Snow Day Dinner: Pasta Carbonara

Snow Day Dinner

As I said before, the charming Fussellette braved icy streets and our own half-assed driveway-shoveling job to make it to our house on Friday for a gluten-free extravaganza.  I decided to make pasta carbonara, not only because it’s freaking amazing, but also for another, rather peculiar reason.

Chel (she of the wedding cake), back before she married Invis, was dating this other fella who was from England.  And when she went to the UK to meet his parents, the fella’s mum made a pasta with a white sauce that Chel (who hates cheese and most things creamy) absolutely adored.  Problem is, of course, that the breakup didn’t go so well and she has since married someone else, someone who doesn’t know anything about this recipe.

So for the past year or so she has been puzzling this out.  She knew it wasn’t an alfredo, and she pooh-poohed my suggestion of a béchamel.  Last week she suggested it might be a carbonara.  Now, despite the fact that this woman is a tech genius, it didn’t occur to her to look on the internet herself and experiment with the various recipes.  Instead, she comes and asks me.  Silly girl (love you squishee!).  So it’s up to me to see if what I cobble together tastes like the heaven that SHE ate some time ago.  Also remember that she lives in Toronto, so it’s not like she can pop over for a bite.

So here goes.  I pulled inspiration from a bunch of different carbonara recipes, so I think you can be pretty flexible with your ingredients.

This is a pasta that you toss before serving, so it’s recommended that you use something like a penne, or that which is easy to stir around.  We had our fresh gluten-free linguini, so we just had to suck it up for this occasion.  This is also a recipe that you make on the fly — aside from cutting up the vegetables ahead of time, you pretty much have to do this all as you cook and then serve it immediately.

Snow Day Dinner

So let’s start with what prep work we can get out of the way.

Take 12 or so slices of bacon and cut them into little bits.  You can also use pancetta or prosciutto, or any other strongly flavoured cured pork.

Snow Day Dinner

Dice up an onion, a handful of mushrooms, and the florets from one head of broccoli.  You could also use zucchini, sweet peppers, any number of vegetable.  Go with what you’ve got in your fridge.  Don’t try to be too fancy.

Snow Day Dinner

Finely grate up about two hefty handfuls of parmesan cheese.  Because I have tiny munchkin hands, I got the Pie to do this part (also because I hate grating cheese and I’d already skinned off part of my finger).  His hands are sizeable.  He can cover my whole face with part of one hand.

Put one handful of cheese in a pretty serving dish and put it on the table for garnish.  Take the other handful and dump it in a measuring cup with 1 cup whipping cream and 4 egg yolks.

Snow Day Dinner

Give that a good stir and set it aside.

Snow Day Dinner

Set a pot of slightly salted water to boil (if you’re using fresh pasta, add a few drops of olive oil to prevent the pasta from sticking together). Cook your pasta.  You need to time it so that the vegetables are ready at the same time the noodles are.

Snow Day Dinner

In a very large, deep frying pan, heat up about 1 tablespoon olive oil.  Chuck in your bacon and fry until it’s crispy.

Snow Day Dinner

Chuck in the onions and stir for a few minutes until they start to become translucent.

Snow Day Dinner

Then add the rest of your vegetables, and cook, stirring often, until they are all tender and bacon-flavoured. I also sprinkled on some herbes de provence for extra flavour.  Thyme or oregano would also work well.

Snow Day Dinner

When you drain your pasta, reserve about half a cup of the cooking water.  Toss the pasta in with the vegetables and add a bit of the water.  Use only as much as you need to help coat the pasta with sauce.  If you like your sauce thick, add a few tablespoons.  If you like your sauce thin, add the full half cup.

Snow Day Dinner

Remove the pan from the heat and pour in your cream/egg/cheese sauce.  Toss to coat the pasta and then serve immediately.

Snow Day Dinner

Garnish with the extra parmesan, and go back for seconds.  Serves 4 generously.

Snow Day Dinner

Cool Blackberry Cheesecake

 

 

HAPPY BIRTHDAY CAITY!

Now that I have a springform pan, I have taken it upon myself to perfect cheesecakes.  This cool no-cook cheese confection is a modified version of one by Gordon Ramsay and it’s dee-lish.

Because it’s a British recipe, I’m afraid that even with my modifications it’s all still in metric.  This is where having a kitchen scale comes in mighty handy.  Of course, because it’s a no-cook recipe, you needn’t fret if your conversions aren’t exactly accurate.

First, crush up about 150g cookies.  I used chocolate wafers, but graham crackers or digestive biscuits also work well.  You can even buy cookie crumbs pre-crushed in a box.

Mix those with about 50g melted butter.

With a glass or your fingers, flatten the crumbs into the bottom of a 20cm springform pan (mine was 25 cm so my cake is a little shorter and wider than yours might be).  Chuck that in the fridge to chill.

Now plop about 340g fresh blackberries (that was what was in the package for me) in a pot with a dash of sugar and a dash of water or juice.  Add the juice and zest from half a lemon to that as well.  Cook on medium-high heat, stirring often, until it’s all bubbly and saucy.  Scoop out a bit of the juice and make a slurry with a small amount of corn starch.  Add that back in and let it come to a boil.  Remove from the heat and let cool completely.  Chuck it in the fridge to make it extra cool and thick.

Whip up 500mL whipping cream in a chilled bowl.

In a separate bowl, cream together 500g soft cream cheese, a splash of vanilla extract, the zest and peel of half a lemon (nice use of a whole lemon there, waste-not), and 200g sour cream or crème fraîche.  The warmer your cream cheese is, the less lumpy it will be, but be careful not to let it melt if you put it in the microwave.

Fold the whipped cream into the cream cheese mixture.  Keep this stuff cool until you need it, but don’t chill it.

Spoon or pipe a layer of the cream cheese mixture over the crumb base.

Spoon on some of your blackberry sauce and use a skewer or flat knife to swirl it around.

Add another layer of cheese, and plop the remaining fruit sauce on top.  Swirly swirly swirly.  If your cake pan is smaller and your cake taller, you could probably try for three layers of cheese with swirlies in-between.

Refrigerate the cake for at least 5 hoursand keep it refrigerated when you’re not eating it.

Spring it from the springform!

We only had it in the fridge for probably 3 hours before we ate it, so you can see it was a little runny in the centre.

But still oh so good!  We all had seconds.