Everyone has their guilty pleasure. If I had to guess, I’d say Mom’s is potato chips and Maggy’s is chocolate. Mine is most definitely pasta.
It’s a good thing (or maybe a very dangerous one!) that I married an Italian, because I could eat pasta every single day and twice on Sunday, and I’ll take it any way it comes – pesto, alla norma, bolognese, lasagna. I’m like Dr. Seuss’ Sam I Am and his green eggs and ham. I’d eat pasta here or there, on a train and in the rain, with a fox and in a box.
When I was four, Mom was commuting to her fancy magazine job in New York City and Dad was in charge of feeding me lunch every day. Because I asked for it and Dad (who wasn’t great in the kitchen) was happy to oblige, I ate box macaroni and cheese every single afternoon that year. Mom says she quit her job and started working from home to be with the family, but I have a sneaking feeling that she was worried I’d turn the same unholy shade of orange as my favorite meal.
(Please, everyone, take this moment to absolve yourselves of whatever culinary sins you think you’ve committed with your children, because even cookbook author Pam Anderson let her daughter dine out of Kraft’s infamous blue box for an entire school year.)
Though I have utterly sworn off powdered cheese, I still love pasta. When Anthony is out of town and I don’t feel like undertaking elaborate cooking for one, I just boil a little pasta, drizzle it with great olive oil, sprinkle on some fresh parm and sea salt, and finish with a few grinds of pepper. To me, that is heaven.
My absolute favorite pasta dish, however, is carbonara. Here’s a secret: pasta carbonara is not actually a difficult, sexy dish only restaurants can make. It doesn’t require butter or heavy cream or any special equipment, ingredients, or skills. Carbonara is truly the culinary equivalent of the old t-shirt you wear on laundry day or the last pair of granny panties that lurk at the bottom of the drawer. When I have nothing else in my fridge, carbonara is the lowest common denominator, since I always have pasta, eggs, and parm, and some bacon in the freezer.
Recently, we had a bag full of gorgeous mushrooms and a carton of duck eggs from the farmers’ market. We ignored the kale screaming at us from the crisper drawer and made carbonara instead. With these two special additions our ‘nothing to eat in the house’ dish became the most amazing meal. Isn’t it good to know that your last resort can be that tasty?
- 3 slices good, thick-cut bacon
- 1 ½ pounds assorted wild mushrooms (such as shiitakes, creminis & oyster mushrooms), cleaned and sliced
- 1 large onion, diced
- 6 large garlic cloves, minced
- ½ teaspoon dried thyme
- ¼ to ½ teaspoon hot red pepper flakes, to taste
- 1 cup dry white wine
- 1 pound linguine
- 3 duck eggs (or 2 chicken eggs & 2 yolks), beaten vigorously
- 1 cup finely grated Parmigiano Reggiano
- Freshly chopped parsley
- Kosher salt
- Black pepper
- In large skillet or Dutch oven set over medium-low heat, sauté bacon until crispy. Remove bacon and roughly chop it, drain off all but 1 tablespoon of the bacon fat, increase heat to medium-high, and add mushrooms to the pan. Season mushrooms to taste with salt and pepper and cook, stirring occasionally, until brown. Remove mushrooms and set aside.
- Add another 2 tbsp. of bacon fat or olive oil to the pan; add the onions, season with salt and pepper, and sauté until very soft, 7 to 10 minutes. Add garlic, chopped bacon, thyme, and pepper flakes and sauté until fragrant, about another minute. Add white wine and sautéed mushrooms, and cook until the wine has reduced almost completely. Keep warm over very low heat.
- Meanwhile, bring a large pot of well-salted water to boil over high heat. Cook linguine until al dente, reserve 1 cup of pasta cooking liquid, and then drain the pasta. Add the pasta to the onions, bacon, and mushrooms, stir to combine, and turn off the heat.
- Using a rubber spatula, start vigorously stirring the linguine and then slowly pour in the beaten eggs. DO NOT STOP STIRRING. Keep stirring until the eggs have formed a creamy sauce, adding pasta water if necessary. Add the Parmigiano and keep stirring vigorously. Season to taste with salt and pepper. If the pasta has cooled too much during this process, turn the heat back on to low and stir constantly until the pasta has warmed up again.
- Serve garnished with fresh parsley and more Parmigiano.