Spring Fare: Spaghetti Carbonara Style with Spinach, Bacon, and Fried Egg

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

I'm a huge fan of Spaghetti Carbonara. Unfortunately, in this country we have many versions that bastardize the original concept -- tender spaghetti noodles tossed simply in rendered crispy pancetta, and lightly beaten fresh egg. The heat from the spaghetti cooks the eggs delicately, creating an irresistible thickened "sauce" that's light and incredibly flavorful. Add a salty bite from freshly grated parmesan cheese and it's a perfect bowl of pasta. Truly.

But unfortunately the classic carbonara has been destroyed by many cream-based versions. In place of the raw egg, Americans favor the "safer" (but way fattier) heavy cream to achieve the desired consistency. I find it silly and totally unnecessary, and the cream -- although normally I'm a huge fan of using cream in various dishes -- is totally inappropriate here with pancetta and spaghetti. I feel it's better suited for thicker noodles that can withstand its weight, like fettucine or even manicotti.

At any rate, we had some spring-type weather here in Seattle for a few weeks and it inspired me. My local farm delivery gave me farm-fresh eggs and a gorgeous bunch of spinach. I had some bacon in the fridge (there's always bacon in my fridge) and so I decided to do a spin on the classic, but still keeping the integrity of the dish. Thus this recipe was born. If you're ever in the mood for Breakfast For Dinner, this is the perfect meal. And honestly, it's the best hangover dish ever. Enjoy it!

Spaghetti Carbonara Style with Spinach, Bacon, and Fried Egg
1 lb box spaghetti
kosher salt
1 cup pasta cooking water, reserved
1/4 cup bacon or pancetta, cut into small bite-sized pieces
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 bunch fresh spinach, rinsed well
extra virgin olive oil
freshly ground black pepper -- course grind if possible
1/2 cup freshly grated, imported good quality parmesan cheese
4 Tbsp canola or vegetable oil (for frying eggs)
4 eggs

Cook the spaghetti according to package directions. I like to bring a large pot of water to a boil, then add a good amount of kosher salt so the consistency of the water tastes like salt water from the sea. This helps season your pasta too so it all tastes wonderful. Before draining the pasta, take out about a cup of the water it boiled in -- this will help thicken the sauce you make with the pancetta.

While the pasta cooks, heat a large saute pan to medium-high. Add the bacon all at once and cook, stirring often, until crisp and delicious. No need to add oil first because the bacon (or pancetta) will render its own fat, meaning the fat will melt once it starts cooking. Turn heat down to low and add the garlic, then mix to combine. Cook about a minute until fragrant. Add the drained spaghetti noodles into the saute pan and about half of the reserved pasta water. Add the spinach all at once and some pepper to taste (personally I like a lot with this dish), then using tongs, toss the spaghetti with the spinach and bacon-garlic mixture. The heat from the pan will gently wilt the spinach. Take off of heat and add the cheese all at once, tossing again to combine. Set aside.

In a separate nonstick skillet, heat the vegetable oil. Crack the four eggs into the pan and cook sunnyside up (or over-easy if desired). Cook just until the egg is set -- you can break it into the hot pasta to finish cooking.

Quickly portion out the pasta among 4 serving bowls and top each with an egg. Season each egg with a small pinch of salt and more pepper and serve immediately.

This dish is done very, very fast (start to finish around 15 minutes). It's best served piping hot, straight from the stove. If you plan to add a side salad or any other side dishes or dessert, best to prepare those before doing this dish. It reheats generally well, but it's really best fresh because of the egg.

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