I have my ever-changing opinions about Rachael Ray. Sometimes she drives me nuts. Sometimes I feel indifferent to her. Other times, like the other night when I made this Spaghetti Carbonara, I feel grateful to her. After all, it was only after watching her on The Food Network about 4 years ago that I became inspired to learn how to cook, once and for all. She seemed so passionate about cooking, and wanted to share that enthusiasm with her audience. Nowadays, I'm every bit as enthusiastic as she seemed to be when I first watched her. I love talking food, I love making food, and of course, I love eating food!
This Carbonara is one of the very first Rachael Ray recipes I had ever made. I had never eaten Carbonara before, but her way seemed very simple and quick, which I loved about it. The first time we did try this, I was in pasta heaven. As I have professed plenty of times, I just adore pasta, and eggs are right up there with it. Put them together, and you have a winner in my book.
Rachael's method goes like this: cook up some pasta, and then cook some pancetta in oil (which I think is redundant; I mean, why would you cook fatty pork products in oil?). Throw in your crushed red pepper, garlic, and white wine to deglaze the pan. Then, you temper 2 egg yolks by adding a bit of hot pasta water to them. This allows you to add in the egg yolks without cooking the egg to a scramble. You toss the pasta with the bacon and oil, then pour the yolks in and toss very well to heat the eggs through and make them almost creamy. So simple, so delicious! Throw on some grated cheese and parsley, and you have dinner!
I made my most recent version more of a one-dish dinner by adding a healthy handful of peas and fresh spinach. All the major food groups were represented here! I also used bacon in place of pancetta, because I think we just like the flavor of bacon a bit more. Instead of frying the bacon in oil, I baked it up in the oven, crumbled it, and then added it to the pan just before the garlic and red pepper. This would be great with shredded chicken, or shrimp, and I've seen Carbonara made with cream and other luxurious ingredients, too. For my money, this version just can't be beat. It's one of those back-pocket recipes that I've made countless times, thus negating my desire to never make the same meal twice. It's that good!
adapted from Rachael Ray
makes 4-6 servings
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1 lb. spaghetti
1 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 lb. bacon
1 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
5 or 6 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 cup frozen peas, thawed
1 large handful fresh spinach (frozen can be used; just thaw and drain well)
2 large egg yolks
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
Flat-leaf parsley, chopped (optional, I omitted)
1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Place bacon strips on a cooling rack that has been set over an aluminum foil-lined baking sheet. Bake in the oven for about 17-20 minutes, until bacon has fully cooked. Remove to a paper towel-lined plate, and then chop once cool enough to handle.
2. Meanwhile, bring a large pot of water to a boil. Salt the water, add the spaghetti, and cook according to the package directions. Before draining water, reserve 1 cup of pasta liquid.
3. While the spaghetti cooks, heat a large skillet over medium heat. Add olive oil and chopped bacon; heat for 2 minutes. Add red pepper flakes and garlic and cook 2 to 3 minutes more. Add the wine to deglaze the pan and loosen any bits from the bottom of the pan.
4. In a small bowl, beat the yolks, then add about 1/2 cup reserved pasta water. This tempers the eggs and keeps them from scrambling when added to the pasta.
5. Drain pasta well and add it directly to the skillet with bacon and oil. Add the peas and spinach and allow them to heat through. Pour the egg mixture over the pasta. Toss rapidly to coat the pasta without cooking the egg. Remove pan from heat and add a big handful of cheese, plenty of pepper, and a little salt. Continue to toss and turn the pasta until it soaks up the egg mixture and thickens, 1 to 2 minutes. Garnish with parsley, if desired, and extra cheese.