comments 34

Orecchiette Carbonara with Freshly-Shelled Peas


On a hot and sticky mid-August night several years ago, I boarded an overnight train from Paris to Milan. The cabin was filled with two sets of bunk-beds that were meant to accommodate four people. Instead, we were five because the couple sharing the cabin with us had a toddler.

The family asked if they could have the bottom bunks, which was fine by me because I wanted to bunk closest to the itty bitty window that cracked open at a woefully insufficient angle.

Insufficient because the father had removed his shoes and the smell was horrific.

It was so bad that I couldn’t sleep. I was finally forced to look in my Italian phrasebook and scan the pages by moonlight for something appropriate to say that would make the man put his darn shoes back on!

Unfortunately, my phrase book had nothing related to shoes, or putting on shoes or telling people that the smell of their feet was intolerable. However, I did manage this:

“Per fevore, signore. I vostri piedi, è violazione dei miei diritti umani!”

Which worked out roughly to mean, “Excuse me, sir. Your feet, this is a violation of my human rights!”

No response. So I tried these other phrases:

I vostri piedi, sto svenendo . . . Non riesco a respirare . . . !”

Which means: “Your feet, I’m passing out . . . I cannot breathe . . . !”

Then I repeated, “I vostri piedi,” pointed to his feet, crossed my eyes and pretended to die.

Nothing. Nada. Zilch.

He must have understood me because he refused to acknowledge my existence. I tried not to take it personally, even though I hated him more and more as we crawled south to Italy. Maybe, I thought, he was trying to incapacitate his over-active son. Or maybe he was angry at his wife and was trying to suffocate her with the smell of his feet.

Seriously. If that smell could be weaponized, the war on terror would be over.

So what does this have to do with carbonara, that amazing Italian dish that uses the residual heat of freshly boiled pasta to transform bacon, beaten eggs and Parmesan into a creamy sauce?

In that very same Italian phrase book was a recipe for spaghetti alla carbonara, a recipe that I still rely on to this day.

The idea to use orecchiette and peas actually comes from Suzanne Goin‘s Sunday Suppers at Lucques. Her description of how orecchiette are perfectly shaped to cup small bits of bacon and peas was irresistible to me, but I prefer to stick with my old phrasebook’s way of making carbonara because it only uses one pan — and who doesn’t prefer that?

These proportions will make enough for two, but can easily be adjusted for more. For something richer, you could add about a 1/3 of a cup of caramelized chopped onions to the mix. This recipe was also a great way to start using the wonderful shell peas that are at the market right now, as well as the bacon and pullet eggs from my CSA.

Pullet eggs are small eggs from young hens that have just started laying. They say that two pullet eggs are the equivalent of one regular chicken egg, but I find that it’s really more like 3 pullet eggs = 2 regular chicken eggs. Pullet eggs are wonderfully rich in both flavor and mouthfeel, just perfect for carbonara if you can get a hold of some.

I also used up the last of my CSA bacon ends to make my bacon bits, but you can use crumbled cooked bacon strips in this if bacon ends are not handy.

Ingredients:

1/3 pound of dried orecchiette

1/3 cup of bacon bits or crumbled cooked bacon

1/3 cup of freshly shucked green peas or frozen peas

5 pullet eggs or three regular eggs

1/2 cup of freshly grated Parmesan

Freshly grated black pepper

Olive oil

How to prepare:

1. Bring a medium saucepan of salted water to a boil. When the water has reached a rolling boil, add the pasta. While the pasta is cooking, set up the other ingredients. This recipe moves quickly near the end, so it is a good idea to have everything ready to go.

2. Combine the Parmesan and eggs in a small bowl with freshly ground black pepper.

3. When the pasta is not quite al dente, add the peas to the boiling water. Let the pasta and peas finish cooking together. Drain and pour the pasta and peas back into the saucepan. Add the bacon along with a quick drizzle of olive oil. Pour the beaten egg mixture over the pasta and begin stirring everything together quickly. When you add the eggs, the pasta should be warm enough to barely cook them. You want the sauce to be just thick enough to coat the pasta with a glossy sheen. If the sauce seems soupy instead of creamy, put the pan over a very low flame and continue to stir and toss the pasta quickly until the sauce turns smooth and creamy.

Don’t worry if you accidentally overcook the eggs and they scramble a little bit. It will still be delicious.

Advertisements

34 Comments

  1. I love this story. And your valiant attempts to make yourself understood. Phrase books are never quite adequate, are they?

    • My other options were:

      “Mia moglie sta per partorire!” My wife is about to give birth!

      “C’è qualche posto adatto ai bambini?” Is this suitable for children?

      and “È fresco questo formaggio?” Is this cheese fresh!

  2. I have taken that train! No fun! I couldn’t sleep and I was afraid someone was going to steal my shit, and i REALLY wanted a shower. haha. On that note, if I had this meal waiting for me on the other side, all would have been well. One of my favorite things EVER. And those eggs are so fucking cute, I am so jealous! My CSA starts on Saturday, it cant come soon enough!

    • It’s a horrible, horrible train trip. It’s not even that cheap either! I could have flown on Ryanair for less and saved myself the horror.

      We drove back from Italy. That was kind of a nightmare too, but at least we got some very excellent mountain grub in Switzerland!

    • And pullet eggs are so cute. They are cute out of the carton. And then when you crack them and see how cute the yolks are, then you just cute overload!

      I’m looking forward to see what you get from your CSA too! Hey, what’s in the box?

      😉

  3. Great recipe! I like peas with my pasta. And bacon is always good. What does CSA stand for? Next time take the “Zen” train 🙂

    • The Zen train sounds like a better idea. Wish I had heard about that before! Even better, fly!

      CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture. Basically, you become a member of a farm by buying a share. The share allows you direct access to the farmer’s harvest and you just show up at your designated pickup times (usually once a week for fruit and vegetables, but we are twice a week because we are a meat CSA) and just pick up your share. You don’t need to go up to the farm to pick up the share. They usually run pick-ups out of public spaces, community centers, etc.

      We run our out of a restuarant/bar — that’s the best kind of public space 🙂

  4. I think you would make a super fantastic travel writer. 🙂 This recipe looks fabulous. It’s impossible to go wrong with bacon, cheese, and pasta.

      • can’t go wrong.

        Why did I type home?! Of course you can go home with the choly-trifecta 😉 My parents live in the midwest, so not only can you go home, but you can lounge in shape-less pants and stay forever!!!

        🙂

  5. The sentences you used were perfect!! And funny! I admire your courage though, I would have exploded… The pasta is great!

    • Thank you! I thought about going ballistic, but it would have been three against 2 😦

      It so funny what you find in phrasebooks, though.

  6. I’ve never done a train journey like that. Only can think of films like James Bond when he has a fight with Jaws or the scene from Dirty Rotten Scoundrels. If my wife had been in that cabin she would probably have thrown him out the window, or jumped herself!

    • I would have jumped. But the window was too small 😦

      I did notice that the minute we arrived in Milan, they hustled off the train so quickly that I didn’t have time for one last glare. I think he knew that I was going to kill him.

  7. Too funny! Ah, travel. So wonderful usually, but when it’s not, it’s just not. I like the idea of using orecchiette and peas for the carbonara—though I like those things with just about any sauce. I really like Goin’s cookbook, too, though sometimes I find her preparations incredibly fussy.

    • Even when travel isn’t great, it does make for good stories when you are back home. That doesn’t mean that you wouldn’t have preferred to have avoided the situations that gave you those stories in the first place!

      I like Goin’s cookbook too, but I rarely pull it off the shelf because it is so fussy. Even when she claims this to be something easy, or something her family just whipped together, it usually involves way more effort (and pans) than I want to expend. I do like her salads though.

  8. These experiences are what make travel on the cheap so exhilarating/awful. I can imagine how affronted that Italian man was! Some American WOMAN was actually criticizing his personal odor! And not in that ingratiating indirect way that Italians use with strangers. I LOVE what you said to him! Made me actually laugh out loud.

    When I was in Puglia, the village women used to make oriechiette. Big thick stolid women would sit in their shift dresses in the evenings, when the weather cooled, with a bucket between their legs pinching and twisting a great mound of pasta into little ears. There is an oriechette dish from Puglia that I’ve tried and failed to replicate — turnip greens and garlic and anchovies and hot red peppers. It never tastes quite right…

    • I think this was more than a personal odor. This was a public assault 😦 I even tried to make some Italian-y gestures. No luck 😦

      Aren’t women like that amazing? People who have just made so much of something that they can just do it as easily as breathing. My mom knows some women who make soup dumplings from scratch every morning. That is impressive.

  9. This is the best basic quick pasta dish I have had. I have used it with chicken also. The bacon is fabulous. Going to try it with some cooked Italian sausage.

  10. Ha, ha, ha! You should have given him threats ala Godfather style. Anyway, maybe his feet is used for growing the bacteria required for Italian cheese-making.

    Great recipe! I love carbonara and your introduction of green peas is wonderful. 😉

    • His feet were disgusting. I should have gone Godfather on him! But maybe coming from me, it would have made him laugh more than feel scared 😦

      Thanks for the comment, Malou! I love carbonara too. A little green something makes all the cheese, eggs and bacon seem a little healthier 😉

  11. Your train story is hilarious. My dad had rotten-stinky-sour-smelly feet for my entire childhood, so bad that he would wash his feet before we went to karate class together….and they still stunk to high heaven (which you would immediately notice if you stretched within a 10-foot radius of him). Somehow, his stinkfoot has improved over the years…but let me tell you, that is some miracle.

    Orecchiette is one of my favorite pasta shapes, and this carbonara sounds simple and delicious! And perfect for using some of Micah’s home-cured bacon….which I still owe you a post about. I haven’t forgotten–I’m just in catch-up mode right now! As I suppose you can tell, since I’m commenting on this a whole month late. 🙂

    • Oh man. That sounds like it must have been difficult to train with! At the Tae Kwon Do school I was at, most of the men were Muslim, so they were really fastidious about clean feet — which was a real plus when you do something barefoot!

      Glad to hear that his stinkiness was mitigated by time. Wonder how that happened . . . Diet?

      Orecchiette is one of my favorites too! It’s great in carbonara. I am also playing catch-up with blog posts. Stupid dissertation is sucking my time and energy :-/

      • I have a friend who defended his last week and has been pretty much unreachable for months…so I understand. I am impressed you’re able to keep up with the blogging as well as you do!

        No idea what unstinkified my dad’s feet. He went vegetarian for a while, then started eating meat again a few years ago….but the foot stink’s decline doesn’t really line up with those….I really have no clue!

        • I can understand that feeling of dropping off the planet. I have been kind of hermetically sealed up in my apartment, only leaving for essentials like allergy medication and potato chips.

          I can’t wait to have my life back!

          Every time I take a study break, I try to catch up on someone. Blogging — or at least commenting — keeps me feeling human, or at least it keeps me from feeling less like a troglodyte!

          Otherwise the only human contact I seem to have is with my delivery guy . . . who stopped looking me in the eye when he drops off food . . . hmmmm . . . wonder why!

          • So where are you in the dissertation process? Is there light at the end of the tunnel, or still darkness all around? (I’m hoping it’s the first one!) And I would still love to hear about your research sometime.

            • I have one more month before the defense. I just feel kind of jittery all the time. I think I am in denial it’s coming up so fast.

              I have managed to do something amazing with my dissertation: turned something really interesting into something mind-numbingly boring! Maybe after it’s done, I’ll want to talk about it, but right now talking more about it feels kind of like doing work after work hours are done . . .

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s