Saturday, March 12, 2011

Carbonara For One

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
- Start cooking your pasta in salted, boiling water as per package instructions.
- 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.


Jean said...

One of my all-time favorite foods. My husband sounds like yours, he's a tomato-based-sauce man, as well. Now I'm tempted to make this--yes, for one. :-)

Stephanie said...

I love having a one serving recipe for such a delicious dish! Thank you for sharing this. It will make a perfect lunch this weekend!

Mom-Friday said...

Ahhh...carbonara is hubby's fave! But he likes it better with cream & cheese sauce. I am the one who favors pasta in tomato-based sauces or just tossed in garlic-oil.

Ellen said...

I love your post because I had the same experience with my Mom when I was growing up! And, it's true, while we complain a lot about the repeated dish, we, nonetheless, just eat everything up...masarap kasi e.

ChichaJo said...

Hi Jean! I love this because it is so easy to make for one :) I like tomato-based sauce as well but am and oil-based girl at heart! Then again, I enjoy pretty much all types of pasta!

Hi Stephanie! Cooking for one is sadly underrated I think...I learned to cook, and subsequently fell in love with it, when I was living on my own, so making 1-2 serving meals are my forte!

Hi Mom-Friday! My favorite is really oil-based...but I like everything really :)

Hi Ellen! Glad you enjoyed, and related to, the post! Yup, iba na kung masarap diba? ;)

Junglefrog said...

Well.... how shall I put this; if my mom could have cooked I would probably not have mind her repeating the dishes over and over... but unfortunately not such a good cook my mum!
Your carbonara looks delicious!

ricekernel said...

Just discovered your site and am enjoying it! This is one of our favorite comfort foods. Tempted to entertain with it tonight! Thank you.

The Weekend Gourmet said...

Cooking for one is a skill, and a very important one (remember college friends who ate adobo for weeks on end because they could only do it with 2 kilos of meat, based on their mother's recipe? :) That said, I loved reading about your mother's cooking, the feeling it evoked in you, because it inspires my own efforts at feeding my little boy.Thank you for this lovely post :)

Miri Leigh said...

This recipe looks fantastic. Thanks for posting!

Stepford Mum said...

Jo, I had to laugh when I read your opening sentences. No, your mother is not peculiar. Mine is, apparently, the same. To this day, if she tries a new restaurant and likes it, we have to eat there over and over and over again, to the point where no one wants to eat there ever and she's forced to go somewhere else or find other eating companions!

Biscotti said...

I just found your blog. I like it. A lot. And I don't follow many blogs. Carbonara is comfort in a bowl. Pretty much any pasta in a big ol bowl is happiness, che no? Spaghetti carbonara is one of my favorite comfort foods. I'm a pancetta girl, but when the craving hits and I have bacon? Done. This is not the time for being a purist. I think I'm a lot like your Mom. My children have long since moved away (taking their love of food beat into them by their crazy always hungry, always cooking mother with them), but I still go through periods of macaroni & cheese or mashed potatoes and spaghetti carbonara cravings. Once a week sometimes does not satisfy the craving. I think it's just the desire for simple comfort that your Mom sought -- to ingest and give to her little ones. You must have great food a la love memories. Food is everything. Food is love. You are lucky. Looking forward to future posts. :)

Nayna said...

/random, Adi used to mention fabada a lot. I have never cooked nor tried it, and the way he talked about it, fabada seemed like a homey, memory laden therefore rather intimidating dish :D

carbonara has a special place in my heart for the reason that it's so simple to make and very satisfying. it's what i usually make for myself when i'm in the middle of a very interesting book and can't be bothered to fuss. god bless bacon, good reads and rainy evenings for one's self :)

Les rêves d'une boulangère (Brittany) said...

That's so interesting that your Mum would cook the same dish over and over to perfect it. What a great cooking ethic. As for your dish, it looks splendid. I love carbonara so much!

katiez said...

It's been ages since I've made Carbonara.... It's time. I enjoy cooking just for me, too.... Sometimes it's nice not to have to consider another person LOL

ChichaJo said...

Hi Junglefrog! Thank you! That’s like my mom’s mom…she can’t cook but can sew up a storm :)

Hi Ricekernel! So glad to hear you are enjoying my site :)

Hi Weekend Gourmet! These are the same things I want to do for my daughter :) Since I learned to cook for myself, it is actually harder for me to make large “family-style” portions – that is a skill I have to learn!

Thanks Miri!

Hi Iyor! I had to laugh when I read your comment! Heehee :) I must confess I am sometimes guilty of always ordering my favorite dish at a restaurant…maybe that’s why I never really minded my mom cooking the same thing over and over!

Hi Biscotti! Thank you for stopping by and so happy you liked the post :) And if I had guanciale even better, but yes bacon will do when you’re craving! Yes, food+love memories are the best :)

Hi Nayna! Oh how Adi and I would fight over the Fabada leftovers…in a bowl with rice (I’m sure the Spanish would faint in horror!) and olive oil and vinegar, all we needed was a spoon and a good book…my goodness, how similar to you carbonara memory huh? I can see why you and Adi get along! “god bless bacon, good reads and rainy evenings for one's self” <-- He would totally agree…and so do I :)

Hi Brittany! She has taught me a lot…both about food and about life :)

Hi Katiez! It is definitely lovely to cook solely for one’s own pleasure…I couldn’t recommend it more!

Shalum said...

Oooh. I'm the tomato sauce girl so, this wouldn't be my first choice. But a really good Carbonara is a ruby in the rough (at least for me). So many people add odd stuff in their white sauce, it turns me off. I hope to try this recipe, sounds good! Thanks for sharing!

Anne said...

my family loves carbonara, can't wait to try this recipe :)

Midge said...

My mother was working whilst I was growing up, so she rarely had time to cook. But when she did, it was always super - and her dishes are among the best memories of my childhood. (Cases in point: her Yuletide Season-only paella and her killer-diller fabada!)

I am of the opinion that, while most of us may learn to cook from books or classes, our mothers' cooking was actually the first real stepping-stone in our culinary education.

Lovely post, Joey!

Vivienne said...

i can see why you never tire of this dish! such comfort food. our mums sounds like they're related hahaha. i grew up having the same dishes weeks on end ;)

JamS said...

I remember having carbonara years ago, made effortlessly by an italian couple who hosted dinner for us, when it was served- my brother and I looked at each other and said in unison, "asan ang sauce?". That memory brings a smile to my face. To this day, I still make carbonara for one often, it's easy and satisfying. I must say that my Mom is like your Mom, never gets tired of feeding us the same thing! So when I brought my husband home, I specifically told him not to tell my Mom that he likes Crispy Pata, or else! Big mistake, we were in Pampanga for 2 weeks and, of course, Crispy Pata for breakfast/ lunch/ merienda/ dinner... No kidding!

ChichaJo said...

Hi Shalum! I like the simple, traditional carbonara also…just the eggs, bacon (pancetta), and cheese make such wonderful magic when tossed with the hot pasta!

Hi Anne! Hope they like it…just portion it up! :)

Hi Midge! So true about mothers’ cooking! I learned so much from my mom…from whole dishes to little bits of cooking wisdom :)

Hi Vivienne! Haha! Sounds familiar indeed ;) This dish really is such a comfort…

Hi Jam! Carbonara is definitely all that :) Nice introduction to what eventually became a comforting dish :) Crispy Pata day after day is not a problem for me! :)

Charlotte said...

If you like Carbonara, you will love this:

Pasta for breakfast (or dinner)!


ChichaJo said...

Thanks for the link Charlotte! I could have this for either :)

stargazer said...

I teared up while reading. My mother's cooking made me what I am today - a voracious cooking and eating machine. Hehehe... Thank you for sharing. I will make this for Mom when we see each other this weekend. =)

farhang said...

3/26/2011 - Tried your "Carbonara for One" recipe today and loved it. Delicious, Thank you! Curious to know if you have posted any other of your mom's recipes, i.e., osso buco, fabada, and cocido? FP

ChichaJo said...

Hi Stargazer! What an influence and inspiration moms our right? :) I just hope I can be just as inspiring to my little girl :)

Hi Farhang! Glad you liked it! I posted the Osso Buco very early on...the fabada I make now is already adapted to my tastes but if you are interested just email me (it is still ever being tweaked!) :)

alcs613 said...

I love this! What a great idea! I have been a little intimated to try Carbonara, but now I think I have to try!

randie said...

Hey now this I can do. Usually I am leery about cooking without my chef roommate's supervision haha

Matt said...

Well done...I see this recipe posted WRONG so many times with all kinds of weird, americanized extras in it. This is how they made it when I lived in Naples (except that they used panchetta). The key is that the egg isn't supposed to scramble, but rather make a creamy sauce after the pasta is taken >off the heat<. You can toss in some chili flakes to spice it up if you want, and I usually add a small splash of white wine to the simmering garlic/bacon. Thanks for the great post!