February 20, 2013

The Maine Ingredient: If you're a carbonara fan, our snowstorm special will blow you away

By Anne Mahle

The wind outside howled with an uncomfortable intensity, the snow came down in a torrent of swirling mini icicles and inside, while the house occasionally shook with the ferocity of the storm, we curled up to play games and drink homemade hot chocolate.

This reality has comprised our weekends twice running, and the idea of going to the grocery store to shop for, well, anything took on mountain-climbing-adventure proportions. Down parkas, snow pants and fur-lined hoods would be required. Needless to say, the trek had zero allure for the one who would be making it – me.

Instead, necessity met invention, and we used what we had to create what became a dinner that we'll be making again – Blizzard Carbonara.

Carbonara is typically made with pancetta, or bacon in a pinch. But, as I've already mentioned, there was NO way I was going to the store, and neither ingredient was in the larder but prosciutto was. Eggs too, thanks to our hens, which continued to lay even with the wind blowing snow inside their home.

Carbonara is one of those very simple dishes that requires attention to detail to get it just right. When done well, the eggs are ever-so-gently cooked by the heat of the just-drained pasta. The cheese is delicately blended and also barely melted by the same heat. Too much heat, and the eggs curdle. Too little, and they are still runny.

The trick is to have all your ingredients on hand and ready to go when the pasta is finished cooking so that the pasta doesn't cool down. The eggs should be room temperature and then combined with the cheese to help them gently come up to temperature when added to the pasta. Don't return the pot to the heat on the stove unless for some reason the eggs are just not thickening. Then return the pot to the burner, but don't actually turn it on, using the residual heat that is there, but not too much.

While I don't wish another blizzard on us, I do love the meals that come when I have no choice but to use what I have on hand. Happy to share it with you. If you'd like to see the Lemon-Berry Blizzard Cake we made the same weekend, go to athomeatsea.com.

PROSCIUTTO AND GARLIC CARBONARA

To get refrigerated eggs to room temperature, place the eggs in a bowl of warm water while you are prepping the rest of your ingredients.

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

4 ounces prosciutto, sliced into 1/4-inch strips

2 tablespoons minced garlic

1/2 cup minced Italian parsley

4 eggs, room temperature

3/4 cup grated Parmesan, plus more for garnish

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1 pound fettuccini

Bring a large pot of salted water to boil. When the water is boiling, add the pasta and cook until al dente according to package instructions. Meanwhile, in a large skillet, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Add the prosciutto and saute for 1 minute.

Add the garlic and remove from heat. Saute for another minute and add the parsley. In a small bowl, crack and beat the eggs with a fork until they are frothy. Add the cheese to the eggs and beat again to mix.

When the pasta is done, drain and immediately add to the skillet with prosciutto and garlic. Add the salt, pepper and eggs, and gently but quickly incorporate with rubber-tipped tongs or wooden spoons, taking care not to break the pasta. Return to the burner (without turning it on) if you feel the eggs are not setting up from the heat from the pasta. The whole process of mixing the pasta should take less than a minute. Serve immediately with extra grated Parmesan and black pepper.

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