spaghetti alla carbonara with asparagus and mitsuba
I took a semester of Italian in college. While I was studying the language, I thought I would supplement my studies by improving my knowledge of Italian food and culture. I watched Mario Batali’s Molto Mario on the Food Network every weekday. I learned the names and techniques behind a lot of Italian dishes, picked up some of Mario Batali’s culinary philosophy, and occasionally I even cooked a few of the dishes I saw on the show.
One dish that I was really impressed with was his Spaghetti alla Carbonara, or “spaghetti as the coalman’s wife makes it.” The dish is presented with the still-raw egg yolk cradled in a bowl of hot noodles, so you can break the yolk and stir it into your pasta just before you eat. The presentation is striking, especially when you use a deep orangey-yellow farm egg. The eggs in Japan have the same deep color as farm eggs in America, the ingredients are easy to get at the regular grocery store, and it is quick to prepare, so it’s a perfect weeknight meal when we’re not in the mood for Japanese food.
I often make carbonara according to the recipe: using just eggs, bacon, some olive oil, cheese, and black pepper. Sometimes I like to toss in some vegetables too, for extra color and flavor. This time, I tossed some chopped spring asparagus into the pan with the bacon and sprinkled mitsuba leaves on top (the flavor is similar to parsley). Some notes: of course, guanciale is difficult (perhaps impossible) to come by in Japan, as is smoked bacon, but I try to use the best bacon that I can find for carbonara. Usually I get the slab instead of the pre-sliced bacon so that I can cut it into nice thick chunks. Also, this dish doesn’t keep well for leftovers, so I usually only make a half batch unless we’ve got company.
Spaghetti as the Coalman’s Wife Makes It: Spaghetti alla Carbonara
adapted from Mario Batali, Molto Mario
8 ounces bacon, cut into approximately 1-centimeter cubes
1 pound dry spaghetti
1 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
4 eggs, separated
Freshly ground black pepper
about 8-12 spears fresh asparagus, cut into 1/2″ lengths
fresh mitsuba leaves, chopped
In a 12 to 14-inch saute pan, render and brown bacon until crispy and golden. Add asparagus and continue cooking for about 1 minute. Do not drain fat from pan; set aside.
Bring 6 quarts of water to a boil and add 2 tablespoons salt. Cook spaghetti according to the package directions, until tender yet al dente, reserving the pasta cooking water.
Reheat the guanciale in the pan with the fat and add approximately 1/4 cup of the pasta cooking water to the pan. Toss in the cooked pasta and heat, shaking the pan, for 1 minute. Add the grated cheese, egg whites, and black pepper and toss until fully incorporated. Divide the pasta among 4 warmed serving bowls. Make a nest in the center for the egg yolk. Gently drop an egg yolk into each serving, season with more freshly ground black pepper and grate additional cheese over the top. Sprinkle with chopped mitsuba leaves. Serve immediately.