Sunday, January 18, 2015

Carbonara Car Wreck

The sun will be going down here in a few hours on the fourth day of the No-Restaurant Challenge.  While one member of Nelson tribe found the news of the deprivation a little hard to take, the other four have bore up rather well.


Brent and I decided to modify the rules a little.  We don't often have a concurrent lunch hour together, so when we do, we've decided then it's okay to eat out if there's no other plan for dining.  In other, complicated pastoral words, what's good for the goslings is mostly good for the gander and goose, but sometimes being the gander and goose has its benefits.  And going out for lunch is one of them.

However, I have other plans cooking as well (har har), including a batch of chicken noodle soup and carrot soup to carry us through the lunch hour.

But today, let's discuss carbonara.  It's a rich pasta dish that comes from Italy (shocker, yes?), and mostly includes eggs, cheese, and bacon (or pancetta or similar).  The purists will say there is no cream in carbonara, that the cooking of the egg by the pasta's residual heat will provide the creamy "sauce" texture...but, plenty of carbonara recipes out there include cream. I suspect this is an American phenomenon - our deep-rooted need to have a saucy pasta.

And now, I wish I'd tried the authentic version before doing the one I tried today.  Then I'd have a frame of reference.  Oh, but don't get me wrong, the one I made turned out delicious enough...

Breaking out the fine china - paper plates.  Don't judge.
A recipe for Winter Squash Carbonara from Epicurious came through my inbox and I was certainly intrigued.  And I thought, maybe, just maybe, I could substitute the squash for pumpkin, since I still had plenty of frozen puree left in my freezer from earlier in the fall.  (Remember that "real" pumpkin is much less orange than canned pumpkin, and that's why my carbonara above is more yellowy than orangy.)  Real Italians use pancetta or a pork belly called guanciale, but I had a few strips of bacon to get rid of first.

I opted for milk instead of cream, and I found myself wishing I'd left it out altogether since I had a nice amount of sauce without it (and more of the pumpkin would have probably shone through).  I chopped up some sage (a nice compliment to the pumpkin), but I didn't really taste it, and the richness contributed by the eggs was a little lost due to the cream

So, yeah, I see why the purists get bent when they see versions of carbonara with cream, vegetables, and other herbs and fungi, because I'm wondering the same thing: what's really happening in this dish here?  What, really, am I supposed to be tasting?  Again, I think it's another American thing - we like to toy with recipes so that we can write cleverly creative blog posts about how we made carbonara with pumpkin or squash or fava beans or truffles or whatever.

So, naturally, my next adventure will be to make real carbonara...and go from there!

Incidentally, the pasta was a distant second to the roasted Brussels Sprouts also served with lunch today.  Cut the sprouts in half, toss with melted butter, salt, pepper, and garlic powder and roast at 425 degrees for 15-20 minutes, tossing halfway through.  Look for the browny, roasty spots.

Yeah, the green cabbage-family vegetable was the real favorite at the table today, not the cheesy, creamy, bacony pasta dish.  Go figure.

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