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Sunday, October 26, 2014

Overcoming Fears

For several years I have had an irrational fear of spaghetti carbonara.  I could blame it on the raw eggs, but that would be true because things like raw eggs dot generally bother me.  Nope.  My irrational fear of spaghetti carbonara is because of Mark Bittman.

Mark Bittman, you ask?  Yes, Mark Bittman.

Now, I have nothing personal against Mark Bittman.  He's a great cook, a compelling food writer, and probably an all around nice guy, although I am not personally acquainted with him.  He's really never done anything to me.

Then why do I blame my irrational fear of spaghetti carbonara on Mr. Bittman?

I'll tell you why.

Back, several years ago, when Mark Bittman was retiring his Wednesday food column from the New York Times, he published, as a sort of farewell article, a list of his 50 favorite recipes.  Included in that list was a carbonara like spaghetti dish that included not only the eggs, but anchovies (I think), and bread crumbs.  It sounded good.  I tried it.

My results were disastrous.  The spaghetti cooked into a big clump of somewhat greasy goo.  It was completely inedible.

Okay.  So the recipe didn't work for me.  Big deal.

This was back in the days when Kate would come home from tennis and plop her tennis bag in the middle of the entry hall.  It seemed like that gigantic albatross of a bag was everywhere I stepped.  On this particular day, it was right in my path as I carried the uneaten remains of this gooey mess back into the kitchen.  One false step and I tripped, the greasy mess landing plop, not only all over Kate's tennis bag, but inside her tennis bag as well.  (She had the courtesy to leave the bag wide open,  thus welcoming the greasy pasta.)

There was spaghetti everywhere.  It was a mess to end all messes.  I was screaming because it was such a mess.  She was screaming because there was spaghetti in her tennis bag.  Ted was doing his calming thing, which only made Kate and I scream more.

Needless to say, after that I swore off anything even remotely resembling spaghetti carbonara.  There were just too many memories.

Fast forward to tonight and the need to come up with something for dinner without going to the grocery store.

I felt bold.  I felt invincible.  I am food professional, hear me roar.  Enough was enough.  I wasn't going to let the all too vivid memories of a tennis bag full of spaghetti hold me back from conquering spaghetti carbonara.

And I didn't.  I followed the instructions to the letter.  I wasn't quite bold enough to try Mr. Bittman's recipe again.  Instead, I went for the big guns:  Anna Del Conte.  I've always had good luck with her recipes, and I knew if I was going to succeed, it was going to be with Anna's clear, concise instructions.

And succeed I did.  I managed to get the plates to and from the dining room with nary a spill.  The carbonara was delicious: rich from the eggs, and salty from the pancetta.

Take that carbonara.

Recipe:  Anna Del Conte's Spaghetti alla Carbonara


1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 garlic cloves, peeled and bruised
4 sage leaves
4 ounces unsmoked pancetta (or bacon) cut into short strips or cubes
12 ounces dried spaghetti
3 eggs
6 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan cheese
4 tbsp unsalted butter


Heat the oil, sage leaves, and the garlic in a large frying-pan over medium high heat.  Add the pancetta to the pan and cook for 10-15 minutes, stirring frequently, until the pancetta is golden brown.  Discard the garlic and sage.

Meanwhile, cook the pasta in boiling salted water.

While the pasta cooks, lightly beat the eggs in a bowl, and add the Parmesan, a little salt, and a generous amount of black pepper.

When the pasta is done, drain it, reserving a cup of the cooking water.

Return the spaghetti to the saucepan and toss with the butter, and then add to the frying pan.  Stir-fry for a minute or so.  Mix 3 or 4 tablespoonfuls of the reserved pasta water into the egg and cheese mixture, then tip into the spaghetti.

Toss very well, adding a little more water if necessary. Adjust seasonings and serve immediately.

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