I love to eat but that’s only how far I can go in the gamut of culinary adventures: give me an egg and I can find a way to butcher it (I still have a hard time perfecting a sunny side up); tuna and sardines go straight into my plate–I don’t trust myself to sauté them.
Of course, all this is silly. It’s so silly! And embarrassing. I should be ashamed to even admit this, especially as a grown man in the age of Junior MasterChef. And so over the past months, I’ve began heating up the skillet and mastering my fave dish: corned beef. Lol. But seriously, my family loves how I make corned beef (my secret that no longer is: brown sugar) and that’s something I can count on when I’m sick of take-out food and cup noodles.
I didn’t grow up in a cooking family. Ma was a working mom, and while her version of spaghetti and sinigang will always be my all-time faves, we never got to sit down and have that ceremonial cooking experience as I imagine other families have had. It was one of the sacrifices we had to make.
My friends make up for the lack of my childhood experience, though. Our annual Christmas dinner is always headlined by both their classic and exciting creations—there’s just so much love that goes into each dish they serve though it’s embarrassing how I’m no help in the kitchen at all.
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One stand out from Ruth Reichl’s book is her carbonara recipe. In the Philippines, we know carbonara to be this creamy mushroom concoction most probably made with Campbell’s. A quick check with Wikipedia shows this is not the case: all you need are eggs and bacon.
It was Pam who pushed me into trying it. True enough, I looked at other carbonara recipes, but I’m amazed at how Ruth made hers so simple by paring it down to the essential ingredients. (I’m not a cheese-in-a-pasta person so in my case, I only needed four.)
1 pound spaghetti
1/4 to 1/2 pound thickly sliced good quality bacon (I prefer Nueske’s)
2 cloves garlic, peeled
2 large eggs
1/2 cup grated Parmigiano cheese, plus extra for the table
Bring a large pot of salted water to boil. When it is boiling, throw the spaghetti in. Most dried spaghetti takes 9 to 10 minutes to cook, and you can make the sauce in that time.
Cut the bacon crosswise into pieces about 1/2 inch wide. Put them in a skillet and cook for 2 minutes, until fat begins to render. Add the whole cloves of garlic and cook another 5 minutes, until the edges of the bacon just begin to get crisp. Do not overcook; if they get too crisp they won’t meld with the pasta. Meanwhile, break the eggs into the bowl you will serve the pasta in, and beat them with a fork. Add some grindings of pepper.
Remove the garlic from the bacon pan. If it looks like too much to you, discard some, but you’re going to toss the bacon with most of its fat into the pasta. When it is cooked, drain the pasta and immediately throw it into the beaten eggs. Mix thoroughly. The heat of the spaghetti will cook the eggs and turn them into a sauce. Add the bacon with its fat, toss again, add cheese and serve.
I knew it was love when I began to smell the bacon and garlic combination. (I used half a bulb instead of the recommended two cloves.)
To me, there were two crucial parts: making sure the pasta remained al dente; and avoiding egg curdling.
For the first, I kept checking on the noodle by seconds: as in I get a strand, eat it, then get another one. I didn’t stop until I ate a strand that no longer had that hard crunch; I immediately drained the noodles and tossed it with the eggs in under 10 seconds.
To avoid curdling, you need to have the right amount of eggs and keep mixing. (I think the egg coagulates when you have too much relative to your noddles. Since I was only cooking for two, I had no other choice but play it by ear.) If your pasta’s overcooked, your mixture will turn gooey and you don’t want that.