Saturday, September 14, 2013

Appreciating Spaghetti Carbonara

September 8, 2013

Spaghetti Carbonara
Homemade Sourdough Whole Wheat Bread
Garden Salad
Bella Sera 2012 Pinot Grigio
Strawberry Mousse

Spaghetti Carbonara from Cook's Illustrated
Strawberry Mousse from One Perfect Bite

Is it a coincidence or a mini food trend? I had never heard of Spaghetti Carbonara until reading about it in the March 2013 issue of Cook's Illustrated. Not being a cheese eater (not even a spaghetti eater until I was in my twenties) I ate spaghetti almost exclusively with tomato-based sauces. Nonetheless my interest was piqued when reading the recipe so I planned to make it. My decision was reinforced when This Week for Dinner published Easy Spaghetti Carbonara at around the same time. Apparently everyone who is anyone knows about this dish except me and it was time to rectify that.

The sauce, which combines eggs and cheese, is easy to make. The recipe employs some interesting techniques to create a sauce that is not so rich that it weighs you down and yet has a delicious creamy flavor accented by chewy smoky bacon pieces. The proportions of ingredients in this recipe are just right as the sauce smoothly and evenly coats every strand of pasta (we used thin spaghetti) but does not from a puddle in the bottom of the bowl. The Pecorino Romano cheese has a strong odor on its own but this is nicely restrained in the sauce.

My sourdough starter continues to evolve and this bread had the best sourdough flavor of any I have made. I have been very good about feeding it every other week for the last few months which, along with its maturity, may explain the enhanced flavor. I used my standby Cook's Illustrated recipe for Almost No Knead Whole Wheat Bread but substituted ¼ cup of starter for ¼ teaspoon yeast. While the bread was very good the dough was wetter than usual and the bread did not develop a real good crust. I did not heat the Dutch oven before adding the dough, this and the extra moisture may explain the weaker crust.

For dessert I made a simple strawberry mousse. It was easy to make: pureƩ a pound of berries with a little sugar, fold in whipped cream, and chill. It was a light, refreshing dessert that we both enjoyed.

I have often seen pasta on restaurant menus with a non-tomato sauce but I almost always order the more familiar red sauce. Now that I've had and enjoyed pasta with a white sauce I will be more likely to try other sauces in the future, both at home and at restaurants.

I was reluctant to cut this recipe in half when I made it so we ended up with a fair amount leftover. Diane simply dished some up, warmed it in the microwave, and added some freshly grated Pecorino. I was worried that crispy bacon would become soggy in the leftovers; this was not an issue, however, because the bacon was cooked with water so rather than being crispy it was chewy. While not as good as fresh it was still a good dish, certainly suitable for a weeknight meal.

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