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Saturday, May 21, 2011

 

Spaghetti alla Carbonara with half the calories, all the flavor. How? Make one simple change.


by Nanette Geller

Spaghetti alla Carbonara is fast, easy, and delicious. It’s also convenient, made with staples we usually have on hand: pasta, bacon, eggs, cheese, black pepper. Problem is, it is very rich. Looking at this recipe by Mario Batali, it’s just too rich to justify even as an occasional treat. And there’s no way we’re going to compromise with bastardized versions made with “low fat” bacon, eggs, and cheese. With something this simple, use great ingredients or don’t bother.

Fortunately, there’s another way to bring the calories down. Here’s the simple change that cuts calories and fat in half: change the words “Servings: 4” to “servings: 8.”

Bear with me. If you look at almost any American pasta recipe, a pound of pasta is used for four servings. Occasionally it will say four to six. But if you look at a box of pasta, a serving is two ounces and a pound of pasta is meant to serve eight. Supersize me?

By serving a modest portion of pasta with plenty of healthy, low-calorie vegetables on the side, we get to savor one of the world’s great dishes without feeling guilty. And savor it we do!

Don’t get me wrong. Even with smaller portions this is hardly diet food. I did a rough calculation and it comes out about 700 calories, so this is still an occasional splurge. But it’s a lot more reasonable than 1400 calories.

In Rome, where the dish seems to have originated during or just after WWII, the meat of choice is guanciale and the cheese is Pecorino Romano. Thick-cut bacon or pancetta can be used instead of guanciale, and some recipes use Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese. Spaghetti is the usual pasta, but other shapes can be used. Sometimes onion or garlic is added. American recipes often include cream, which I personally think detracts from the balance of the dish.

 

carbonara

 

I pretty much follow Mario Batali’s recipe, making a quarter recipe for the two of us.

We’ve switched to whole wheat pasta for hearty sauces, but prefer a good-quality semolina spaghetti for Spaghetti alla Carbonara. Whole wheat changed the balance of the dish.

I sometimes use bacon or pancetta but guanciale really does taste best. I keep it in the freezer and cut off what I need.

One addition to the Mario Batali recipe: after rendering the fat from the guanciale I sauté a sliced onion in the fat. Of course, I think everything’s better with sautéed onion.

Since we always have a chunk of Parmigiano-Reggiano in the fridge, I follow Batali’s lead and use that instead of pecorino. Grating it fresh really does make a difference. You can see a plate with the cheese and grater behind the wine glass, ready to add extra at the table. (Click on the photo to enlarge.)

If I have a duck egg (from Blue Lotus at the KCC farmers market), it gives the dish extra richness and depth of flavor. Since I’m using only one egg for two servings, I can’t serve a raw yolk on each plate. I just add the yolk along with the white. If I were making this for an odd number of people, I’d round up on the eggs (two eggs for three people, etc.).

I coarsely grind lots of Penzeys Tellicherry black pepper just before cooking and we add more at the table.


 

shiitake carbonara

 

Here, I’ve substituted sliced shiitake mushrooms sautéed in olive oil for the guanciale. As in my vegetarian versions of Salad Lyonnaise, the shiitake provide a “meaty” texture and flavor.

I’m not sure if I can get away with calling this a “vegetarian Spaghetti alla Carbonara”, but it makes a very satisfying dinner.




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