Tuesday, June 25, 2013

My Decadent Birthday Menu (Including the Recipe for Perfect Spaghetti Carbonara!)

Yesterday was my birthday, and, as usual, the celebration was rather food-centric.  I’m afraid I’m one of those obnoxious people who insists on wrapping a whole weekend around my birthday (regardless what day it is), simply so I have a ready excuse to eat fabulously and indulgently for as long as possible.  So here are some of the items:

~As a surprise, Steve ordered pastrami and corned beef from Katz’s Deli. (To be honest, I think this might have been more for him than for me.)

~Steve excels at making breakfast, so he often makes us nice weekend breakfasts anyway, but these two were especially fabulous as Saturday featured some Biscuitville biscuits we’d brought back from our recent trip south (they keep nicely in the freezer) and North Carolina sausage.  Sunday was my favorite:  Mexican eggs!  This breakfast also featured a wonderful tequila drink, the Kilted Pistolero.

~On my actual birthday, we stayed in Alexandria and went to The Majestic and had an incredible meal: plump onion rings, Caesar salad made tableside, scallops on a saucy and springy bed of mushrooms and artichokes for me, and a deboned chicken roulade stuffed with sausage on morels for Steve.  Coconut layer cake for him and cherry/strawberry tart for me. And I loved the drink I had from the tiki menu: Lani-Honi, made with Benedictine, rum, and lemon juice.   (Mine was served up, not over ice.)

~And, perhaps most indulgent of all, this is the dish I make for myself once a year, for my birthday.  It’s so rich and so perfect, like silk sliding around your mouth.  The recipe is from Cook’s Illustrated, and I’ve found their recipes to be very fussy, but very reliable.  If you follow their recipes precisely, the results are 99% worth the trouble. And if you think you don’t like spaghetti carbonara, I would humbly suggest that you’ve never had a good version.  It’s been my experience that most restaurants mess it up horribly.  So here it is, in all its bacon fat-raw egg-cheesy-winey-10,000 calorie danger and glory!  And special thanks to Steve, for enduring all the eating and helping me have a fabulous birthday weekend…next year, the actual day is on Tuesday, so I believe that will allow for a couple more meals….

Spaghetti alla Carbonara

¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
½ pound bacon (6-8 slices), slices halved length-wise, then cut crosswise into ¼ inch pieces [A little larger is okay]
½ cup dry white wine
3 large eggs
¾ cup finely grated Parmesan (about 2 oz)
¼ cup finely grated Pecorino Romana (about ¾ oz)
3 small garlic cloves, pressed through garlic press or minced to paste
1 pound spaghetti
Freshly ground pepper

1.  Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position, set large heatproof serving bowl on rack, and heat oven to 200 degrees.  Bring 4 quarts of water to rolling boil in large Dutch oven or stockpot.

2.  While water is heating, heat oil in large skillet over medium heat until shimmering, but not smoking. Add bacon and cook, stirring occasionally, until lightly browned and crisp, about 8 minutes.  Add wine and simmer until alcohol aroma has cooked off and wine is slightly reduced, 6-8 minutes. Remove from heat and cover to keep warm.  Beat eggs, cheeses, and garlic together with fork in small bowl; set aside. [It’s actually helpful if you do this ahead of time and let the eggs rest at room temperature for a short while.]

3.  When water comes to boil, add pasta and 1 tablespoon table salt; stir to separate pasta.  Cook until al dente; reserve 1/3 cup pasta cooking water and drain pasta for about 5 seconds, leaving pasta slightly wet. Transfer drained pasta to warm serving bowl; if pasta is dry, add some reserved cooking water and toss to moisten.  [I rarely need to do this.]  Immediately pour egg mixture over hot pasta, sprinkle with 1 teaspoon sea salt flakes or ¾ teaspoon table salt; toss well to combine.  Pour bacon mixture over pasta, season generously with black pepper and toss well to combine. Serve immediately.

4-6 servings. 

Note:  This is not the kind of recipe you can halve or double, so make this amount exactly. It’s best this first day, but leftovers are still good for lunch: let them sit at room temperature or heat VERY briefly in the microwave. You don’t want to heat even close to “hot.”


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