As the nights are drawing in, yet the memories of balmy summer evenings linger, the comfort of pasta beckons. Mind you, this is the dish I reach for in anticipation of spring too.
I’ve been cooking variations of Delia’s super-easy Carbonara for years. I hesitate to call them a Carbonara though, as every hot-blooded Italian would slap my wrist for including cream or vegetables in what should traditionally be a pure egg & bacon affair.
So let’s call variations like this “Carbonara inspired” instead. This particular one combines the richness of egg and crème fraiche with the freshness of Mediterranean veg and a comforting dose of Parmesan.
If you’re not bothered about it being vegetarian, you can slap in some pancetta or bacon lardons if you have them.
Carbonara Inspired Pasta (serves 4 – V RSF)
400gr pasta (I used a lemon flavoured penne style)
2 egg yolks and 1 whole egg (I used large duck eggs)
4 heaped tbsp freshly grated Parmesan or Grana Pardano (not the ready grated powdery stuff please)
3 generous tbsp crème fraiche
1 garlic clove, crushed or finely chopped
1 small courgette, finely chopped
1 red pepper, finely chopped
A good handful or 2 of mushrooms, sliced
A good handful of pancetta or bacon lardons (optional)
A little olive oil
Some freshly grated nutmeg
A good pinch of cayenne pepper
S&P (lots of P)
Parmesan shavings for serving
For the pasta, bring 3-4 l of water to a rolling boil in a large pan.
Meanwhile, heat the oil in a heavy-based pan. If using pancetta or bacon, no need to add oil. Just add the lardons to the hot pan and fry over a medium heat for a couple of minutes until the fat renders and the lardons are starting to crisp and brown.
Add the red pepper and courgette. Stir fry for a couple of minutes before adding the garlic and mushrooms. Season generously, turn the heat down and cover.
Add the pasta and plenty of salt to the boiling water and cook as per the packet instructions.
Meanwhile, continue sweating the vegetables gently for another 5 mins. Turn off the heat and leave covered.
Combine the egg yolks, egg, crème fraiche, Parmesan and nutmeg in a bowl. Season with S&P, bearing in mind that the Parmesan already adds saltiness. Plenty of freshly ground black pepper and a good pinch of cayenne pepper are called for though.
When the pasta is cooked, add a few tbsp of the pasta cooking water to the vegetables. Drain the pasta and add to the vegetables.
Finally, add the egg/cream/cheese mixture to the veg/pasta mix. The heat of the pasta and vegetables will “cook” the egg, but stir through quickly to ensure the egg does not scramble
Check the seasoning. Add Parmesan shavings and an extra grind of black pepper. Serve. Yum.