With December business deadlines, holiday parties, and Cyber Monday morphing into Cyber week, many of you (like me) may be short on time to make healthy meals for your family.
Since Carbonara sauce uses raw eggs, I’ve always been worried that the eggs won’t fully cook as they are being tossed with the hot pasta . . . or will overcook. There’s also a fine line between a silky smooth creamy sauce . . . and yucky scrambled egg pasta.
Bottom line . . . Carbonara sauce needs super fresh eggs.
Unfortunately, you won’t find fresh eggs in most grocery stores. Did you know that mass produced grocery store eggs can be 30, 45, 60 days old – or even older?
That’s why I only buy free-range eggs from local farmers – and Sunnyside Farms is my favorite egg purveyor at the Charlotte Regional Farmers Market. The friendly owners of Sunnyside Farms in Kannapolis raise chickens, quail, and ducks – and I have complete confidence that when they tell me the eggs were laid by free-range hens the previous day – they are telling me the truth!
The second thing you need to make delicious Carbonara sauce is a plant-based protein that can plausibly stand in for pork. While classic Italian recipes use guanciale [also known as pig cheeks] (shudder), or pancetta, I’ve also seen Americanized versions that use bacon or even ham.
My version uses Morningstar Farms Bacon Strips (because that’s what I had on hand in the freezer), but I think it would also be good with Upton’s Naturals Seitan Bacon, LightLife Smart Bacon or Benevolent Bacon by Sweet Earth Foods.
I also had mushrooms and spinach on hand – and while I could have made a spinach mushroom salad, my instinct was that both veggies would be very tasty when combined with my creamy egg and cheese sauce – and that I’d save valuable time by incorporating them into my main dish.
To make this dish in 30 minutes, Nancy’s first Hot Tip is to prep all your ingredients while your pasta water is coming to a rolling boil . . .
so that when your pasta is ready, you will be too.
Nancy’s second Hot Tip to make sure that your eggs cook (without scrambling) and make a beautiful silky sauce is to toss everything in a very warm mixing bowl. The best way I’ve found to do this is to put your colander in a large mixing bowl, so that when you drain the pasta, the hot water is effectively captured and warms the mixing bowl.
Just follow my easy step-by-step instructions, and in 30 minutes you’ll be eating one of my favorite comfort foods – Fettuccine with Spinach Mushroom Carbonara Sauce.
- ½ pkg Morningstar Farms bacon strips
- ½ lb mushrooms, sliced
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil (or wild mushroom flavored olive oil), divided use
- 2 cloves garlic, pressed
- 3 tablespoons chopped flat leaf parsley
- 3 very fresh room temperature eggs, lightly beaten
- 3 Tablespoons heavy cream
- ½ cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
- ½ cup freshly grated Pecorino Romano
- freshly ground black pepper
- 1 lb fettuccine
- 4-5 ounces fresh spinach, minced
- 3-4 tablespoons heavy cream
- Lots of freshly ground black pepper
- Additional Parmesan or Romano
- Put a large pot of water on high heat to boil.
- Spray a non-stick skillet with a little cooking spray or a small drizzle of olive oil. Cook the Bacon Strips (or your other plant protein that is standing in for pork), until crisp. Drain on a triple layer of paper towels and then crumble into small pieces.
- Once the bacon strips are cooked, saute the sliced mushrooms in regular or wild mushroom flavored olive oil. (Not essential, but it adds a lot of
flavor.) Add the pressed garlic when the mushrooms are almost done, so that the garlic cooks for a minute or two, but doesn't burn, and then add the chopped parsley. Set aside, but keep warm.
- In a medium bowl, mix the eggs, heavy cream, Parmesan, Romano, freshly ground black pepper, and whisk until well combined.
- Before you drain the pasta, put your colander over a large mixing bowl in the bottom of the sink. Reserve about 1 cup of hot pasta water before draining your pasta into the colander set over the mixing bowl. This means your mixing bowl will be nice and warm for mixing your carbonara sauce.
- Make sure you have all your other ingredients within reach before you drain the hot water from the mixing bowl.
- Working very quickly, transfer the pasta from the colander to the still warm mixing bowl, and toss the hot pasta with your egg mixture and ½ cup of the hot pasta water until the cheese is melted and the sauce is smooth and creamy. Add the minced spinach, and toss again. Taste and add additional freshly ground pepper or cheese if you think it needs it, and the remaining water if you think the sauce needs to be a little thinner.
- Add about ½ of the bacon and mushrooms, toss again and plate. Top each bowl with the rest of the bacon and mushrooms and serve to your hungry family.
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