Friday, 20 May 2011

When You Can't Decide, Go Ahead and Make Both

Culinary-wise, this has been one of the strangest weeks for me. Here in the Midwest, an even stranger cold front made its way and, coupled with an abnormally cold office, I eventually got sick. Indeed, this past Wednesday marked the first "Top Chef" cooking evening in which I decided not to hold to tradition and cook something "blog-able." And so here I am, more than a week since I poached the pears of my previous post, finally getting around to blogging about the midnight sauces and pastas I cooked last Sunday. It had been for quite a few hours that day I had craved bacon; what's more, I wanted to include that in a homemade tomato sauce that I just had to make. I even had the perfect pasta in mind--my new favourite: radiatore--but lo and behold, once that crisped bacon came out of the pan, my mind switched off to spaghetti carbonara. The solution? Make both, of course.

Both sauces begin with one of my favourite staple ingredients: bacon. Crisp about 1/2 lb (7-ish slices) bacon and do your best not to snack on it, unless you for sure have more in reserve. Once the bacon has cooled, crumble it up and, again, do your best not to snack on it. If you're really big into bacon, save the bacon fat; otherwise if you plan on making the carbonara, just go ahead and save 1 tablespoon (per serving). At this point, do not wipe the pan dry.

As you can see in the above photo, the ingredients for the tomato sauce are not entirely complicated and you should have most of these in your pantry. Also, they are not very expensive, so if you do not have these on hand, you can definitely make do on a small budget. Drain  one 28 oz can of petite diced tomatoes directly into your sauce pot; this will make it easier to scoop out your tomatoes and not get the juices everywhere, depending on the size of your food processor. In small batches, roughly chop your tomatoes. You do not necessarily want a purée, but you also do not want noticeable chunks. Add the chopped up tomatoes to your pot. To this, add the following dry herbs and spices (you can, of course, go with fresh ingredients; the general conversion is 1 fresh tbsp to 1 dry tsp): 1.5 tsp each minced onion and garlic, and 1 tsp each thyme, crushed red pepper flake, sea salt, and ground black pepper. Covered, cook all of this together on med-hi heat for 15 min. After those 15 min, the sauce should be rapidly boiling; immediately reduce the heat to low and allow this all to simmer for 45 min or until at least thickened (i.e., excess moisture will have evaporated).

While the tomato sauce is going, let's work on the spaghetti carbonara, as this one is really easy to put together. This is also so quick of a recipe that you should have your spaghetti cooked and ready to eat before you make this sauce. Spaghetti cooked, go ahead and also fry an egg sunny-side up in the pan with the leftover remnants of bacon grease. I find it easiest to cook my sunny-side eggs under an open broiler (read: in an open oven with the broiler setting), but if you can figure it out on the stove top, more power to you; over easy is certainly another acceptable preparation for this dish. Once the egg has cooked (and hopefully not rubbery), set it aside on a plate and add a touch of ground black pepper.

In that same pan, get about 1 tbsp white wine, the 1 tbsp reserved bacon grease, and 1/4 c heavy cream on a simmer over medium heat; the alternative to this would be to deglaze the pan with the wine (be prepared for the smoke to immediately follow), right after cooking your bacon, and then adding the heavy cream. In any case, once this liquid mix is simmering, add a pinch each of dried minced onion and dried garlic. Keep this all cooking and add about 1/4 c total grated parmesan & romano cheese, making sure to incorporate the cheese and break up any larger chunks. Continue to cook the sauce until the sauce has thickened and it passes the spatula test (as viewed in the above photo). To this, toss in your spaghetti and coat the noodles in the sauce. This entire process should be done in a matter of minutes.

To plate, top the spaghetti carbonara with the set aside egg and crumbled bacon. Enjoy this cheesy concoction, made richer by the egg (especially the yolk) and even tastier by the bacon, with a cold glass of cidre.

If you ate the spaghetti carbonara as quickly as I did, your tomato sauce should be approaching its simmering end. Go ahead and cook your radiatore; with all this talk and eating of bacon and cheese, there's some side comfort in knowing this particular radiatore is made from carrots, spinach, and tomatoes. Indeed, for every 4 oz portion, there's a full serving of veg.

Again, the tomato sauce should be simmering on low for at least 45 min. After this time has elapsed, stir in 1/2 c total grated three cheese blend (parmesan, romano, and asiago), or whichever cheese you have on hand. Follow this addition with your remaining (if any) crumbled bacon. Once well combined, the sauce is finally ready for consumption.

Similar to my reasons for pairing gnocchi with a thick sauce such as this, I love radiatore for its shape and the fact that its grooves really hold onto the sauce. Thickened especially by the grated cheese, this tomato sauce is very reminiscent to romesco, as well as arrabiata because of the crushed red pepper flakes (of which you can certainly add more if you're into spicy food). And with this, dear Reader, I end this post; know that I will be making a plate of spaghetti carbonara for dinner tonight. For more photos from last Sunday's midnight pasta party, click here.

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