September 4, 2004

lavish charcoal

Friday, September 3

Carbonara isn't the most favorite pasta sauce of mine, but there sure are times when the fancy takes me, like it did today. In fact, it was because I wanted to try out dried black truffles that I had bought myself a few months back.

I found the dried truffles at a Whole Foods store. I knew they make truffle paste and oil if not fresh ones, but not dried ones for this particular kind of mushroom. I was being very curious, and most importantly (!) they were about half as expensive as I had estimated (albeit my estimation was skyscraper high, though) and didn't cost high enough to drive me bankrupt, I threw one pack into the basket.

And It has been sitting in the cupboard in our kitchen since then, as I didn't know how to use dried truffles. I use dried porcini a lot, but porcini are more of their broth than themselves that is important, and I didn't think the same is true in the case of truffles. I searched on the net looking for useful recipes, with hardly any success. So I had to figure some out by myself.

Truffles are known to go well with eggs, in general. And I don't specially like egg dishes, to tell you the truth. I would rather like to use the mushrooms in something else, like pasta dishes. There it sprang to my mind; carbonara.

As one of simple "classics", carbonara sauce has a large variety of recipes available all over the places, except that some main ingredients are definitely in common; egg, cheese, and black pepper, and maybe bacon too, although it is a mere substitution for Italian pancetta. Some use heavy cream while others don't, and garlic, same as on the left.
I have made pasta alla carbonara only a few times over the past year or so, but now I have settled down to one of such simplest versions that use egg, cheese, black pepper, and bacon, plus white wine but no cream or garlic. I would grate parmigiano reggiano and/or pecorino romano.

And today's feature was the black truffles. As I wasn't quite sure how to use them, I did the same as I would do with other dried mushrooms; rehydrating. Since I didn't want to add water to my sauce, I used white wine to soak them. Once they were tender enough to be cut up, I chopped them into small pieces to add, together with the broth, to the skillet in which I had been cooking bacon pieces in olive oil. In the meantime I grated pecorino over beaten eggs and ground black pepper (A LOT) while at the same time cooking rigatoni.

To make a perfect carbonara sauce, you are not cooking eggs over heat, never, or they will curdle up; the heat from freshly cooked pasta should cook the eggs. But the dilemma is, most eggs commercially available here are not exactly suitable for eating raw (there are minor disagreements, but in general it is deemed not 100% safe to eat eggs not completely cooked), so I tend to cook the eggs too long, ending up having them curdle. That was what I did again today, to my great dissatisfaction. THIS WAS A HORRIBLE FLOP as a carbonara dish.

In any case, I proceeded to finish making the dish and served. Although it wasn't the way carbonara should be, the dish was still tasty with the final drizzling of Italian truffle oil and more freshly ground black pepper, both making the dish rivetingly fragrant. Pieces of black truffles, small as they were, looked almost identical to very coarsely ground black pepper, making the dish look like carbonara with way too generous amount of black pepper (he actually thought so). Kind of luxury food.

As I still have quite a lot of dried truffles left, I will have to sort out ways to use them up... (this might help me trying it).


Cat said...

carbonara is my least favourite pasta, (unlike you, i dont actually get fancies LOL) i dont like the creamy egginess of it. eggs in pasta? it just doesnt seem right to me you know? they only came up with it (1 of many stories) because during ww2 they had an over abundance of eggs & bacon from the states, and thats also why its popular amongst americans -- a staple for the troops i guess :)
have you tried pasta puttanseca? its quite tasty, thought i would mention it since you enjoy fish... just dont use chicken and anchovie paste, they are no good *yuck* use real anchovies & although american recipes dont call for it, whole mussles in the shell are common in the dish as well, especially in the Napoli region! the more fish the better i always say ;) enjoy! yumyum.

chika said...

Hi Cat,
I like puttanesca, too, but never tried it with chicken or mussels before. Mussels sound really nice in puttanesca, thanks for the tip! I hope I can find the shellfish in my neighborhood....
I'm sorry you don't like carbonara, I think I know what you meant about the "creamy egginess"... it could be disgusting, I guess. I have also heard of several different stories about its origin, but in any case, even in Italy some like the dish and others don't, just like any other dish. :)