When I was living in Italy last year the most torrid love affair I had was, predictably, with food--specifically pasta carbonara. I'd had it before of course, but it turns out I'd only been exposed to seriously CRAP carbonara, the kind made with dusty Parmesan cheese and heavy cream.
NONSENSE. That shit is NONSENSE, let me tell you.
True carbonara requires no cream and uses only freshly grated Parmesan (or a mix of Parmesan and Reggiano or Grana Panada), egg yolks, and the starchy pasta cooking water to create that luxurious, silky sauce. And of course there's pancetta involved, which never hurts anything.
The great thing about carbonara too is that it's made with simple ingredients you probably have on hand already: pasta, pancetta (or bacon), eggs, and cheese. That's it.
The recipe I'm laying down today is a riff on classic carbonara for two main reasons:
One, I had picked up some stunningly beautiful red Swiss Chard that I wanted to incorporate primarily just because having at least ~something~ green in a pile of rich pasta makes me feel better. Plus, the slight bitterness of the greens fantastically offsets the richness of the egg yolk and cheese.
I also subbed bacon in place of pancetta since I had some leftover from whipping up a batch of my Bacon Braised Collard Greens earlier in the week. Depending on where you live, bacon might also be easier to find than pancetta--and more affordable.
This bitch takes less than 30 minutes to throw together. LET'S GOOOOOOOOOOOO!
Swiss Chard Pasta Carbonara
WHAT YOU NEED
8 oz (1/2 a 1 lb box) of spaghetti (or fresh spaghetti if you can get it)
4-5 large leaves of Swiss chard
1 large garlic clove, crushed and minced into the tiniest possible pieces
2 green onions, very thinly sliced
4 egg yolks (save the egg whites to scramble up and give to your dog, or put into your weirdo egg-white-only omelettes)
4 strips bacon, sliced into 1/2 inch-ish pieces (don't bring your fake maple bullshit in here for this)
1 cup freshly grated cheese, either Parmesan, Grana Panada, Reggiano, or some mixture thereof
Salt & pepper, freshly ground
WHAT YOU DO
1. Bring a large pot of well salted water to boil, and cook the pasta until al dente. DO NOT DRAIN OR RINSE. You gotta cook the pasta while multitasking with steps 2-4. You can do it. I have faith in you.
2. While the pasta is cooking, slice the chard into thin ribbons. Do this by folding the leaves in half lengthwise and slicing out the tough red stem, then rolling the leaves into a cigar shape and slicing into narrow ribbons.
3. In a medium sized frying pan, cook bacon over medium heat until lightly crisped. Remove to a paper towel lined plate and drain fat from pan, save for a few teaspoons. In the bacon fat, fry the green onion and garlic for one minute just until fragrant.
4. Add the sliced chard to the pan and fry for only a minute or two, stirring often, until bright green and slightly wilted. Add the cooked bacon. Turn heat to very low.
5. In a small bowl, beat the egg yolks thoroughly until light yellow and thin in texture. In order to avoid the yolks becoming scrambled when you add them to the rest of the ingredients you'll need to temper them. It's simple: just scoop about 1/4 cup of the starchy pasta cooking water out of the pot and slowly trickle it into the yolks, whisking quickly and thoroughly.
6. When the pasta is finished cooking to al dente, use a slotted spoon or tongs to transfer it from the cooking pot into the frying pan and remove from heat. Now this is where it gets quick and dirty, hang with me:
Add the grated cheese, egg yolks, salt, and pepper to the pasta/bacon/chard and stir or toss quickly. Is the sauce is looking too thick at this stage, drizzle in a bit more of the pasta cooking water. Move the pan back onto low heat and keep stirring constantly. If the pan gets a bit too hot and it's looking like the yolks may scramble, remove the pan from heat immediately and continue stirring quickly and gently. After about 2-3 minutes the sauce will thicken and coat the pasta strands to a beautifully glossy shine. Serve immediately and devour.
Traditional Italian cooking of pasta, when sauce is required, calls for finishing the pasta in the saucepan so that it can properly coat the strands. Serving pasta with sauce dumped on top is NOT the way to go. Give this method a try and you will not regret it.