When Jamie Oliver’s first TV series, The Naked Chef, started on the BBC a few years ago, he could be seen in the opening credits laughing it off: “It’s not me, it’s the food!”
And indeed, that was a very clever concept. For once you’ve learned to do this you can have two (or indeed three) meals for the price of one!
That was my train of thought the other day as I was preparing my lunch based on one of Nigella’s recipes: Linguini with pancetta and garlic.
It sort of occurred to me that this recipe was a cross between Spaghetti aglio e olio and Spaghetti Carbonara.
You see, Jamie’s idea is to strip the food to the bare essentials and then dress it up from there as it were.
This is not unique to the culinary world, the literary world has been doing it for centuries (remember the seven basic plots?).
When apply it to cooking it makes your world so much better.
For what do you do when you make spaghetti carbonara? You fry the bacon and the garlic together and then add the egg and cream sauce to it.
Omit the sauce and you have Linguini with pancetta and garlic.
Strip it down a bit more and… presto! You have Spaghetti aglio e olio.
Classic Penne Carbonara – adapted from a recipe by Jamie Oliver in Happy Days with the Naked Chef
455g penne pasta
10 rashers pancetta or bacon, chopped
5 organic egg yolks
100 ml double cream
125g freshly ground Parmesan cheese
salt and freshly ground black pepper
Cook the pasta in salted, boiling water.
While it’s cooking, fry the bacon in the oil until it’s crispy. Set to one side.
Whisk the cream with the yolks and half the cheese.
As soon as the pasta is cooked, toss in the bacon and the egg and cream mixture. If you do it straight away, the heat of the pasta will cook the raw egg. The texture should be creamy and silky.
Top it with the rest of the Parmesan cheese and more if you feel like it.
Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper.
Serve with a green salad and a nice bottle of red wine.
Note: I also like to roast the bacon in the oven with a small clove of garlic as in the next recipe. Bear in mind that if you do, the garlic should be very subtle in the recipe as it shouldn’t overwhelm and take over the taste of the cream and eggs.
Linguini with pancetta and garlic (adapted from a recipe from Nigella Bites) by Nigella Lawson
2 rashers of pancetta or good-quality bacon
100g dried linguini or thereabouts
1 crushed garlic clove (leave the skin on, you can always remove it later)
a slug of garlic oil
fresh chopped parsley to garnish (optional) or freshly grated Parmesan
Cook the pasta in some boiling salted water.
Drizzle a pan with the garlic oil and toss the chopped bacon in it. Place in the oven. Take it out when it’s crunchy and crispy. Put it in the bowl where you are going to eat the pasta together with the garlic oil.
As soon as the pasta is cooked, toss it with the bacon.
Serve with lots of chopped fresh parsley or grated Parmesan cheese and a green salad.
Note: If you, like me, have run out of garlic oil, simply drizzle the pan with olive or regular oil and roast a clove of garlic per person in the oven 230°C/450°F/gas 8 for about 30 minutes until soft. Separate the cloves and squeeze out the sweet insides. Fry or roast the bacon or pancetta after you’ve done this, separately, as the bacon will cook much quicker.
That will give the oil the flavour it needs and, by roasting it, the garlic will become much milder and sweeter. When you mix it with the pasta, you can take it out as it will have served its purpose but I left it in. I just love it!!
If you add grated Cheddar instead of the Parmesan, the cheese will melt into the pasta making it almost like a cheat’s version of Carbonara!
Spaghetti aglio e olio adapted from a recipe by Linda McCartney in Linda’s Kitchen
2-3 large cloves of garlic (or more according to taste), crushed
3 tbsp. olive oil
freshly ground black pepper
6oz (175g) spaghetti
freshly grated Parmesan, to taste (optional)
chopped fresh herbs such as parsley, basil and oregano, to taste
Stir the crushed garlic into the olive oil and add masses of freshly ground black pepper.
Cook the spaghetti until ‘al dente’ and drain well. Mix the garlicky oil into the hot spaghetti, add Parmesan and herbs, and toss thoroughly. Serve immediately.
Note: Of course you can make this even simpler just by using the garlic oil explained below instead of the crushed garlic and the oil.
By the way, I also noticed that Jamie has his version, called Pasta Bianca (it comes from Jamie’s Dinners) in case you want to know but basically it is a butter sauce with garlic and Parmesan cheese. My fellow blogger, Anne, made it a while ago. Here’s her version. And here’s mine…
I made it instead with penne instead of tagliatelle because that’s what I had in my pantry (leftover from the carbonara).
Pasta Bianca adapted from a recipe by Jamie Oliver in Jamie’s Dinners
3-5 balls of tagliatelle (depending on how hungry you are)
20 g butter
1-2 cloves of garlic
1 large handful shredded Parmesan
Boil water for the pasta with salt and a splash of oil. Grate your Parmesan. Grate your garlic (I chopped it finely)
Melt the butter in a saucepan and add the garlic. Fry gently for a couple of minutes. When the pasta is done, drain it over a bowl – you need some pasta water for the sauce to come together. When just doing this for one person – add the pasta directly into the saucepan with the garlic butter, also add the Parmesan and a few tablespoons of pasta water. Toss the pasta and move it around until everything blends into a creamy sauce. You might need some more pasta water. Pour into a bowl, add some white peper and some more Parmesan. Tuck in!
How much more basic can you get than that? Even if you have absolutely nothing in your fridge but do have a busy schedule with harldly any time to shop (I’ve been there), you can always rustle up this wonderful dish.
And last but not least, here comes the garlic oil (from the truly wonderful Nigella Express, I cannot recommend it enough but more of that in later posts).
For the garlic oil:
Chop up 8 garlic cloves and add to ½ litre of regular olive oil, then let it all steep for 48 hours before straining into a bottle (see the pretty little ones I bought from IKEA?).
On a final note, I know that I am possibly stating the obvious but let’s suppose for a moment that not everybody who reads food blogs is a foodie-obsessed freak like me:
Pasta Carbonara belongs to the elite dishes that, like the souffle, absolutely CANNOT wait. Normally it doesn’t really matter because you can easily have all the ingredients (minus the pasta) done a bit in advance. But if, for one of those things should happen that your carbonara gets a bit colder (like it happens when you’re trying to get nice photos for your blog!), resign yourself to your fate and eat it as it is. But never, ever, for the love of God, re-heat it in the microwave as I was tempted, for a micro-nano-second, to do. Unless you want to eat scrambled eggs, that is…