Linguine Non Carbonara, a delicious, non-traditional take on pasta carbonara. Recipe below.
A couple of weeks ago, I did a post about a dish that wasn’t just more than the sum of its simple parts—it blew right past them. This one does the same thing in spades. How can something so insanely delicious not even use any spices, unless you count salt and pepper?
The dish in question is Marion’s decidedly non-traditional take on pasta carbonara. It’s dangerously good on a couple of levels. First, it is highly addictive. From the first time Marion made it for dinner guests years ago, it became a go to meal when we had people over—even people who had already had it, at their insistence [in the form of a polite request, of course].
It’s also dangerous because it’s, well, dangerous. No poisonous fish parts in it [am I alone in thinking that is about the dumbest culinary choice ever?], but it’s an artery-clogging party for your mouth. Marion dispenses with the heavy cream found in most American takes on carbonara [but interestingly, not used in the traditional carbonaras of central Italy]. But you start with a pound of bacon, okay? You cook things in bacon grease. And you add eggs and cheese. This is why we only have it once a year or so now. It’s also why, when we do, we enjoy every last tiny morsel of it. All right. You’ve been warned. Time to let Marion take over the kitchen.
The way this recipe entered our household has passed into the mists of time. I think that maybe it might have been something I found in a magazine, possibly, could be around 1980—that makes some sort of sense, although so do several other interpretations of what passes for my memory of this. It called itself Spaghetti Carbonara and it contained many of the elements that I still use to cook this dish. By the time I figured out that this dish is not even slightly a true carbonara—for one thing, it’s got vegetables in it—it was too late for us. We call it carbonara, just as we have dubbed every one of our daughters’ dates The Boy and call Schumann’s compositions ballet dancin’ music [Terry's note—this term dates back to a comment by a little first grader during my teaching days, not any philistinian tendencies on our parts]. It’s our lingo, and we’re sticking to it.
Bacon takes the lead in Linguine Non Carbonara, but it isn’t the neighborhood bully. If you wish, you can use wonderful applewood-smoked bacon from organically grown pigs, each of whom has a real name, but one of the nice things about this recipe is its pragmatism: the most average grocery-store bacon still lets you create a super dish. The only real caveat I have is: use a good olive oil, decent zucchini, peppers, and shallots and a good Parmesan cheese that you grate directly into the dish at the last step.
Yes, there are veggies aplenty in this carbonara. You know—vegetables, salutary, nutritious, radiating their sunny health benefits throughout your being. Well, don’t let the jolly presence of vegetables fool you. Any lurking health elements they may possess are eradicated by the lavish use of the bacon, and the sautéing, and then the great lashings of egg and cheese. All you have left is extreme deliciousness.
Linguine Non Carbonara is best accompanied by a big California chardonnay. On Sunday, we had this with a Girard from the Russian River area, which stood up to the pasta very nicely indeed.
Linguine Non Carbonara
1 pound bacon
4 small zucchini, cut into 1/2-inch coins
2 red bell peppers, cut into little strips
3 shallots, chopped fine
6 or 7 green onions—trimmed, then sliced crosswise
Optional: coarsely chopped garlic, chopped tomato
1 pound linguine
In a big, deep skillet, sauté the bacon until the fat has mostly been rendered out. For this recipe, the bacon is best on the crisp side. Set it aside on paper towels to drain.
Pour most of the bacon fat off. [Okay, I talk big about the evils of this recipe, but we do hedge our bets a bit.] I don’t save bacon fat, so I pour it into a can and toss that out. You just want enough left in the pan to form a slick.
Meanwhile, start a pot of water. When the water comes to a rolling boil, add the linguine, stir to make sure it is all submerged and separated, and cook to al dente.
Add 2 tablespoons olive oil to the pan. Heat it, to moderate, then add in all the bell pepper slices, toss to coat with the cooking fat, and sauté until the pepper begins to brown slightly. Remove the peppers from the pan [I try to let the liquids drain from the peppers back into the pan as I transfer them back to their bowl].
Lay the zucchini coins in the pan and sauté gently, turning them as they brown on one side, to brown both sides. When they are cooked, remove them from the pan.
When the pasta has cooked to al dente, drain it and rinse it thoroughly with hot water. Let it stand in the colander, draining, as you finish the ingredients.
Next, toss the chopped shallots into the moderately hot oil. Cook, stirring, for about 90 seconds. If you want to include garlic, cook it along with the shallots.
Now comes the grand assembly. Return the peppers and zucchini coins to the pan and let them heat through. Add the bacon back to the pan and, if you want to use chopped fresh tomato, add it now. Heat everything through.
Then, working quickly, add in the cooked pasta all at once. Toss the pasta and vegetables thoroughly, so that the pasta is well coated. When the pasta is gently heated through, pour the beaten egg over it and quickly, gently incorporate it throughout the pasta, stirring and lifting. The idea is not to create scrambled egg lumps but to let the egg and oil emulsify together.
Scatter most of the scallion slices over everything and toss lightly.
Working quickly, grate a cloud of parmesan over everything—you want to add at least a half cup of parmesan—and then add a good grinding of black pepper. Toss one more time to incorporate them throughout.
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