Although I’m a good cook, there are things in the kitchen that scare me. Most of these things are either a) involve open flames, like flambéing or sticking your head in the oven to light it; b) require me to try to put a knife through things that are difficult to cut through; or c) things I’ve failed to make well in the past.
The first two of these things, I like to think, are somewhat understandable. They involve potential danger. Trying to light alcohol on fire with an open flame, while seemingly fun, just conjures up the possibility of singed hair or eyebrows, for instance, and singed hair just smells (and looks) terrible. And ovens and head together? Well, as a former English major and fan of Sylvia Plath, let’s just say I just try to stay away from that combination.
Cutting things can also be scary. Bagels, I believe, are grossly underrated as a home health hazard—especially if they’re a day or two old. I have a lovely little scar on my left middle finger to prove it. Butchery and cutting through bones? Yuck. I’ve just never been able to stomach that. Chopping through bones tends to require a pretty heavy whack of the knife. While the concept of getting aggressions out with a few nice whacks sounds good, the bone stuff just skeeves me out. I also think large squash are quite dangerous. Those suckers can be really, really difficult to cut into, even with a properly sharpened knife. It’s no wonder that pumpkins are associated with Halloween gore—I’ll bet there is a surge in trips to the ER during carving season.
Then there are the things I’ve failed at. Marmalade, until recently, was one of them. I’m still working on good scrambled eggs, which are way more complicated to do really well than one might think. Peanut brittle.
What is the common denominator among these things you may ask? Patience. And watching the pot. Two things I tend to have, well, low patience for. Also, when you’re generally pretty good at something, it’s frustrating when you mess it up–particularly due to your own impatience when you probably know better.
Another thing I’ve failed at is carbonara sauce. As an egg lover, I like the concept of carbonara. A silky, cheesy, eggy pasta sauce – what’s not to like? I’ve only tried it once before, and it didn’t really work. And when you do carbonara wrong, you basically get scrambled eggs with your pasta and that’s not what you want.
Since it’s asparagus season now, I got some asparagus and mushrooms last week with the intention of making some sort of pasta creation last week. Rather than doing my usual chicken-broth or wine-based sauce with these two spring ingredients, I thought it might be fun to try my hand again at carbonara and try to make an egg sauce to go with the veggies and pasta. I decided to skip bacon altogether and just do the veggies and eggs.
I happened to make not as much of a mess of the sauce this time, but the eggs did curdle a bit and the sauce was not the silky consistency I would have liked. Crap – why is this so hard? It looks pretty easy on TV even when Rachael Ray makes it. Geez!
So here’s what I think I’ve learned about carbonara—that is, without having gotten in right yet, so I could still be wrong. I think you really need to start with room temperature cheese and eggs. Being the aforementioned impatient type and also not the type to think far ahead enough in advance of making my meal, I didn’t set my eggs out in advance. I thought I could just try tempering the eggs with some of the pasta water, and I’d be fine. Nooooooooo…
It didn’t turn out that bad—it tasted good after all, but it wasn’t what I wanted. After looking online at carbonara fixes, I think it does indeed makes sense to make sure the ingredients are room temperature, temper the eggs and perhaps even turn off the flame or mix your eggs with the pasta off the heat. That may turn out better. And you also need to watch the pot—watch and toss or stir very gently because the eggs need to form a nice clingy, sheath around the pasta—like covering it with a nice eggy blanket—not cook alongside it. Or I’ve also seen it suggested that you put your hot pasta into a bowl after cooking and then add the egg/cheese mixture to that—again off the heat.
I still like the concept of doing this with asparagus and mushrooms because they’re a good combination for simple sauce like this. If you want to add bacon, that would be good, too.
So, I give you the following. Photos of my finished product were not taken to protect the guilty. But the ingredients are good idea even if my technique still needs work!
Asparagus and Mushroom Carbonara
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
1½ bunches asparagus, cut in 1 in. pieces
10 cremini mushrooms, sliced
2 room temperature eggs, beaten
¼ c. parmesan cheese
Pasta (1/3-1/2 lb)
1) Cook pasta according to package.
2) Heat 2-3 tbsp. olive oil in large sauté pan over medium heat. Add garlic and toss until fragrant.
3) Add asparagus and sauté with garlic until they are beginning to get fork tender.
4) Combine mushrooms with asparagus and garlic, sauté until they begin to shrink a bit.
5) While pasta is cooking, reserve some of the water to temper with the eggs.
6) Combine eggs and cheese together in a bowl, temper with pasta water to bring up the temperature of the eggs.
7) When mushrooms are almost cooked, drain pasta and add to pan.
8) Toss mushrooms/asparagus/garlic with pasta, then add egg mixture and gently combine over low or no heat until eggs and cheese have coated the pasta and are a thick, saucy consistency.
– Use romano instead of parmesan to make it a bit more tangy
– Substitute peas for the asparagus, either with or without a bacony component
– Grate a little lemon zest over everything when it’s finished cooking
All recipes and photos copyright of Foie Gras and Funnel Cakes unless otherwise noted.