Saturday, May 14, 2016

Can't Call It Carbonara

Last night, I made a delicious new (to me) dish that I can't call carbonara, because it's not, but it's a close cousin. 

Speaking of cousins, I have a few. Some are close in space or heart, like Jan and Sherry, Ted and Linda. Others are more distant, both in space and in heart, but probably just because circumstance has precluded our getting together much to build our friendship. Close cousins are the next best thing to siblings; they know you, your history, and your preferences well, but they are less likely to tease than actual siblings. Cousins are cool.

My very favorite cousin, of course, is My Beloved. I had always admired him, even when the three years of age difference between us as kids seemed an insurmountable barrier to friendship. He was one of the "big kids" for a long time. But, in our college years, that barrier melted away and we grew close even before we fell headlong in love.

Our love affair took a 25 year hiatus, thanks to parental disapproval and genetic fears back in the bad old days before we knew much about such things - all we knew was that the kings and queens of Europe that married their cousins often lived to regret it, or their offspring did. So, with many tears and a three-year mourning period, we separated for the childbearing years.

There is good news in this story, too. We both found spouses to love and admire, and had long marriages to them, although ultimately those relationships faded. My Beloved and his wife raised two terrific daughters, the mothers of our three delightful grandchildren. My first husband and I didn't have children, but we were a good uncle-and-aunt combo.

After those relationships had run their course, odd circumstance brought My Beloved and me back together and the result was as electric as when we were young. The rest is delightful history: when it's right, it's right.

But, I was talking about pasta, not partners, when I got distracted. My Carbonara Cousin did have pasta, egg yolk, and lots of pepper, but it diverged from the carbonara canon when I substituted flat noodles for spaghetti, Swiss chard for peas, and added mushrooms and (gasp!) cream. 

We loved the richness of the egg yolk, cream and bacon paired with the slightly astringent Swiss chard, plus garlic, mushrooms, and Parmesan cheese to give it funkitude. It was a match made in heaven, just like mine with my own sweet cousin.

Can't Call It Carbonara

4 strips thick cut bacon, preferably Nueske's, cooked and coarsely chopped
1 small onion, chopped
1 large clove garlic, crushed
6-8 mushrooms, quartered
Black pepper
1/2 cup half-and-half cream
1 bunch (about 8 leaves) Swiss chard, ribs removed and coarsely chopped
1/2 package of wide, flat noodles
1 egg yolk, whisked with a fork

Parmesan cheese, freshly grated.

In a big pot, heat salted water to boiling and cook the pasta according to pasta directions. While that is proceeding,

In a wide frying pan, cook the bacon over medium heat, but don't crisp it. Removed to paper towels to drain. In the same pan, pour off some of the bacon fat, but keep about 1 Tablespoon.

Sauté the onion and mushrooms in the bacon fat until the onions are translucent (about two or three minutes), add the garlic and cook, stirring for a few extra minutes. Grind in lots of black pepper to taste - be daring! Return the bacon to the pan.

Add the Swiss chard and cook together, stirring occasionally, until it wilts and gives up a little moisture to the pan (mine were red chard, so the juices became pink). Add the half-and-half and mix thoroughly, then remove from the heat. Count to twenty before adding the egg yolk and stir immediately to blend with the pan sauces.  (If you don't wait, you may scramble the yolk instead of lending its silkiness to the sauce).

Drain the pasta and stir it directly into the pan, mixing until it is evenly coated. Serve immediately with Parmesan cheese to grate over the top.