[Living Within, October, 2018]
Finally acknowledging that summer is over, I noticed at the market this weekend that mushrooms are beginning to appear. I picked out some girolles (aka chanterelles) and some brown field mushrooms and took them home with some gently smoked garlic bulbs; I made with them, as a quick lunch, a thoroughly bastardised spaghetti carbonara, using other ingredients already at home and without any careful reference to Roman authenticity.
Carbonara, named most likely for ‘carbone’ (coal) has origins and ingredient lists that nobody seems to be able to agree on entirely. Its name could derive from the look of the black pepper used in quantity to season it and gifting it a cinder-like dusting; or from the charcoal-burners of yore (carbonari) who perhaps invented it or cooked it regularly; or from similarly named freedom fighters of the early 19thcentury who enjoyed eating it -- but nobody really seems to know for sure and, given that I am going to add mushrooms and smoked garlic to my version, I have long ago left behind any quibbles about what ‘ought’ (or, more importantly perhaps, ‘ought not’) to be included -- from cream (forbidden by almost everyone who know what’s what) to garlic, through never mind what kind of cheese (Parmesan or Pecorino or a blend of the two) or ‘bacon’ (guanciale or pancetta for purists) or whether to add ‘smoke’ to the flavours.
I took a recipe that I found in a French periodical, added crème fraîche, smoked garlic, lemon zest, sage leaves and Spanish Serrano ham – and, call it what we will, it tasted good and no Roman sensibilities were aware of, let alone harmed by, its creation on the day.
There are three main elements to the pre-preparation.
Prepare the egg mix – take 1 egg yolk per person (roughly speaking and up to about 4 servings), mix in, proportionately, about 20g grated cheese (Parmesan in my case) and about 50-60g heavy cream or crème fraiche (I chose the latter) then season (heavily) with black pepper.
Prepare the mushrooms and the ham: clean, slice/break into pieces about 100g mushrooms per person – you can mix mushroom varieties as you please. Slice or tear some thinly sliced ham or pancetta (roughly one slice per person), and thinly slice a clove or two of smoked garlic if you happen to have any around (ordinary garlic will substitute, or just leave out garlic altogether). Gather a few sage leaves if there are any growing nearby.
Put a large pan of water onto boil; salt it generously when it does so. Allow about 100g spaghetti per person, and have the spaghetti ready to put in the boiling salted water as soon as the rest of cooking gets underway.
Heat a suitably sized sauté pan for your ingredients and add a generous coat of olive oil; when the oil is hot enough for the mushrooms to sizzle as they are added, add in the mushrooms and toss or stir over a moderately high heat until they start to take on colour (a note of caution: adding mushrooms to cold oil, or overcrowding your pan, will leave you with mushrooms stewing in their own juice!).
Add the strips of ham/bacon and the sage leaves, followed, when the ham starts to crisp up, by the garlic -- toss and cook together for another minute or so (you want the garlic not to be raw but not to burn either), then season (salt and more pepper), and you can add a sprinkling of lemon zest if you like (this, of course, risks gilding the lily but we are beyond the point of pedantry, and the flavour does go nicely with the mushrooms).
If you haven’t put the spaghetti on already, do so now; cook according to packet instruction (usually about 8-9 minutes), until al dente.
When the spaghetti is cooked either lift it out of the cooking water or drain it (reserve at least one generous ladle full of the cooking water either way), and add the drained pasta to the mushroom mix and toss over a very gentle heat. Either turn off the heat at this stage, or keep it super low, then add in the egg mix together with a little of the pasta cooking water; toss until the pasta is coated with the thickened creamy sauce – this shouldn’t take longer than a minute. The egg will cook in the residual heat of the pasta, what you want to avoid is scrambling it with too high a heat; adding the pasta water will help to avoid this and to keep the sauce ‘fluid’.
Serve, immediately, on warm plates, garnished with more pepper and maybe with a little more grated cheese.