Raise your hand if you guessed I'd be making some Carbonara out of my spoils from this week's market. Good for you! You get a gold star.
Carbonara is one of those seemingly indulgent dishes that make me groan when I think of the calorie load, but the truth is, it tastes much richer than it actually is, thanks in large part to the egg yolk-based sauce, which contains a fraction of the calories in other rich sauce bases, such as butter or heavy cream. Furthermore, a small portion makes a nice 4-bite appetizer or light lunch along with a salad. For my recipe, I used one (6 ounce) pillow of fresh pasta from Pasta Seconda in the North Market. As usual, my eyes were much bigger than my stomach; I would recommend using one pillow for 2 for dinner, or for 4 as an appetizer. This dish is about the balance between the smoky bacon, the light and green asparagus (peas are traditional, but we've just entered asparagus season, they'll be in everything I cook for the next 3 weeks), the rich egg yolk punctuated by a smattering of Parmesan and a kick of black pepper. It's a simple recipe whose whole is definitely more than the sum of its parts, which should all be of the highest quality; when you have these few ingredients, it simply won't do to use a mass-produced, tasteless grocery store egg. I'm not trying to a snob, I'm just encouraging you to discover how delicious simple food can be if you use the best ingredients.
I've seen carbonara recipes which call for using whole eggs, but nothing creeps me out more than undercooked egg whites (although I love love love runny yolks - it's a delicate balance when frying). I very dutifully separate my eggs and use only the yolks. The trick is to have the sauce ready to go in a big bowl well before the pasta is drained. The pasta must be piping hot when it hits the sauce so that the yolks can cook. Of course, wild boar bacon isn't essential here, and it's three times the price of pork bacon, but it is really, really good. It's like uber bacon. It's rich and meaty, very slightly gamey, and intensely savory. If you'd like to use regular bacon, again, buy the good stuff. Locally, I highly recommend Blues Creek Farms in the North Market or Thurn's Specialty Meats on the South Side.
Spring Carbonara - serves 2-4
1 (6 ounce) pillow of fresh long pasta, such as linguine, or 4 ounces dried pasta
1 duck egg yolk or 2 chicken egg yolks
1 tbsp half and half or cream
1/2 ounce freshly & finely grated real Parmesan Cheese
2 ounces wild boar bacon, or regular bacon, cut into thin strips (or lardons, if you please)
8 stalks fresh local asparagus, rinsed and trimmed into 1 inch sticks, tips reserved
Freshly cracked black pepper
Cook the pasta according to package directions. If using fresh, it only takes 2-3 minutes, so have a pot of boiling salted water ready and save this step for last.
Cook the bacon over medium heat until nearly crisp. Blanch the asparagus in the pasta water for 2-3 minutes, then add to the bacon. Blanch the tips for 1 minute and set aside. Toss and cook with the bacon for about 3 minutes, or until the asparagus is lightly browned and the bacon is crisp. Drain on paper towels and set aside.
In a large bowl, much larger than you might think is necessary, whisk the egg yolk with the cream and add the Parmesan a few good grinds of black pepper. You want a consistency similar to crepe batter; it should not hold its shape and should look loose enough to toss pasta, but you do not want it as thin as heavy cream.
When the pasta is ready, drain it and dump it in the bowl with the egg yolk mixture, tossing immediately and coating every strand with eggy goodness. Add the bacon and asparagus. Place in bowls and garnish with the asparagus tips, and few grates of Parmesan and a little black pepper, if desired.
**Of course, people who are pregnant or who have comprimised immune systems should not consume undercooked eggs**