Carbonara with Spinach

Our lives at present consist primarily of work, work, and more work. Cooking remains a source of great joy and pleasure, but I can’t seem to find the time to write about it.

But no matter how bad things are, I can always conjure up a dish of carbonara. If you too are slaving away during the hatefully termed “current economic crisis,” a big bowl of carbonara will offer more comfort than an entire case of three-buck Chuck.

The basic dish consists of pasta coated with eggs, with pork, salt, pepper, and grated Parmesan cheese added. Many recipes also include scallions, garlic, and other vegetables. In traditional Italian versions, the pork is usually guanciale or pancetta. As I’ve indicated in previous posts (found here and here), guanciale is nothing short of heaven, a symphony of pillowy fat, and makes a spectacular carbonara. Pancetta is fine as well, but it’s not quite as flavorful–and with a lower fat content, it’s not as much fun. 

Guanciale and pancetta, however, have the disadvantage of being expensive and sometimes hard to find. When this is the case, bacon will make an acceptable substitute. My Italian friend Claudia, who taught me how to make this dish when she lived in the U.S. for a year, used bacon when she made it here, so I figure it’s okay.

Secretly, of course, I love carbonara with bacon the best. In this version I’ve also added fresh spinach and mushrooms in an attempt to get some vegetables into Fred. I was pleased with the results. The spinach added a nice, slightly crunch texture to the dish, and I love the way the nutty flavor of mushrooms complement the bacon and the Parmesan.

American Carbonara with Spinach

2 large servings

1/2 pound pasta of your choice (anything except the small pastas like orzo or orecchini will work)
6 – 8 slices good quality bacon, cut into 1″ pieces
2 fresh eggs (eggs are not fully cooked in this recipe so do not use commercial–find organic, cage-free, or best of all local farm-grown eggs to keep risk of Salmonella low)
1 tbsp. cream or half and half
1 tbsp. grated Parmesan cheese
2 cups fresh baby spinach, washed and dried
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Extra fresh grated Paremsan for topping

Put salted water for pasta on to boil. Meanwhile, fry bacon in large skillet on medium high heat until just crisp. Turn heat down to lowest possible flame, leaving bacon in skillet.

When water comes to boil, add pasta and stir.

While pasta is cooking, separate eggs into small bowl, leaving a little bit of the white with each yolk. Whisk in cream, Parmesan cheese, salt, and a generous amount of freshly ground pepper. Measure out spinach and set aside.

When pasta is al dente (still firm when you bite down on it, not mushy), drain it. Immediately return to cooking pot. Quickly pour egg mixture over pasta and stir. Spoon out bacon from skillet (you will want to get a tablespoon or two of the bacon fat also) and add to pasta. Add spinach, stir well, and cover for 5 minutes or so, until spinach is slightly wilted.

Serve pasta in large bowls and top with additional freshly ground pepper and Parmesan.

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