper towel, and then cooked up 2 handfuls of frozen peas in the same skillet, transferring them to another bowl once they were cooked.
In a separate mixing bowl, I beat together 4 eggs and 1 cup of shredded cheeses (Romano, and garlic pepper jack that was on sale at Grocery Outlet this week), and chose a bag of pasta from the pasta shelf in our pantry. I didn’t even plan this, but we had a full pound of Campanelle in there, which is a totally wonderful pasta to use for carbonara.
While I boiled a big pot of water for the pasta, I split a bunch of skinny asparagus in half — saving the rest for another meal — and put it in that same skillet, along with 3 pressed cloves of garlic and some salt. I sauteed this in the remaining bacon fat for just a minute or two, enough to coat all the spears, and then popped the whole skillet into a 350-degree oven to finish them off. I adore any piece of kitchenware that can double as a stovetop champion, and then weather a hot oven unscathed.
So the water boils, pasta is added, and once it’s done cooking, I reserved some of the pasta water before draining it. Once it was drained, it went back into the pot with some of the reserved water to loosen it, the peas and bacon were stirred in, and then came the egg/cheese mixture — poured in with one hand while the other hand vigorously mixed it all together to prevent the eggs from scrambling while the hot pasta cooked them.
The result — and the beauty of carbonara — is a deliciously silky, creamy texture that tastes cheesy without all the rigamarole and heaviness of a roux-based cheese sauce.
A little more salt and cracked pepper on top, pull the asparagus out of the oven (this could be any vegetable you enjoy, obviously), and you’ve got a perfect meal, with only two dishes to clean.