Despite being a lifelong fan of Calvin Trillin, who has famously claimed that spaghetti carbonara should replace turkey as the national Thanksgiving dish, I had never made (or, I think, even eaten) carbonara before—initially because I was grossed out by undercooked egg yolks, and more recently because I was afraid I would love it insatiably and perilously. But when The Brewer and the Baker posted this recipe last spring, I no longer had good reason to resist. Here we have a two-to-one ratio of springy green vegetables to pasta, perhaps not enough to counteract the richness of the bacon, egg and cheese, but enough to feel like a reasonable one-dish weeknight meal—and, honestly, much more interesting and appealing to me than plain old carbonara.
This is one of those recipes that comes together so quickly, it behooves you to have everything prepped and ready to go before you start. I always thought making carbonara was tricky, but the technique doesn’t get any more advanced than tempering eggs, which basically means stirring a little hot liquid into them so they warm up slowly and don’t immediately cook and congeal. Beyond that, the only hard part is the timing—making sure your noodles and your sauce come together at exactly the right moment. The good news is that if you muck it up a little bit, as I did the first time—foolishly believing that I could simplify things by simply mixing the pasta with the sauce in the hot skillet—and your eggs scramble a little instead of turning into a smooth sauce, it will still taste pretty great. When I returned to this recipe a year later and actually followed the directions precisely, it was even better. Working quickly and confidently is the key…and practice makes perfect, so clearly I’m going to have to try the entire range of spinoff recipes: Roasted cauliflower, my new BFF! Roasted broccoli! Spinach and sweet potato! What vegetable wouldn’t taste amazing in a peppery, smoky-salty, cheesy, magically creamy-without-a-drop-of-cream sauce? (Beets, probably.)
8 ounces spaghetti or other long pasta
1 teaspoon olive oil
4 slices bacon, cut into cubes
¾ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 to 1¼ pounds asparagus, trimmed and cut into 2-inch pieces
1 egg yolk
2/3 cup grated Parmesan, plus more for garnish
Salt to taste
- Heat a large pot of salted water to a boil for cooking the pasta. (If your asparagus is very thick or you like it very tender, once the water boils you can blanch your asparagus in it for a few minutes to give it a head start on cooking, removing it with a slotted spoon to a colander before adding the pasta to the same pot.)
- Meanwhile, heat olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. Cook bacon pieces to a crisp and remove bacon with a slotted spoon to a large bowl.
- When the water boils, add the pasta and cook until al dente. Reserve ¾ cup of pasta water before draining.
- Add black pepper to bacon drippings in skillet and cook for two minutes. Add asparagus and cook about 5 minutes, until fork-tender, stirring occasionally.
- Whisk egg, yolk, 2/3 cup Parmesan, and ¼ cup very hot pasta water in the bowl with the bacon.
- Add drained pasta and the contents of the asparagus skillet to the bowl and toss, adding splashes of reserved pasta water to create a creamy sauce. Season with salt to taste and serve topped with extra Parmesan.
Time: 30 minutes
Leftover potential: Good.