My mother had a peculiar habit when she cooked for us when I was a child. She would fixate on a dish and this is what she would cook for us for days on end. I have no clue to this day why she did this. Perhaps her pleasure at her successes led her to try and prolong it for as much as she could. Maybe she figured that practice makes perfect. Maybe my voracious appetite for anything she placed in front of me made her believe that she couldn’t stop making whatever it was, for the love of her dear daughter.
It was this very appetite that kept me from tiring of mom’s meal-repeating. That, and the fact that all of those meals were, in truth, delicious. There were the huge hearty lasagnas groaning with meat sauce and cheese. There was that oh so delicate pasta with scallops in cream sauce, the luscious lobe of orange roe still attached (which quickly became my favorite part). There was what she referred to as “dragon fish” because it was cut and scored in a certain way that it looked like a dragon’s knobby/scaly back when fried – this was served with a sticky lemon ginger glaze. And a baked fish auspiciously named “Royal Apahap” which I still love to bits. Then there was the carbonara…oh the carbonara! When she discovered it (or, more to the point, when she discovered making it) it was like (re)inventing the wheel – while the whole world had already been there and done that, we were in awe. Silky, smoky, creamy, rich, and light all at once…for the bargain price of some eggs, bacon, and cheese. I never tired of it, never.
Carbonara For One
(inspired by this recipe)
- One serving’s worth of uncooked pasta (anywhere from 60-100 grams, depending on the person…I usually take 80 grams)
- 1-2 strips bacon, chopped coarsely
- 1 egg
- 1 clove garlic, very finely chopped
- A generous grating of parmesan cheese
- Freshly cracked black pepper
- 1-2 teaspoons chopped parsley
- Cook bacon in a non-stick or cast iron pan until a lot of the fat has rendered and the edges are just crisping up and golden but the bacon itself is not totally crispy. Add the garlic to the pan and toss and sauté until the aroma of the garlic wafts up to your nose.
- While your pasta and bacon are cooking, crack the egg into a bowl and whisk with the parmesan and black pepper until well combined.
- When the pasta is cooked, drain (saving some of the pasta cooking water) and toss in the pan with the bacon (still on the heat). Toss well so the pasta is covered in bacon drippings and everything is hothothot.
- Dump the pasta, bacon, garlic, and every last beautiful drop of bacon fat into the egg mixture and immediately start tossing briskly so the uncooked egg coats every single noodle and “cooks” from the heat but does not scramble. Add dribbles of the pasta water if you need to thin tha sauce out. Toss in parsley.
- Serve immediately to your one lucky self!
I hadn’t had this well-loved childhood favorite in a long while, so when I found this recipe from Eat, Live, Run I was elated. I love recipes for one as I am a big believer that, although cooking for those you love is undoubtedly special, cooking for oneself is just as precious. Also, my husband is a tomato-based pasta sauce person so this would be perfect as a quick workday lunch for (just) me. It's a very loose recipe because I do it mostly by feel. I whisk the cheese into the egg until it reaches a consistency that looks to me like a thin Caeser salad dressing. Some say to place the eggs and pasta back into the pan, off the heat, but I find that even off the heat the pan is just too hot and my eggs scramble. So I just place the very hot noodles and bacon into the eggs and this works perfectly for me.
Here’s a little cheater’s trick: You can make this with leftover pasta! Perhaps you’ll be tempting the ire of carbonara purists, but when you’ve got just enough pasta noodles for one serving languishing in your fridge, and you need lunch in a hurry, who’s going to tell? What I do is heat my leftover pasta noodles in the microwave while I am cooking my bacon. I add a couple of drops of water to my noodles and cover the container with a paper towel so they “steam”. When they are piping hot and smoking, and the bacon/garlic is ready, I toss the noodles in the pan and proceed with the recipe above. You won’t have any pasta water to loosen your sauce if needed, and it may not achieve the perfect silky texture of a truly excellent carbonara, but it will still be delicious!
My mother has moved on to other dishes now (never one to shy away from new tricks), although a few old staples remain (osso buco, fabada, and cocido…may you always continue to repeat yourselves!). Thinking about it today, perhaps it was because of her children and their insatiable appetites that she churned out these dishes end to end. Whatever the reason, I am glad for it…and infinitely and forever grateful. I hope to nourish little C as she nourished me, and, as I sigh over a bowl of carbonara, I realize she nourishes me still.