If you’re Italian, I suggest you turn away, because all things considered I definitely do not want you to wretch or cringe at what I’m about to share. I also do not want you to think less of me as a cook, because I’ve had enough of people thinking that every time I tell them how I once burned water while boiling it.
The last few days have gone by in a haze of confusion. A few of my recipe testers got back to me with their feedback on the dishes they’ve been testing and I have to say that I’ve been left bamboozled by some of their notes. This is no laughing matter, people. I think I will pour myself a drink tomorrow, better yet I’ll just hold the entire bottle close to my chest, and go through all of the feedback. I will report back on that.
Between recipe testing and writing and studying and attending baby showers in Texan suburbs, I have improvised upon the traditional spaghetti carbonara. It seems like me and Kumar (you guys can call him Sundaram, if you want) are preferring meals-in-a-whirl more and more, especially for the past few weeks of the new year. The mornings are quiet and cloudy, because that’s what Plano has been serving up for the last few weeks. But now and then, the sun will come out and bathe everything in bright, eye-hurting gold. Love those days. And all we want to do is walkabout outside and sit with our backs to the sun. We hardly feel like spending too much time in the kitchen. But we haven’t stopped cooking. We’ve just been finding shortcuts.
We made a fish curry that took exactly five minutes of prep. We make omelets with leftover mushrooms for breakfast and we don’t even bother to toast the bread. We learned a plain tomato pasta recipe from a friend of Kumar’s, that has sustained us multiple times over the last year and we have already made that four times in the last month. And then there were those cookies (which take less time than a pedicure, and is infinitely more pleasurable). All that is, of course, interspersed with generous doses of tonkatsu ramen from Ramen Hakata and Monta, dumpling from Sichuan Folk, and gelato from Amorino (only so we can dig into a big bowl of it while walking by the fountains in Legacy). Let’s chart it up to lack of time and convenience.
And now this carbonara. Which is not just for people out of time and non-Italians, it’s also for cooks who don’t always know what they’re doing in the kitchen.
Spaghetti Carbonara for Non-Italians
Adapted from a recipe by Nigella Lawson, and heavily altered.
Dried spaghetti, 2 servings worth
3-4 strips of smoky bacon
1 tbsp of minced garlic
2 tsps of red chili flakes
½ cup of chicken stock
¼ cup of cream cheese, softened to room temperature
1-inch piece of Parmesan cheese, plus more to grate over once the dish is ready
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
2 eggs, lightly beaten
¼ cup of freshly chopped parsley
Extra virgin olive oil, to dress
Bring a large pot of water to boil. While you’re waiting for the water to come to a boil, cook the bacon in a large non-stick or stainless steel pan until most of the fat is rendered. Remove the bacon from the pan and place on a bed of paper towels. When the pot of water starts boiling, add a generous amount of salt, add the spaghetti and cook till al dente. It’ll usually take 8 – 10 minutes. Meanwhile, in the pan in which you cooked the bacon, add garlic and chilli flakes. Reduce the heat to medium low and cook for 30 seconds. Add the chicken stock, cream cheese and the piece of Parmesan. Cover and cook on medium low until the stock is reduced to almost half. Before you drain the pasta retain ¼ cup of the starchy pasta water. Chop up the cooked bacon and add it back to the pan along with the spaghetti, the pasta water, salt and pepper. Cook uncovered on high heat till most of the liquid disappears from the pan. Take the pan off the heat and add in the parsley and lightly beaten eggs. Toss the eggs with the sauce and the spaghetti quickly to prevent it from scrambling. Serve and top with grated Parmesan and a generous drizzle of EVOO.