Spaghetti Carbonara, Re-visited*

Classic Spaghetti Carbonara

Classic spaghetti carbonara: one of my absolute favourites. You can’t go wrong with bacon & cheese, and it’s also quick to make. Tops 45 minutes for prep and cooking maybe? What do you think?

A quick internet search suggests that the conventions are pretty much set: we need spaghetti, bacon, garlic, olive oil, parmesan cheese, egg, black pepper, and salt. I cheat a bit and add a little whole milk to the egg + cheese mixture, but that’s about it. I don’t remember which recipe I referred to initially but usually use 1 large egg to about 0.5 cup of Parmesan cheese, with extra for serving, for 2 big portions. Do use a good quality cheese and make sure you save a little of the hot pasta water for the sauce.

The only downside to carbonara is that you can’t really keep leftovers, but I guess W and I generally don’t have a problem cleaning off our plates when it comes to pasta :D.

Buon appetito!

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*Re-visited because I posted a recipe a long while back on a rather unorthodox take on carbonara with ham and spinach (my Italian friends, please forgive me)

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Tuna and Green Pepper Pasta Casserole

Desperate times call for creative measures. It was coming to the end of the week when the fridge was slowly depleted of fresh produce but luckily I had a can of tuna, a lonely green bell pepper, dried pasta, and some leftover cheese and half-and-half. Casserole time!

Casseroles have always been associated, in my mind at least,  with American/Western European families eating healthily and cheaply. I love the idea that they have carbs, protein, and vegetable all in one dish.

Tuna and Green Pepper Pasta Casserole

tuna2Not so great picture – yummier than it looks, I promise

Ingredients (serves 2):
1 can tuna, drained
1 green bell pepper, chopped into small pieces
1/2 onion, chopped
2 cups dried pasta – I used shells
1 tablespoon olive oil OR butter
cracked fresh black pepper
150 grams cheddar cheese, grated
2 tablespoons Parmesan cheese, optional

Sauce:
1 cup half-n-half (50% whole cream, 50% light cream)
0.5 cup milk
0.5 teaspoon salt
save about 1-2 tablespoons of the starchy water from the cooked pasta

Method:
0. Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. (205 Celsius)
1. Cook pasta as per package instructions in salted water.
2. Heat medium-sized skillet on low heat with olive oil (or butter, your preference). Saute onion and bell pepper slowly.

tuna1pan

3. When onion and bell pepper soft and fragrant, add tuna.
4. Heat tuna and vegetable mixture through.
5. Crack black pepper over mixture.
6. Check pasta. When ready, drain but retain some of the starchy hot pasta water.
7. Add half-in-half, milk, and salt to tuna mixture.
8. Add a tablespoon of the starchy pasta water to mixture.
9. In a breadloaf tin, first layer the bottom with a little bit of creamy tuna mixture, second pasta, third cheddar cheese. Repeat twice. On the last (top) layer, put any remaining cheddar cheese and Parmesan if using. At this point I try to make sure there are no gaps in the dish. I also add a little bit of water (no more than 0.5 tablespoon) around the sides to keep the pasta moist.

tuna2

10. Put into oven and bake for 20 minutes.

Really loved how the saltiness from the cheese and tuna mixed in with the sweetness of onion and bell pepper. One really can’t go wrong with cheese right? I used a mixture of sharp cheddar and Parmesan. I always keep a tub of grated Parmesan in my fridge. A friend once told me that Parmesan has lots of MSG – no wonder I like it so much.

Spaghetti with Bacon, Asparagus and Mushroom

Fact — whoever came up with the classic combination of bacon and asparagus was a gustatory genius. (Same goes for the individual who thought of roast lamb and mint sauce; why on earth that works so well, I don’t know!)

Well I’ve taken inspiration from that very clever individual to whip up a very quick spaghetti dish, Spaghetti with Bacon, Asparagus and Mushroom. Short of buying a packet of ready-made cream sauce, I tried making this using single cream instead of whisking a combination of eggs and cheese for the sauce. Lazy of me yes, but some days after work I just want quick and easy, you know what I mean?

Spaghetti with Bacon, Asparagus and Mushroom

This makes for an easy and relatively inexpensive meal, and funnily enough the most expensive item in this dish would be the asparagus even though asparagus is a plant that actually grows very quickly. Something I learned after going out to Medley Manor Farm here in Oxford over the summer (for strawberry picking!) and was talking with the guy manning the asparagus booth who said that asparagus, in optimal warm conditions, grows up to 20 cm a day! That’s almost 1 cm an hour! He said that they’ll harvest it in the morning, take a break, then come back at noon to hack the asparagus stems down again. For such a fertile plant, asparagus sure is expensive and is marketed as a luxury foodstuff, though I guess it might be in limited supply because it only grows during the summer (the rest of the year it is left to grow into a very woody, tall hedge).

Here is the ‘recipe’, though please take my measurements of the quantity of cream with a pinch of salt — haha literally, too.

Spaghetti with Bacon, Asparagus and Mushroom

Ingredients for two portions
– 200 grams dry spaghetti
– 100 grams bacon, diced
– 150 grams asparagus (I realise this isn’t very helful, but use more than a handful…!), sliced diagonally into 2 inch pieces
– 10-12 mushrooms, sliced
– 3 cloves garlic, minced
– 120 ml single cream
– salt and freshly ground black pepper
– 1.5 Tbsps olive oil

Method
1. Boil a pot of salted water. Curl in spaghetti when water has come to a boil.
2. In the meantime, heat a frying pan on medium heat. When making this dish I didn’t add extra oil as a lot of oil will be rendered from the bacon! Add in diced bacon, cooking both sides evenly so that it is crispy.
3. When bacon is done, set aside on a plate with paper towels to absorb excess oil.
4. Using the leftover oil in the frying pan, stir fry garlic, mushrooms, and asparagus. Lower heat to low-medium heat. Add a little water to the pan and cover the pan with a lid to gently steam the mushrooms and asparagus (this will soften the veggies). Do this for half a minute.
5. When spaghetti is almost cooked (should take about 9 to 11 minutes), add your crispy bacon back to the pan, drain the spaghetti (try to retain some of the hot pasta water), and then slide spaghetti into the pan as well. Mix spaghetti with the rest of the ingredients.
6. Add in single cream, mixing in hot pasta water so that you create a nice sauce to coat all of the pasta.
7. Dash salt and crack freshly ground black pepper over the pasta.
8. Serve piping hot!

I realise this is my third pasta post but I do love my carbs. Give me savoury over sweet meals any day 😉

Linguine with Prawn and Basil

In a slightly uncharacteristic show of impulsiveness, I bought myself a potted herb plant from the supermarket over the weekend. Potted basil only costs a few pence more than pre-packaged basil, so it’s quite a bargain as it’ll keep for longer and add a bit of green to the flat! One of my colleagues pointed out that the soil-to-plant ratio is a little too low though so it might be that I have to transfer Mr. Basil soon. In the meantime, here’s to fresh pizza toppings, lovely Thai-accented stir fry dishes, homemade pesto, pretty garnishes, and creative drinks. (Oh and about the name –  it just stuck within a few hours; it looked like a Mister Basil from the get-go but now that I spell it out, it looks and sounds oddly sinister…)

Nothing like waking up in the morning to the scent of fresh basil

So I decided to make use of the prawns in my freezer, and the leftover chilli and shallots I had from the Asian Mango Salad to cook a very quick meal: Red Pesto Linguine with Prawn and Basil.

Red Pesto Linguine with Prawn and Basil (prawns slightly obscured, oops! blame my impatience as i plated up…)

This was really quite quick to make, partly because prawns cook very quickly in the pan, and partly because I had used red pesto paste. I think next time I’ll try making this with chicken breast! Having said that, I do love my seafood in tomato sauce, and I think the prawns went very well with the bits of red chilli and shallot. Anyone object to pesto and seafood by the way? On hindsight I realise that pesto paste often contains hints of cheese from the Parmesan, so perhaps seafood isn’t the most ideal of pairings? (But green pesto and something like squid… now that must still work?)

 

Linguine with Prawn and Basil

Ingredients, for two main portions
– linguine, approx. 180-200 grams. I measure dry pasta in a weird way: using index finger and thumb, I make a circle, which to my appetite, represents about 2 portions of pasta.
– prawns, 200-250 grams. Easily replaceable with chicken breast or ham!
– shallots 3x, sliced thinly
– garlic 2 cloves, sliced thinly
– red pesto paste, about 3 tablespoons
– basil leaves, as much or as little as you like. (Go for a bunch; it’ll lend some great colour to the reds and oranges of the dish)
– red chilli 1x, de-seeded and chopped
– 1 tablespoon vegetable/sunflower oil
– sea salt and black pepper, to taste

Method
1. Prepare pot of salted boiling water, curling the linguine in.
2. Heat a large frying pan/skillet on medium-heat. Add oil to pan. I use an induction hob so the hob (the cooker ring) takes awhile longer to reach the desired temperature, which means I add in the oil a little later.
3. Fry shallots and garlic until fragrant. Add in pesto and red chilli.* Fry for one minute.
4. Tip in prawns. Cook until they turn orange. Add a little water at this point.
5. Add a little basil and sea salt, then turn down heat from medium to low.
6. When pasta is ready (linguine takes 11-13 minutes), drain pasta, keeping the pot or another bowl underneath to retain some of the hot starchy water.
7. Add pasta to frying pan, and still on low heat, mix well with the pesto sauce, adding hot pasta water throughout so that mixture is not dry.
8. Sprinkle a little salt and crack black pepper over the pasta, then garnish with basil leaves.

*If you like very spicy food, then add the red chilli at the start along with the shallots and garlic. I think this makes the dish spicier because the added heat releases the capsaicin (the chemicals that make something taste spicy) and distributes this throughout the dish…!

So that’s one use of basil. Suggestions for how I could put Mr Basil to further good culinary use much would be much welcomed!

Spaghetti Carbonara

my healthier take on spaghetti carbonara with spinach and smoked ham

everyone loves a good simple pasta. now i think something happened to me when i was around 22 years old because i suddenly started craving for cream-based sauces despite having grown up on bolognese and seafood tomato pastas. (i think this change coincided with me moving to England so maybe there’s something about this country that makes me crave for cheese and cream?)

anyway, spaghetti carbonara is a go-to of mine when i am feeling really lazy because it is quite easy to cook! you can whip it up in half an hour, no problem. there are tons of great carbonara recipes out there, all of which are essentially variants of the classic combination of: olive oil, garlic, pancetta, eggs, Parmigiano Reggiano (=Parmesan, the French name) cheese, and spaghetti. following a recipe is all well and good if you want to try to replicate exactly the standard taste. but i think that’s a bit boring so here’s my ‘healthier’ take on spaghetti carbonara!

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SPAGHETTI CARBONARA RECIPE for 2 portions

Ingredients

– about 250 grams of spaghetti, 200 grams if you have a smaller appetite
– 4 cloves of garlic
– approx. 80 grams of pancetta OR sliced bacon pieces OR sliced ham, which is what i go for a lot of the time because i often have leftover ham in the fridge from sandwich-making
– salt and freshly ground black pepper
– half a yellow onion, minced
– spinach leaves, amount depends on how much veggie you want to add! i say 150 grams is about enough
– olive oil

for the sauce: 2 eggs + 200 grams (about 4/5 of a cup) of grated Parmigiano-Reggiano/’Parmesan’ cheese + a little bit of milk, about 1 T

Method

1. In a small bowl, beat eggs and cheese well. Mix in milk, add salt (1 teaspoon) and black pepper to the mixture. This will form the base of the sauce. Set aside.
2. Boil pasta in salted water – the salt lowers the boiling point of the water; i’m not sure if it actually affects the taste of the pasta – does anyone know?
3. At the same time, in a frying pan fry the pancetta/bacon/ham in a little olive oil on low-medium heat. Use more oil for ham and less for pancetta/bacon as the fat will be rendered!
4. On low heat, add onion and garlic to pan. Fry until fragrant.
5. Wilt in spinach to the mixture. Everything will be smelling REALLY good at this point – we’re almost there!
6. When the spaghetti is done (do a taste test; spaghetti is usually done in 11-13 minutes), strain it but keep the original pot under the strainer so you retain some of the hot, starchy pasta water. You will need a good 2 tablespoons of liquid – no worries if you forget to retain the water; you can substitute with milk.
7. Add spaghetti to your frying pan of garlic, bacon, etc. Make sure it mixes well.
8. Switch off heat. Now take the first bowl of your eggy-cheese mixture, and pour it into the frying pan. Add the starchy pasta water (or milk) to the pan. Gently mix the pasta and sauce mixture; the heat of the pasta will cook the eggs without scrambling them.**
9. Serve on hot plates. Add freshly ground black pepper and salt to taste.
10. Mmmmmmmmm :). Eat up!

***For those who don’t like the thought of raw eggs – don’t worry, the eggs WILL cook and if it makes you feel any better, i’ve never had problems with carbonara despite having a weak-ish immune system :P. The trick is to make sure the pan is hot even though it’s not sitting above a flame, and to thin out the egg-cheese mixture enough with milk and water so that it cooks very quickly in the pan.