Growing up, my family dinners were not exactly what you would think of as exotic. Hamburger was a frequent star, and casseroles were the norm. Our back-up dinners were tuna casserole or SPAM, and my brothers now love to harass my mom about serving salmon cakes (which none of us kids liked). My mom cooked because she had to, and she mostly made the same foods over and over again.
When I began cooking for my own family, though I had a few good, solid recipes from my childhood (my dad’s pizza crust comes to mind), I also had a huge gap in my knowledge of certain areas of cooking.
So, when I began reading cookbooks and food memoirs, there were a number of dishes with which I was unfamiliar. In Ruth Reichl’s memoir, Garlic and Sapphires, she wrote of Spaghetti Carbonara, “I think of this as bacon and eggs with pasta instead of toast. It’s the perfect last minute dinner, and I’ve yet to meet a child who doesn’t like it.” After reading her loving description of this dish, I knew I had to make it.
My first attempt fell flat with my family. And my second. (I loved it, but my kids – accustomed to plain, sauce-less pasta…they did not give it rave reviews.) Apparently, the third time was the charm. I refused all requests for snacks as I prepared it, and sat three hungry children down to a pan full of creamy pasta flecked with bacon and peas. And they gobbled it up!
What you need:
- 12-16 oz. dried spaghetti
- 10-16 oz. frozen peas
- 1 lb. bacon
- 1 medium onion, chopped
- a few tablespoons of white wine or chicken broth
- 4 eggs
- 1/4 c. heavy cream
- 1 c. Parmesan cheese
- freshly ground black pepper
- ground nutmeg
- large stockpot
- pasta colander
- pasta spoon
- large (5 qt.) Dutch oven, cast iron preferred
- wooden spoon
- measuring cups and spoons
- medium bowl and whisk
- cutting board and knife
- kitchen shears (optional)
Time: This can be made, start to finish, in the time it takes to boil a large pot of water and cook spaghetti, about 30 minutes.
Multiplying the recipe: Not recommended.
Put a large stockpot of water on to boil for the pasta. Prepare the spaghetti according to the package directions without the use of salt or oil. During the last 3-4 minutes of cooking time, dump the peas in on top of the pasta and give them a stir.
While the pasta water is warming up, preheat a 5 quart Dutch oven, preferably cast iron, over medium-high heat. Chop the bacon into chunks. (I use kitchen shears to cut across the bacon while the slices are still all clumped together in the package.) When the pan is hot, dump the bacon clumps into it. Cook, stirring to break up the clumps with a wooden spoon, until the bacon is browning and starting to crisp.
Add the chopped onion to the pan with the bacon and cook for 10 minutes, until the onion is softened and browning. Spoon out the majority of the bacon fat (I removed 1/2 cup of bacon fat from my pan). Add the broth or wine and use it to scrape up any browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Allow the mixture to bubble over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until it is reduced slightly.
While the bacon is cooking, in a medium bowl, whisk together the eggs, cream, Parmesan cheese, pepper, and nutmeg. It will have the consistency of pancake batter.
When the pasta and peas are done cooking, reserve about 1/2 cup of the pasta water. Drain the pasta and peas using a colander. They need to be piping hot for the next step, so don’t take too long draining them.
Add the drained pasta and peas to the hot bacon and onion pan, and toss to distribute the bacon and onion evenly. Remove the pan from the heat.
Immediately add the egg mixture to the pan and quickly toss to coat everything in the creamy sauce. The heat of the pasta will cook the eggs. If you feel the pasta beginning to resist your stirring, add some of the reserved pasta water to thin out the sauce.
Serve the pasta with additional freshly ground black pepper to taste.