To celebrate my 300th post I am going to give you a present: my recipe for carbonara. I’m no cook but I can rustle together a few things. I can make chicken taste better with mustard, chilli flakes and honey. I can do something very salty but quite yummy with salmon, soy sauce, chilli flakes (yes, again), honey (ditto) and sesame seeds. I can also do something interesting with meatballs, paella rice and a few other bits, and I can do a mean bowl of chilli. But my spaghetti carbonara is probably the best of the bunch. I owe most of it to Nigella Lawson (thanks Nigella, thanks for inventing carbonara) but I have tinkered with the construction over time and so it has now become mine. And what is mine can now become yours. Just say you’ll try it; I have never tasted a better carbonara. I once ordered it at a Jamie Oliver’s in an airport but was pissed off beyond measure to learn that he ‘chucked in’ some ‘pukka’ spring onion which promptly ruined it (or rather he used to, because his restaurant business has mercifully collapsed). On reflection I decided that he did this because he is a silly prick.
Please note – I have not provided a list of ingredients separately. When Wifey chooses a recipe she tends not to really read it through properly but rather just glances at the ingredients and decides if they are expensive and obscure enough and only when she has four pans and the grill going at full blast does she read the bit where you have to chill something for 24 hours in the fridge or ferment something else for 2 months in the shed. She is a wonderful cook but moments such as these add an unwanted layer of friction to the kitchen experience and so when I make a dish I am, like Chuck Norris, a lone wolf. Feeds 2, with at least one extra portion left over to eat cold at work tomorrow (that is to say – whenever we have our next tomorrow). Once cooked this is delicious at any temperature, except frozen and volcanic.
- Fill the kettle and whilst it is boiling prepare the other ingredients (see below).
- Crack 3 fat hens eggs into a bowl. Grind in a little hill of black pepper and then find the least friendly face on a cheese grater and grate as much nutmeg as you can without losing your fingertips (but not more than a quarter of one ‘meg’) and then on a different, more familiar face grate a huge pile of Parmesan cheese (Grana Padano of Peccorino are both just as yummy). As a rule of thumb (if you still have thumbs) grate at least half of one of those supermarket wedges. Whisk the eggs, pepper and nutmeg together but you may as well leave the cheese to one side so you can scoop handfuls into your greedy gob while you get the rest done.
- Boil the kettle again.
- Get out a great big frying pan and put it on the hob. Turn it up to 7 or 8 and add some olive oil, not stupid amounts though. Truffle infused oil is even better. Once that is getting hot add both little plastic packet halves of a twin pack of pancetta cubes. Unsmoked works better and bacon lardons will suffice if you prefer the dish more ‘rustic’. Shove those around the pan until they start to sizzle and look and smell like cooked bacon then open a bottle of white wine (no Echo Falls or cheaper, have some class) and splash in the equivalent of a small glass. Pour yourself a glass too, you’ve earned it. Watch and weep as the wine starts to evaporate away and when you have a thick sludge of reduced wine, bits of meat, fat and oil take the pan off the heat.
- Boil the kettle again while you top up your vino.
- Put a big saucepan on another hob and turn on heat to full. Dash in a toddlers handful of salt and when the kettle has boiled add it to the pan. Depending on the size of the pan half fill the kettle again and boil to top up. Once you’ve got a bubbling cauldron of treacherous water on the go you can either recreate a scene from the beginning of an episode of Casualty or you can grab a packet of dried spaghetti. I take a 500 gram packet of De Cecco’s and then use roughly four fifths. Save yourself all kinds of embarrassment and fork twiddling later and break the spaghetti in half and then add to the boiling water.
- Repeat second half of stage 5 as required. Perhaps offer a loved one a glass too, provided that leaves enough for you. You can also make things more authentic and recreate a restaurant kitchen environment by regularly talking loudly to yourself about what you’re doing and then bellowing “yes chef!” at regular intervals. You could also pretend you work for a celebrity chef by getting really angry and swearing at yourself because you seem to think you’re saving the planet single-handed, when in fact you are just making some food.
- As the pasta boils away make sure you keep stirring it with a fork to separate the strands (is that the correct word?). It’s time to stop nibbling on that cheese and add it to the egg mixture. Whisk it all in together so that you end up with a thick, cheesy, eggy mess in a bowl. If it’s too thick then add another egg. If it’s too thin then take an egg out. Gently reheat your pancetta soup and add a big nob of butter to melt in.
- Take a wooden chopping board and place to one side and then grab a strainer for the pasta. If you have timed this right then everything will come together perfectly. Perhaps slug back a bit more Dutch courage for comfort, but don’t overdo or you’ll just end up a clumsy twat. Take the frying pan off the low heat and place it on the chopping board (if it is still being heated or is too hot the eggs you are about to add will scramble in the pan and you’ll have fucked the whole thing up, won’t you?). Drain the pasta and add to the frying pan and with a couple of big spoons mix the two together like you’re recreating the pottery scene from Ghost, only with pasta. When that is done add the cheesy, eggy mess in a bowl to the frying pan and gently blend all the stuff in the pan like you’re recreating the same scene from Ghost, only with a bit more concentration on your face.
- Get two pasta bowls and dole out enough to get you stuffed. Eat it however you normally eat pasta. Quite a bit of the pancetta will invariable stay at the bottom of the pan so you can spoon that out separately. Refill glasses as appropriate and eat. It may be messy but it will be a glorious, delicious brand of mess, and if you really don’t enjoy it then simply post it to me and I’ll throw it in the bin for you.
Post 301, here we come!!
G B Hewitt. 13.04.2020