Vegetarian carbonara

It feels like yesterday, but evidently it was just over two years ago that I wrote a post on carbonara.

Much more recently we went to Maccaroni Trattoria in Melbourne and tried their vegetarian version of carbonara, which replaced the bacon with zucchini. Alice and I enjoyed it so much that we both thought in terms of cooking it at home. I certainly haven’t exactly done that, if for no other reason than the restaurant version had cream, whilst mine stuck to the traditional carbonara only egg attitude.

Ingredients for two

spaghetti
olive oil
3 eggs
parmesan, grated
pepper, freshly ground
2 medium zucchinis grated
shallot, chopped finely
garlic, chopped finely

Method

While the spaghetti is cooking:

Mix one egg per person and an extra yolk per two people.  Add parmesan, perhaps a cup, leaving some for the table. Add lots of freshly ground pepper.

In a large pan, I use a wok, heat olive oil and gently fry the shallot until soft, add the garlic, mix, add the zucchini and gently fry until softened.

Keep a cup of the cooking water before you drain the spaghetti.

Then, as for the normal version, put the pan back on the heat, add the spaghetti. Mix and then add the egg/cheese mixture, turn quickly if not frantically, take it off the heat, you don’t want scrambled eggs. Add some of the cooking water you saved, still stirring in a completely panicked way. It all seems to come together into a nicely silken coating needing nothing more than loads and loads of extra pepper as you eat. This is not to say that the panic was unnecessary, it is probably an essential ingredient. This dish doesn’t want you to think you are in control.

The lack of meat for taste made me add the shallot and garlic. I might also have added parsley. I should have added only some of the cooking water, but I tossed in a whole cup and this was okay – a bit runnier than it should be, but that was a good excuse to overdo the cheese served at the table.

I would happily have this any time, and surely it would be a happy marriage to combine the two versions, using both pancetta and zucchini. I will report on that some time.

A pesto conversion

For years I’ve been using Stephanie Alexander’s pesto recipe. As it’s the other side of the world, I’m relying on the internet to give me an accurate rendition, but it’s something like this:

  • a big bunch of basil (she says a firmly packed cup)
  • 2 cloves garlic crushed
  • 1/4 cup pine nuts toasted
  • 60g parmesan grated
  • 1/2 cup of olive oil

I don’t add salt and pepper at this stage.

You puree these and mix in some hot water from the cooking pot to thin the consistency.

That’s always done me, I like the balance. But the other day at Bottega Rotolo I got talking to Rosalie Rotolo-Hassan who mentioned that in her cooking classes she’s always modified it by adding a little asparagus and making half the nuts unsalted pistachios, also toasted.

I’ve been dying to try this variant, picked up some of the last asparagus around today and some really ordinary hydroponic basil as I couldn’t find any that had been properly raised. Now we have:

  • a big bunch of basil
  • no garlic because I forgot
  • 1/4 cup of pine nuts and raw unsalted pistachios, toasted separately as they need different amounts of time
  • 60g of horribly expensive parmesan because we couldn’t figure out the price until we got home and looked at our receipt and went arrgghhhhhhhhhh
  • 4 asparagus pieces steamed until softish
  • olive oil, but slowly added and not nearly as much as 1/2 a cup

I left out the cheese to be added at the table. I pureed the rest, with maybe a couple of tablespoons of oil to begin with and then added a bit more later. I also added hot cooking water to reach the consistency I wanted.

The asparagus made it creamier and added to the sense that less oil was required compared with usual. Having said that, it’s all to taste of course. I did not in the least miss the garlic – loved the gentle taste of this.

Pepper and parmesan to taste at the table.

Serves two to three – we found that because it didn’t give the usual pesto punch that we added more of it than we usually would.

 

White beans and chorizo

This ensued after buying San José smoked fresh chorizo at the Central Market last week.

Ingredients

  • two onions, peeled and diced
  • smoked fresh chorizo skinned and chopped
  • ghee for frying
  • white beans – I used two tins of cannellini
  • garlic finely chopped
  • tomato paste
  • half a bunch of spinach, chopped fairly finely
  • a cheddar that melts nicely, grated

Method

Fry the onions until softening, add the garlic and stir a few times without burning,  add the chorizo and fry until it’s getting brown and the onions are fairly soft. Add drained and rinsed beans or dry beans you have cooked yourself. Add water and tomato paste at some point, bring to the boil and then put on a very low simmer for a couple of hours.

Sit overnight. Next day when serving add spinach while the spaghetti is boiling. After stirring the cooked pasta through the sauce, mix in cheese. This is a soupy stew you could serve with ciabatta, but we had it as a spaghetti sauce with parmesan on top.

A couple of bunches of parsley instead of spinach would be good. I had initially meant to cook it with celery, but forgot to buy any, but I could imagine trying that too.

Spaghetti with Italian pork sausage

I don’t really understand what’s hard about pork sausages. And yet, there it is. In Switzerland you can only get horrible Swiss pork sausages even though one might expect a better return for Italian being one of the national languages.

Adelaide Central Market: Marino make traditional Italian pork sausages. They are so good that the rest of it can be very simple.

Ingredients

  • 500-750g Italian pork sausage with fennel (or add a little ground fennel).
  • finely chopped garlic
  • a large onion diced
  • 2 tins tomatoes crushed
  • water
  • butter/olive oil

Method

Fry the onion and garlic gently in the butter/oil until softened. Turn up the heat, add the sausage which you have first skinned (slice it longwise and the skin will easily come off) and stir vigorously, breaking up lumps, until it has lost is raw colour. Add the tomatoes and water, bring to the boil. Then turn down to a slow simmer and cook for a couple of hours.

I guess this must be better the day after – it’s the sort of dish that is. We were not able to wait that long, however, and instead had a first helping of it with fresh spaghetti we bought at the Goodwood producers’ market this morning. From the Grain has a gloriously colourful display of pasta, which, much as my preference is for plain, I found irresistible. We tried a vivid green garlic and parsley spaghetti. It combined fabulously with the sauce, parmesan on top – perfecto.

Spaghetti with anchovies, pinenuts and raisins

This is a dish born from a need to cook without leaving the house. It will be obvious that it welcomes variation. We loved it and will be sure to make it again soon. The initial inspiration came from reading a post acmilan did on The English Forum (Switzerland) where he shared his recipe for Margherita con l’anciova. The combination of anchovies, tomato paste, pine nuts and raisins got my mouth watering.

Ingredients for sauce for two:

  • 1 medium onion, chopped fairly finely
  • 1 heaped tblsp tomato paste
  • 1 tblsp pine nuts
  • 1 tblsp dried sultanas (or similar)
  • olive oil
  • anchovies to taste, I used about 5
  • chopped fresh spinach
  • a little sugar

To serve: grated parmesan

Method:

While waiting for the water to boil for the spaghetti, heat a large pan (I use a wok) with the olive oil and gently fry the onion. When softened add the anchovies and break up as you stir. Add the pine nuts and sultanas, stir. Next, the tomato paste and some water. Mix thoroughly and turn heat up. When at a simmer, add sugar, erring on the side of not enough, mix, taste and add more if desired. Last, in goes the spinach. Bring back to a simmer, stir, and leave to sit on a low heat, stirring from time to time while the spaghetti is cooking. I leave this quite thick, as….

When the spaghetti is cooked, spoon it into the sauce. Some cooking water will transfer as you do this, loosening the sauce. Thoroughly mix and decide if you need to add more of the cooking water.

Serve with the grated parmesan.

 

Wherein meat is eaten.

Stay off the stuff for long enough and even Manor mince tastes mmmmmm. It’s been a couple of weeks since we had anything remotely resembling meat, of any colour, I might add.

For years I’ve stuck to the Italian way of doing spag bol, think cream and chicken liver as distinguishing features, along with minimal tomato. And although I love chicken livers, and the authenticity of Margaret Fulton, I’ve never been altogether happy with the result.

It was a revelation to me to discover that the American version is actually worthy of cooking and couldn’t be more different from my notion of the traditional version. This is the famous Italian-American cook Lidia’s version.

Spaghetti bolognese

Ingredients

olive oil for frying
an onion finely chopped
a carrot grated
a stick of celery and leaves finely chopped
glass of red wine
1/2 kg beef mince
1/2 kg pork mince
1 tblesp tomato paste
2 cans crushed tomatoes
3 bay leaves
water as necessary

Method

On med-high heat, fry the onion, carrot and celery until onion is softened. Add the meats and fry, stirring constantly to avoid lumps, for about 10 minutes until browned. Throw in the wine, bring to the boil and burn off the alcohol. Add the tomato paste, stir in thoroughly, and then the tomatoes. Add a reasonably generous quantity of water to cover the meat. Bring to the boil and leave on a lively simmer covered. You are going to cook it at this temperature for at least several hours. The longer the better. Six hours is better. Because it’s actually bubbling away, it means that you do need to check it from time to time to add water as required.

Yum. This is really good, just some parmesan on top to serve. True it takes a while on the way in, but on the way out you have, for two people, four meals ready at the push of a defrost button. And most of the cooking time, you are reading or knitting or doing Goodreads or….whatever your idle preference is.

Spaghetti with mussels

I’m tiring of the format, reporting how many centimes I’ve spent on garlic and whatnot, so I expect everybody else is too. Instead I’m going to cost dishes from time to time.

Eat seasonally.

It is the mussel season here. I always buy mussels from Globus, having had a dreadful experience at Manor. It’s the old story, you get what you pay for. At Globus the sign may say 15.90CHF/100g for mussels, but it does mean 15.90CHF/kg. So that’s alright then. They are cheaper than truffles.

Today we had them like this.

Spaghetti with mussels

Ingredients for two

200-250g dry weight spaghetti
500g mussels (a generous quantity, it could certainly feed 3, 4 at a pinch)
garlic finely chopped
shallots finely chopped
fresh chillies finely chopped: I used 3 bird’s eye
100-200g good quality tomatoes seeded and slivered
spring onion green tops snipped into small rounds
olive oil for cooking
up to 1 cup of dry white wine

Method

While the spaghetti is boiling, clean the mussels, discard any that are open.

Heat the oil and gently fry the garlic, shallots and chilli until softened. Raise the heat, add the wine and let the alcohol burn off. Add the tomatoes and leave on a low heat, get all those flavours mingling.

1-2 minutes before the spaghetti is cooked, raise the heat to high, throw in the mussels along with the small amount of liquid that will have accumulated with them. Put a lid on the pan. While they are bubbling away, drain the spaghetti – I don’t do this too thoroughly as the whole thing probably needs a little more liquid still. Throw the spaghetti into the pot with the mussel sauce, stir thoroughly, turn off the heat.

Serve with the spring onion scattered on top. You need a bowl for shells and, if you are being posh, finger bowls, it’s a fingery sort of dish.

It is SO good! If you can’t get good tomatoes, consider something more like a vodka cream sauce. Might report on that another day.

Cost:

mussels 8
spaghetti 1.50
wine 1
tomatoes 2
sundries 1

Total 13.50

Definitely an extravagance, but worth every penny and as I said, the two of us could have made do less mussels without feeling the least hard done by.