Buttermilk Pasta Carbonara

I like to play with classic recipes to see what I can, and what I cannot, get away with. I like to push the culinary envelope, if you like. Sometimes it works out really well, and sometimes it fails spectacularly and the husband and I have something to laugh about for weeks – sometimes years.

I often make pasta carbonara for my husband because, frankly, he’s in love with this dish. He can’t get enough. I think he’s more than addicted to it. So, sometimes I change it up so he has some variety. He indulges me. He will try anything I put in front of him as long as it resembles and smells like traditional pasta carbonara in the end.

One part of this classic dish I like to mess with a lot is the béchamel sauce. I like to try different sources of dairy that I have on hand from time to time. It may be lactose-free or skim milk, 5% or 10% table cream, 18-35% table cream or whipped cream (very decadent, I know), plain almond milk, or even liquified coffee creamer (I have a post about this I’m still working the kinks out of – hang tight for that one).

Tonight, I tried (simple because I had it in the fridge and it needed to be used up) buttermilk. I wasn’t too nervous about this ingredient experiment because I already had a good idea of how the buttermilk would react with the roux, so I poured it into the pot and stirred like mad like I didn’t have a care in the world. And you know what? It worked out beautifully. I may never use another dairy ingredient but buttermilk in my pasta carbonara again.

The reason? Buttermilk lends a very stable thickness to a béchamel when mixed with the roux and cheese that my egg yolks agreed with. I haven’t really thought out the science of it all yet, but I can report what I saw and tasted, and it looked as it should, and tasted better than cream in the end. It was a perfect storm of dairy. Honestly, I couldn’t have planned this any better. Try it yourself.

Pastarella's Buttermilk Pasta Carbonara

Pastarella's Buttermilk Pasta Carbonara

Buttermilk Pasta Carbonara:
3/4 C Pasta noodles per person being fed (shape and size – your choice)
1 Tbsp Salt (for the pot)
4 Egg yolks (sit aside in a small bowl)
4-6 Pancetta slices (about 1/8″ thick, cut into small cubes)
2 Tbsp Butter (unsalted to keep sodium low)
1 C Yellow Onion (thinly sliced, and diced if you like or leave as 1″ long strands)
2 Tbsp Flour (I used all purpose)
2 C Buttermilk
1 C Parmesan cheese (finely grated so it melts fast) (I used mozzarella instead)
2 Tbsp Parsley (1 Tbsp if using dried herb instead)

Pasta & Pancetta: Start the pasta water in a large pot. When it comes to boil, add the salt, give it a quick stir, then add the pasta to cook. Meanwhile, start the pancetta in a bare small to medium non-stick pan on a lower than medium heat to cook and render off its fat.

Béchamel Sauce: In a medium to large-ish sauce pot, melt your butter and add your onions. Cook them till they become soft and translucent. Add the flour and stir constantly so it doesn’t burn, but rather cooks to a lovely amber colour. When it hits that target colour, add your buttermilk and stir like mad for about 3 mins so it all combines into a thick, soft cream mixture. Take the sauce pot off the burner and add your cheese. Stir till it melts. It won’t take long since the cream will be piping hot. Scoop a few tablespoons of the hot béchamel sauce into the bowl with the egg yolks and stir quickly so the yolks don’t cook to a scrambled consistency as they temper. Now you’re ready to add the silky egg yolks to the rest of the sauce in the sauce pot. Set this aside to tend to the pancetta and pasta.

When the pasta is al dente, strain it out from the pot to cool down a bit. Remove the pancetta from the pan and drain on some paper towel. Pour the béchamel over pasta in a serving bowl and toss to coat the noodles. Plate the pasta carbonara, topping each serving with parsley, freshly cracked black pepper and pancetta.

Yields roughly 6 servings.

Buon appetito! (My husband had two servings. I think that means he really liked it.)

Note: The béchamel (by way of the buttermilk and cheese), pancetta and pasta (by way of the salted water) will all be plenty salty, so there should be no need to add more to this dish as you cook or plate it.

Chicken Penne Fra Diavolo

This is a dish I made up as I went along last night after getting home from the grocery store, starving, and cranky. It’s an East Side Mario wannabe dish. Of course the pastavore I married loved it.

Fra diavolo is loosely translated as “brother devil,” or devilish brother pasta, and it’s not a traditional Italy manner of serving pasta dishes. It’s something American-Italians made up from what I gather.

Chicken Penne Fra Diavolo

Chicken Penne Fra Diavolo

It’s very easy to assemble and plate. It will take you less time to make if you already have pre-grilled chicken you can slice up and saute in the skillet at the half way point. The pasta cooks in a large pot as you sautee your vegetables in a bit of oil along with the red pepper flakes (this tends to deepen the heat of the flakes and spice up the veg as they soften) in a large saute pan. In a small saucepan you will heat up your sauce, and in your oven or on your BBQ or in a contact griller (think George Forman here), you will grill up your meat. All at the same time.

The stove or griller to heat up should take 6-20 minutes (my oven heats up to 350 degrees in 6 minutes since it’s on the newer side), and the chicken should take 20 minutes to cook (less if you pillard or butterfly the breasts), plus another 10 minutes to rest. The pasta water will take five minutes to boil, and another 8 minutes to cook the penne to almost al dente (stop cooking it just beforehand so you can finish it in the saute pan with the sauce and veg). The vegetables should take 5 minutes to chop up (you will use this time to heat the pan and then add the oil to heat on alone), and another 10 minutes to soften in the pan, so the last item you’ll get started will be the jarred pasta sauce since you’re simply heating it up in a sauce pot.

2C dry Penne noodles
6C heavily Salted boiling water
2 large seasoned Chicken Breasts, covered in bbq sauce (optional)
1 1/2C Pasta Sauce of your choice (I used a jar sauce since I was pressed for time)
4C large cuts of Red & Orange Peppers and Broccoli florets
Oil (for the pan, so of your choosing – I used light olive oil)
A pinch of Red Pepper Flakes (this is completely to taste, so start off small if you’re unsure)
1 -2 Green Onions (finely chop the green stems only, reserve the whites for future pasta sauce making if you like)

This will make enough to serve 4 hungry people comfortably.

In a pre-heated non-stick pan, heat 2 tbsp of oil before adding the red & orange peppers and broccoli along with the pepper flakes. Sautee till the vegetables soften, making sure nothing burns. The vegetables tend to soak up much of the oil, so a great trick I use is to add a few small spoonfuls of the starchy pasta water to the saute pan as I go along. The water will act as a barrier between the food and the pan so nothing gets scorched, and will help thicken the pasta sauce you’ll be adding to the pan later on.

In a small saucepan, pour your pasta sauce in and add a few spoonfuls of pasta water to help loosen it up so you can stir it easily. Cover and let that heat up. Don’t let it burn or boil too long. Once it starts boiling, reduce the heat and let it sit covered till you’re ready to add it to the saute pan.

When the chicken is done cooking, remove it from the heat and wrap or cover it in tin foil for ten minutes to rest before taking a temperature reading. If its internal temperature has reached 77 C (165 F) , the chicken is ready to be sliced up. Tent the slices with the same foil till you’re ready for plating while tending to the other food.

About 1-2 minutes before the penne hits the al dente stage, scoop it out of the pot and put it into the saute pan and add the pasta sauce over that. Turn up your heat a smidge as you stir to coat everything in the sauce. Keep the food moving by stirring and shaking the pan occasionally as you chop up the green onions. When the mixture is heated through completely, heap a few scoopfuls into each pasta bowl and top with the chicken and green onions. Serve immediately with cold water or beer or soda.

Toppings: Can be fresh cracked black pepper (a smidge – you will already have spicy veg and flakes in the dish) and fresh shavings of parmesan or any other cheese of you choosing, and a small sprinkling of breadcrumbs to compliment the sting of the red pepper flakes.


10 Pasta Dishes Adam Wants to Eat Right Now

If you don’t follow Adam from Bloghungry, you’re missing out. He has the best food cravings! This is today’s entry, 10 Pasta Dishes I Want To Eat Right Now. It’s but one in a recent strings of posts where he features 10 things he wants to eat at that moment, so be sure to hit up his archives and his twitter feed (@BlogHungry) for the rest.

Here’s the one I also want to eat right now:

Orecchiette with Sausage and Broccoli Pesto by http://www.livelovepasta.com

Orecchiette with Sausage and Broccoli Pesto - Pic & recipe by http://www.livelovepasta.com

Sesame Noodles

Sesame Noodles With Pork

Sesame Noodles With Pork

I made this in honour of Chinese New Year. It’s the Pioneer Woman’s Sesame Noodles with a few additions of my own. Of course.

I diced up the holy trinity of carrots, celery and onions to start it all off. I threw the carrots and celery plus half of my green onions (mostly the white portions rather than the green stalks) into a bowl, topped that with Ree’s sesame sauce and a 1/4 cup of the starchy pasta water. I let it all rest on the counter so the hot water would thin out the sauce and heat the diced vegetables through. in the meantime, I pan fried some rather thick and juicy pork chops that I seasoned very simply with S&P and olive oil. When they finished cooking and had time to rest covered for 10 minutes, they were sliced up into small chunks and set into the bowl with the sauce and vegetables.

I cooked up a batch of regular spaghetti noodles because they were the longest noodles I had in the house, and because you should only use your longest noodle during the Lunar Festival meals to ensure your chances of great luck in 2012. The difference between regular pasta noodles and Asian noodles can vary wildly to not much at all, depending upon what ingredients went into producing them in the first place. Since this noodle meal calls for a rather chewy noodle to start with, I agree with Ree that spaghetti is a fine sub out in a pinch over something more traditional like the udon noodle.

The steaming hot noodles were then added to the bowl and tossed well so everything was coated by the sauce and piping hot. I plated generous heaps of the noodle mixture into bowls and topped each one with the remaining green onions before serving with chopsticks, forks and a spoon (for me who still struggles with a painful hand issue).

This noodle dish got the highest praises from my husband – which is unpublishable (sorry), but rest assured, he seriously loved the tastes and textures. I made a lot so that meant leftovers for me at work today. (Squee!) I scarfed it. I’m not even going to try lying to you about this. I try not to scarf food, but I couldn’t – and wouldn’t – help myself. It was *that* amazing.

Give it a go!