Saturday, April 21, 2012

Easter Dinner: Fettuccine Carbonara with fresh, homemade pasta

Yes, I know Easter was a couple weeks ago.  And, yes I know that I am behind.   Sorry about that.  Things have been hectic and I’m not even going to get into it.  But I’m back and plan to make up for lost time.  Starting NOW!

So, as far as Easter goes, I need to start by admitting that I am not a ham fan.   What?  Yep, you heard me right.   I am not a fan of the ham.    I actually dread the Easter ham dinner.    Strangely, I don’t mind ham in omelets or these really good and warm ham & Swiss sandwiches that my Grandma makes with a yummy poppy-seed dressing.  But sliced ham?  No can do.

My favorite thing to make for Easter is a traditional Pasta Carbonara.   This is an Italian dish that is traditionally made with spaghetti, but I prefer it with homemade fettuccine instead.  AND it has pancetta, which is kind of close to ham, right?   Same pork family anyway.  (PANCETTA is basically Italian bacon.  It is pork belly meat that is salt cured, seasoned with such spices as nutmeg, fennel, perppercorns, dried ground hot peppers and garlic, then dried for at least three months.  You can find it in the deli section of most grocery stores; just get it cut into ½ thick slices and dice it at home OR Trader Joe’s sells it pre-diced.)

A little history from Wikipedia:   Pasta alla carbonara (usually spaghetti, but also fettuccine, rigatoni, or bucatini), is an Italian pasta dish based on eggs, cheese (pecorino or Parmigiano-Reggiano), bacon (guanciale or pancetta), and black pepper. The dish was created in the middle of the 20th century. Cream is not common in Italian recipes, but is often used elsewhere. Other variations on carbonara outside Italy may include peas, broccoli, mushrooms, or other vegetables. Many of these preparations have more sauce than the Italian versions. Like most recipes, the origins of the dish are obscure, and there are several stories about it. As the name is derived from carbonaro (the Italian word for charcoal burner), some believe the dish was first made as a hearty meal for Italian charcoal workers. The etymology gave rise to the term "coal miner's spaghetti", which is used to refer to spaghetti alla carbonara in parts of the United States. It has even been suggested that it was created by, or as a tribute to, the Carbonari ("charcoalmen"), a secret society prominent in the unification of Italy. It seems more likely that it is an urban dish from Rome.

Carbonara was included in Elizabeth David's Italian Food, an English-language cookbook published in Great Britain in 1954. It was first described after the war as a Roman dish, when many Italians were eating eggs and bacon supplied by troops from the United States.

This is a really quick and simple pasta to make and I think it is delicious.   Now, it isn’t quite as quick and simple if you make homemade pasta, but the homemade pasta is worth it and really makes the dish taste divine.   This year I decided to add peas for a splash of color (and to feel like I’m having a healthy vegetable in the mix).

Fettuccine Carbonara Recipe

  • 1 pound fresh fettuccine (store bought or homemade; for homemade pasta see recipe below)
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 3-4 tablespoons of butter
  • 2 cups cubed pancetta (can use bacon, cubed or sliced into small strips)
  • 4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 3 large eggs, beaten
  • 1 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, plus more for serving
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 bag of fresh English Peas (steam to cook; store bought frozen peas are okay too)

Sautéing the cubed pancetta with olive oil
  1. In a large sauté pan, over medium heat, cook the pancetta (or bacon) until crispy, about 6 minutes.  Add the garlic and sauté for 30-60 seconds. FYI - I do not drain the pancetta fat onto paper towels and instead prefer to use it as part of the sauce.  (I did not say this was a healthy Easter dinner but I did add peas so I hope that counts for something?)  Add the cooked peas and set aside (heat off).  
  2. In medium bowl beat together eggs. Stir in cheese and a couple twists of fresh ground pepper and set aside. (I don’t normally add salt because the pancetta is pretty salty itself.)
  3. For fresh, homemade paste, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil, add the pasta and cook for 1-2 minutes (it will float to the top when it is done).  If store bought pasta, cook pasta according to package directions.
  4. When the pasta is done drain it and add it to the pan with the pancetta, garlic and peas (this mix should still be hot as this whole process goes really fast.  If it has cooled off reheat it before adding the pasta (make sure to turn the heat off before adding the eggs to avoid scrambled eggs).
  5. Toss with butter until it is melted.
  6. Add egg and cheese mixture stir gently while the hot pasta cooks the eggs creates a silky sauce.
  7. Mound into serving bowls and garnish with freshly grated parmesan.

Wine Pairing Suggestion:  I recommend a Chardonnay.   We had the Dog Point Vineyard Chardonnay 2005 for our Easter dinner and I thought it paired really well with the Carbonara.   It had some citrus that helped lighted up the overall richness of the dish, and an undercurrent of butter that went really well with the pasta.

Fresh Pasta Recipe

  • Pasta Machine (not completely mandatory but very helpful to get the pasta thin enough; in Italy the women roll it out by hand and then cut it with a knife so that could be an option for you if you are looking for an intense workout – it is hard to get the dough rolled very thin.) 
  • Kitchen-aid Mixer (this is in case your hands start to hurt when working with the dough and you decide to toss it into the mixer with the dough hook – I have done this many times).

  • 1 2/3 cups flour (keep it out just in case you need more)
  • 2 medium or large eggs
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • A pinch of sea salt

1. Mound the flour onto a clean work surface and make a well in the center with your fist.

2. Break the eggs into the well and add the oil and a pinch of salt.

Flour Mound with Eggs
My Favorite Kitchen helper, my sister Casey

3. Gradually mix the eggs into the flour using your fingers, bringing the ingredients together from the outside in.  Don’t worry if it is a mess, it will come together when it is all mixed together.   FYI - If the dough feels too dry, add a few drops of water; if it’s too wet or sticky, add a little more flour. (Once you’ve made it a few times, will become familiar with how the dough should feel.)
Bring the flour into the eggs, always pulling to the center.

4. Knead the dough with both hands, primarily using the palms of your hands until a somewhat smooth mass is formed, about 2 to 5 minutes.  

5. Once the dough is a cohesive mass, remove the dough from the board and scrape up any left over dry bits. Lightly flour the board and continue kneading for 3 more minutes. The dough should be elastic and a little sticky. Continue to knead for another 3 minutes, remembering to dust your board with flour when necessary.  Yes it is a lot of kneading – but do not skip the kneading or resting portion of this recipe, they are essential for a light pasta.  FYI – This is where I have been known to get out my stand mixer to take over and save my achy hands.

6.  Once you get it into a smooth ball (I was once told it should feel smooth as a baby’s butt), lightly massage it with a hint of olive oil, and pop the dough into a plastic food bag or cover with plastic wrap.

7. Allow it to rest at room temperature for at least 30 minutes. The pasta will be much more elastic after resting.

5. For the pasta machine, I break the big pasta ball into about 4 chunks.  Start to feed a chunk of the pasta dough through the widest setting of a pasta machine. As the sheet of dough comes out of the machine, fold it into thirds and then feed it through the rollers again, still on the widest setting. Pass the dough through this setting a total of 2 or 3 times to knead the dough a little extra (this will help ensure the resulting pasta is silky smooth).
Adding a "chunk" of pasta dough to the pasta machine.

6. Pass the pasta through the machine again, starting at the widest setting and gradually reducing the settings, one pass at a time, until you’ve gotten to the thinnest setting (make sure you go all the way through the settings; while the pasta will seem “thin enough” remember that it plumps up when cooking and I have had some very thick raviolis because I got lazy). 

7. One you have the dough, then find the fettuccine attachment and pass it through that to cut the pasta into the desired size.   Dust the pasta with a little flour and place it on clean kitchen towels and let it rest.  It doesn’t really need to rest but it can rest for up to an hour while you prepare everything else.  I also cover it with a kitchen towel so that it doesn’t dry out.   
Fresh Fettuccine

8. Add to salted boiling water for a minute or two (it will start to float).  Make sure to taste it and be careful not to over cook it.  It doesn’t take long.   

Enjoy!  It is a bit of work, and it is more fun with a helper, but there is nothing better than fresh pasta.

Now, I'm curious..... What is your favorite Easter dinner?


1 comment:

  1. I really like your recipe :) Thanks so much for sharing.
    You might also like to try the below version.