As Ruth said yesterday, we’ve been thinking a lot about sharing our adventures, tips, and techniques in the kitchen with you. So while she kicks it with her smart quick-tips series “How to Make a Better…” I’ll take a different, chattier approach. In “Watch the Stove,” I’ll walk you through my recipes, not just giving you directions, but trying to show you what you’re looking at, hearing, smelling, tasting, so that you can choose exactly how you want your food to come out. Also, lots of corny jokes. - FL
You love pasta carbonara. I love pasta carbonara. And especially in our pork-obsessed age, what’s there not to love about pasta with bacon, egg, and cheese? So I know what you’re thinking when you see this vegetable enthusiast’s version: “Wait, so you have pasta with bacon, eggs, and cheese, and you’re thinking you should leave out the bacon?” (If you’re really a traditionalist, this is where you get huffy about how the meat should be guanciale, not pancetta, and certainly not bacon; it’s also where I will get you a nice warm cup of tea, because you’re going to want to calm down before you see what other blasphemies I’m about to commit.)
My answer to you is: Hey, you gotta do what your heart tells you to do. If you need cured pork, I totally understand. But here’s the thing: Most people boil sturdy greens like kale or collards until they’re limp and the color of army camouflage, which is why most people avoid them entirely. I happen to like them that way too, but they’re really just beautiful when sliced thin and sautéed until tender, keeping a little bit of their chewiness and their deep green color. Add a dash of pimentón for smokiness and a few splashes of fish sauce or good soy sauce for deep, lasting flavor, and dare I say the whole starts to taste kind of…bacony. It’s delicious on its own, but toss with pasta, cheese, and a rich coating of eggs, and this becomes serious business. I’m not going to go with the diet-book clichés about how “you’ll never miss the bacon!” because that’s… a lie. But you might just find yourself wondering if it’s normal to become obsessed with hearty greens.
Pasta with Greens “Carbonara”
Serves 4 as a main course, 6 as a starter
Note: This recipe contains raw-ish eggs. If you have a health condition that requires you to avoid raw eggs, the sauce is probably not for you. But you can have the greens on their own, and you won’t be sad about it!
1 small onion, cut into ¼” slices
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 pound washed, young, tender collard greens or kale (flat or curly, I’m not picky, but make sure they’re young and tender)
¾ teaspoon smoked paprika (pimentón), or to taste
Fish sauce or good soy sauce, to taste (Or use salt, but these sauces add a lot of depth.)
12 ounces spaghetti or other long pasta
2 eggs (or 3 if you like it good n' creamy)
½ cup Parmesan cheese, grated (or more, to taste)
¼ teaspoon sugar, or to taste (if necessary)
Salt and black pepper, to taste
1. In a large sauté pan or Dutch oven, warm the oil over medium-low heat and add the onion. Let it sweat slowly. You’re not really looking to caramelize it, just to soften it so its sweet oniony badness will meld with the greens later.
2. Meanwhile, strip the greens’ leaves from the stems. Taste a small piece of both the leaves and stem. If they’re tough, like chewing-on-leather tough, you’ll want to cut the greens quite fine and cook them longer. If they’re tender and sweet, then we’re really in business. Chop the stems into bits or tiny bits, depending on their tenderness, and add to the onions.
3. Bring a large pot of water to a boil, and add enough salt so that it tastes almost like the sea.
4. Stack the leaves together and roll up like a cigar. Slice the leaves into ribbons about ½” wide, or ¼” if they’re on the firmer side. In a bowl, beat together the eggs with the cheese, a pinch of salt, and plenty of black pepper.
5. Taste the greens stems in the pan – if they’re tough and kind of stringy, add some water and cover the pan to steam them until they behave. If they’re tender or just a little crunchy, you’re good. Turn the heat up to medium-high and add the smoked paprika. Stir to spread it around, then add a few good, healthy shakes of fish sauce or soy sauce, which will give you saltiness and fantastic depth of flavor. Let the sauce sizzle off and stir in the leaves. Sauté, stirring, until the greens are tender but just a little chewy. Taste them and adjust seasoning with fish sauce, salt and / or sugar, smoked paprika. You want it to be slightly smoky, just a tiny bit sweet, and well seasoned but not-quite-salty. Turn off heat and reserve, covered.
6. Cook the pasta until al dente and drain, saving a cup of the cooking water. Reheat greens over medium heat, and toss in the pasta—really mix it up to incorporate the two. Off heat, add the egg mixture and stir like the dickens, letting the heat from the pasta thicken the eggs. Add a little of the cooking water to loosen things up and form a smooth sauce. Taste, adjust seasoning with salt, pepper, fish sauce, or cheese, and serve.