I had a Moment in the grocery store this week. In my head, it went something like this:
“Man, I’m glad today’s over. There’s the grocery store. Did I need something there…? Milk! Dang it, now I have to make a U-turn. While I’m here I’ll grab Q-tips. They’re close to the milk. That’s efficient; good job.
Q-tips…mouthwash is in the same aisle, we’re low on mouthwash. There’s the mint flavor I like. But the label on the wintergreen says it does more things. Does it do more things? I don’t like wintergreen, but if it’s better for my teeth…Hey, they have exactly the same active ingredient! Yay mint. Oh, insoles are in this aisle too! I’ve been looking for small pads for these too-big shoes. Oh, these are all too big—the ones I want must be on the other end of the store by the socks. …wait… I’m holding two things, but I feel like I’m missing something.
Upon which I made an about-face, grabbed a gallon of milk, and pretended that everything else else in the store was invisible until I made it safely out the door.
So that happened. Luckily I was already planning on making (and already had the ingredients for) pasta carbonara, which is easy and delicious and—get this—has no cream. Fear not, it’s still deliciously silky (and full of bacon).
Classic Pasta Carbonara
I don’t use a lot of cookbooks (I confess to being one of those Modern Young Things who uses mostly the internet) but my very go-to cookbook is Mark Bittman’s How To Cook Everything. Seriously, everything. And this is just a delicious, delicious standby, a favorite and a comfort food, easy and filling and not unhealthy (although if you’re concerned, you can make it healthier by using whole wheat pasta and serving with salad).
A note on the eggs: The one step that can be tricky is adding the egg sauce to the hot noodles. If the temperature difference is too great, you’ll end up with scrambled eggs on pasta. To avoid this, bring your eggs out early so they can come up to room temperature, and use hot water to temper them (cook very slightly). Then toss the whole thing well for a good sixty seconds so the sauce really begins to cling to the pasta. It might take a couple of tries, but it’s well worth it.
(By the way, please tell me I’m not the only one who has grocery store fail moments. I feel that coming home with milk was merely a stroke of happy fortune.)
½ cup shredded Pecorino Romano cheese
1/3 pound pancetta, guanciale, or bacon, chopped
1 pound dry linguine or other pasta
1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper + more to taste
Optional: Chopped fresh parsley, basil, or other herbs for topping
Place your eggs on the counter (in a safe place!) so they can come to room temperature.
Set a pot of salted water to boil. While it heats, fry the pancetta/guanciale/bacon over medium low heat until crispy; add a little olive oil to the pan if needed. Keep the juices! Set aside to cool.
When the water comes to a boil, add pasta. Right before it's done, set aside a cup or so of salty pasta water. Cook until al dente and drain.
While the pasta cooks, crack eggs in a bowl and add about a quarter cup of reserved hot water. Quickly beat until the color is uniform (this is tempering, cooking the eggs a bit without scrambling). Stir in the now-cool pancetta, cheese, and pepper.
Drain the pasta. Return to the pot and, as quickly as you can, toss in the egg mixture. Keep tossing until the noodles are well coated and the egg seems disinclined to scramble.
Add more pepper and Pecorino to taste. Served topped with a sprinkle of cheese and fresh herbs.