This Might Be Why I Am Fat.

I know that after the holidays you’re supposed to feel the need to diet, eat healthily, work out and abstain from things like carbs and bacon and cheese, but I woke up yesterday morning craving pasta, which is why I decided to make spaghetti carbonara for dinner in spite of my leftover-laden fridge.  For the record, I did eat the remaining Brussels sprouts from Christmas Eve dinner for lunch, along with some of my dad’s herb-marinated olives and a clementine, so I didn’t feel as guilty as I could’ve for giving in to the demands of my stomach.

Actually, come to think of it, I didn’t feel guilty at all, which may be why I am fat.

Anyway.

Spaghetti carbonara has a tyrannical iron grip on my heart, and I’m rendered as helpless as a baby bunny when faced with a bowl of it.  The first time I ever ate carbonara was when I was fourteen, at a restaurant in, of all places, my mother’s hometown of Cagayan de Oro, and I loved the creamy thick sauce coating each strand of pasta so much that I convinced my mother to take me back the next day for another mound of it.  Both days I resolutely put my head down and didn’t come back up for air until I was finished, barely restraining myself from swiping my tongue across my empty plate.  My mother’s evil eye might have had something to do with that though.

Ruth Reichl‘s recipe is just as good as the carbonara of my memory, and dead simple.  Something interesting to note is that there’s no cream in the ingredients list; the eggs do all the work, magically transforming themselves into a rich and smooth sauce.

Spaghetti Carbonara, from Garlic and Sapphires by Ruth Reichl
Makes three portions

1 pound spaghetti
¼ to ½ pound thickly-sliced bacon
2 cloves garlic, peeled
2 large eggs
Black pepper
½ cup grated Parmigiano cheese, plus extra for the table

  1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. When it is boiling, throw the spaghetti in. Most dried spaghetti takes 9 to 10 minutes to cook, and you can make the sauce in that time.
  2. Cut the bacon crosswise into, pieces about ½ inch wide. Put them in a skillet and cook for 2 minutes, until fat begins to render.  Add the whole cloves of garlic and cook another 5 minutes until the edges of the bacon just begin to get crisp. Do not overcook; if they get too crisp, the bacon won’t meld with the pasta.
  3. Meanwhile, break the eggs into the bowl you will serve the pasta in, and beat them with a fork. Add some grindings of pepper.
  4. Remove the garlic from the bacon pan.  If it looks like too much fat to you, discard some, but you’re going to toss the bacon with most of its fat into the pasta.
  5. When it is cooked, drain the pasta and immediately throw it into the beaten eggs. Mix thoroughly. The heat of spaghetti will cook the eggs and turn them into a sauce. Add the bacon with its fat, toss again, add cheese and serve.
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Book Club Oscar Party.

emily-post Once my book club decided that Laura Claridge‘s biography of Emily Post was our next read, the emails between us started flying with almost more speed than usual.  We had already decided to meet on the twenty-second, not realizing that evening was the Academy Awards.

“We could do an Emily Post/Oscars hybrid theme for food,” Sarah wrote. “I’m not really sure what that means. Perhaps finger foods and a fancy drink or tea, and everyone should wear pearls.”

“I love cocktails and pearls,” Stephanie responded, adding, “and that’s kind of like a bachelorette party*, minus the cheesy condom shirts and the stop at Dick’s Last Resort, so yes!  This sounds perfect!”

We quickly started suggesting possible bite-sized snacks for the evening; I had been looking for an excuse to try out a recipe for gougères, so I used the get-together as the reason to give Dorie Greenspan‘s version a try — but if I had really been on top of things I would have dug out Ruth Reichl‘s recipe from Garlic and Sapphires, since book club had previously read her other memoir, Tender at the Bone.  Oh well.  I mean, I need little justification to make something warm with cheese, and Ms. Greenspan’s puffs came out wonderfully.  Next time, it’s Reichl all the way.

When we gathered at Sarah’s some of us were toting copies of Daughter of the Gilded Age, Mistress of American Manners, ready to discuss etiquette, Oscar ensembles and Emily — though I feel like I have to tell you we spent more the time commenting on Kunio Kato.  Melissa valiantly tried to keep us on track during the commercial breaks, hurriedly addressing Ms. Post’s life and legacy, but really we were all too busy eating to contribute much to the conversation.

I am, of course, talking about myself when I say this.  In my defense: how eager would you be to review the contents of a book — no matter how much you enjoyed it — if there was Champagne, spanikopita, chocolate-dipped strawberries and a twirling Hugh Jackman to distract you?

That’s what I thought.

Gougères, from Dorie Greenspan
Makes about thirty-six puffs

½ cup whole milk
½ cup water
1 stick unsalted butter, cut into 8 pieces
½ teaspoon salt
1 cup all-purpose flour
5 large eggs, at room temperature
1 ½ cups coarsely grated cheese, such as Gruyère or Cheddar (or a mixture of smoked and regular cheese)

  1. Position the racks to divide the oven into thirds and preheat the oven to 375°.  Line two baking sheets with silicone baking mats or parchment paper.
  2. Bring the milk, water, butter, and salt to a rapid boil over high heat in a heavy-bottomed 2-quart saucepan.  Add the flour all at once, lower the heat to medium-low and quickly start stirring energetically with a wooden spoon.  The dough will come together and a light crust will form on the bottom of the pan.  Keep stirring — with vigor — another 2 to 3 minutes to dry the dough.  The dough should now be very smooth.
  3. Turn the dough into the bowl of a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or you can continue by hand).  Add the eggs one by one and beat, beat, beat until the dough is thick and shiny.  Don’t be concerned if the dough falls apart — by the time the third egg goes in, the dough will come together again.  Beat in the grated cheese.  Once the dough is completed, it should be used immediately.
  4. Using about 1 tablespoon of dough for each gougère, drop the dough from a spoon onto the lined baking sheets, leaving about 2 inches of puff space between each mound of dough.
  5. Slide the baking sheets into the oven, bake for 15 minutes, then rotate the sheets from top to bottom and front to back.  Continue baking until the puffs are golden and firm, another 10 to 15 minutes.  Serve the gougères piping hot as soon as they come from the oven.

Note:  You can shape the gougères and freeze them for up to 2 months before you bake them.  There’s no need to defrost the frozen puffs, just bake them a couple of minutes more.

* We’re planning a book club bachelorette party.  No one’s getting married — we just think it’ll be fun.  And funny.