Pantry raid: porcini + whole wheat linguine carbonara

It’s been a long time since I’ve made carbonara.

I’m not sure if the last time I made it was, indeed, the last time I wrote about it, but I’m not ashamed to admit it’s possible.

But first, I have to tell you:  I think time just became unglued for a second.

My husband is in the next room, ogling iOS7 demos at WWDC.  Before I met him, I would not know what half of what I just said even meant.  In this room, to drown out the geek-speak (which I secretly want to know all about but I’m Just Very Busy and Can’t Be Bothered at the moment), I drop all thoughts of what to call what we just ate and find some music, dammit.  I set it to shuffle and come right back to the blinking cursor.  No sooner do I gather my thoughts, thinking of my old kitchen on the 5th floor and the last time I might have poured cream and eggs over hot pasta, than it is suddenly, like, 2006, and my anthem is on.

My anthem way before I met Danny.  A song that popped through my headphones, years and years ago, on a day and in a moment when swagger was something I needed, and didn’t realize I had until the song came on.  I had never in my life heard the song before, and to this day I have no idea where it came from, sitting there on the old iPod, waiting for its perfect deployment.

After that, I put the song on any playlist where it would even kind of fit, providing a guaranteed 6 minutes of fearlessness for any commute, walk, writing session, work stretch.  It was my secret juju.

At first I was almost afraid to tell anyone about it, as if its power would disintegrate should its identity be revealed.  Then slowly, I’d throw it on at a party here & there, willing to answer truthfully if people asked about it.

I think Danny was the first person to whom I admitted it was my all-time power spirit anthem of all time.  And what did he do?  Ask me to marry him as it played in the background.  Past converted to a suddenly, blindingly, present-feeling present, which also happened to have my/his/our entire future wrapped up in it.

Kind of staggering, what can happen when your jam comes on.

So back to real life, another past-meets-present:  tonight’s dinner.  We made a conscious effort yesterday to buy very few new groceries, hoping instead to clean out the freezer/fridge/pantry during this continued weird weather.  It’s not spring, it’s not summer, sometimes it feels like fall, and very seldom does the sunshine or temperature inspire me to get jazzed about seasonal anything.  (A girl can only handle so much asparagus.)  You know it’s strange days when Danny suggests a soup idea to me in June… and I am excited about it.

Driving home today in the kind of thick, dreamy fog you might see in San Francisco, I kept coming back to the thought of a warm bowl of pasta.  I rarely make pasta these days, for reasons I barely remember but think may have something to do with avoiding the kind of starch intake that often accompanies delicious pasta dishes.  Moving quickly past the hangup, I start to take a mental inventory of my kitchen.  There are a few decent-looking chives in the fridge, along with a half-dozen of those gorgeous green eggs, some ricotta and the ever-present, stalwart hunk of Parmigiano-Reggiano.  (I do not believe I have been without a piece of good parmesan since I have lived on my own.  It makes a house a home.)  In the pantry, some whole-wheat linguine and whatever was left of a jar of dried porcini mushrooms after our last homemade pizza spree.

As I drove, I also remembered that carbonara is one of those dishes Danny has heard me talk about, but which I have never made for him.  He has pretended to pout on the occasions he remembers this, but I am quick to remind him that I have made sweet potato gnocchi for no one before him, nor since.

A few things were missing that would be present in the carbonara of yore:  namely, some pancetta, some cream, and fresh mushrooms practically pan-roasted into savory oblivion.  Okay, and the now seemingly indulgent white pasta.  But tonight’s goal was not to ensnare or impress; we really just needed to make room for fresh new stuff. Which isn’t to say that I won’t make a more decadent carbonara again soon — now that Danny’s had a relatively healthy version, I am afraid I have no choice but to show him the real deal in the near future.

So, I give you weeknight carbonara — one in which the whole wheat pasta works quite nicely with the earthy mushrooms and slightly heartier, more rustic, less silky sauce, thickened by ricotta instead of cream.  Ironically, the one time I would have bent the recipe to include frozen peas (for the sake of using what’s around), there were no peas to be found.

Get this:

  • 1/2 lb whole wheat linguine (fettucine or bucatini would work, too, or spaghetti.  I’d avoid cappellini here, though.)
  • Olive oil
  • 1 clove garlic, very thinly sliced
  • 1/2 a small onion, minced
  • 1/4 cup dried porcini mushrooms, reconstituted according to package instructions, soaking liquid reserved
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 cup ricotta
  • 2 tablespoons chopped chives
  • Grated parmesan
  • Salt & pepper
Do this:

Heat about a tablespoon of olive oil in a medium skillet over medium-high heat.  Once the pan is hot, add the onions.  Sweat them and stir until they begin to turn golden/golden brown, about 5 minutes.  Then lower the heat to medium-low and add the garlic, stirring constantly so that it warms and cooks slowly without burning.    Once the garlic is golden and slightly crisp-looking, lower the heat all the way and let the pan keep warm.  Chop the mushrooms into 1/4- to 1/2-inch pieces, add them to the pan, and stir once to distribute.  Keep the heat low and move on to the pasta.
Cook the pasta in salted water according to instructions, or about 7 minutes.  While the pasta is cooking, whisk the egg in a bowl, then stir in the ricotta. Add salt & pepper to taste (you can season at the end, too, so don’t worry about having to taste the mixture with raw egg).
When the pasta is done, skim it out of the pot either with tongs or a skimmer, and add it to the pan with the mushrooms.  Stir or flip the pan a few times so everything is combined.  Grab a whisk, and pour about 1/4 cup of the pasta water, in a very slow dribble, into the ricotta & egg mixture, whisking the whole time.  You are tempering the cheese & egg so that it does not scramble or clump when it hits the hot pasta.
Once whisked, turn off the heat under the pan with the pasta, add the cheese & egg mixture to the pan, and stir thoroughly– you want the pasta to be coated and the egg, essentially, to get cooked.  Sprinkle the whole thing with the chives, add parmesan on top if you like, and stir once more.  Turn out into bowls and enjoy.
This recipe serves 2 people, so feel free to double or triple it if need be!  I used between 1/3 and 1/2 pound of pasta tonight, and we each had a very comfortable serving of pasta.

Tell me what you think...

%d bloggers like this: