Last night I prepared a delicious Valentine’s Day dinner for MM and I, including Pasta alla Carbonara and Caesar salad (MM provided the dessert and flowers). I have been wanting to make Carbonara pasta for a while now, ever since MM and I tried it at our favorite neighborhood Italian restaurant. It’s a very simple dish to make, as long as you have good quality ingredients.
- 2 TB olive oil
- 4 large eggs (organic, good quality)
- 1/2 cup freshly grated Pecorino Romano
- freshly ground black pepper
- 1/3 to 1/2 lb Pancetta (ask the butcher to cut it about 2/3 of an inch thick)
- 1 lb good quality spaghetti
- 2 tsp salt
Start by heating a large pot of water. Chop the Pancetta into 1/2 inch chunks and heat the olive oil in a large skillet over a medium flame. Once the oil is hot, add the Pancetta and stir occassionally for about 5 minutes until the pork is cooked but not too crispy. Once it’s cooked, remove from heat.
Meanwhile, crack the eggs into a non-reactive bowl (glass, stainless steal, plastic – just not metal). Grate the Pecorino Romano directly into the bowl, and add a significant amount of black pepper. You really want to get a a good peppery flavor into the mixture, as it’s one of the main components of Carbonara. Whisk the mixture to combine everything and set aside.
Once the pot of water is boiling, add 2 tsp of salt and stir in the spaghetti. Taste the spaghetti a couple minutes early to test for an al dente texture. You want to remove it before it is completely cooked because you will co0k it for a little longer with the other ingredients. Right before you drain the spaghetti, reserve 1/4 cup of the pasta water. Add the water to the Pancetta and re-heat over a medium flame for about 30 seconds. Add the pasta to the pan and saute with tongs for about a minute. Remove from heat and wait about 30 seconds. Then add the egg mixture to the pan and toss with tongs to combine. The mixture will cook into the pasta and Pancetta, creating a delicious creamy sauce.
I also made a Caesar salad, using my crouton recipe and halving my mother’s Caesar dressing recipe:
- Chop 2 cloves of garlic in a food processor.
- Add 2 TB of lemon juice, 1 tsp of anchovy paste and freshly ground black pepper, then blend.
- Add 1/2 of a medium-boiled egg and blend.
- With the motor running, add 1/2 cup of olive oil.
- You may also add 1/4 cup of Parmesan cheese, or you can add this to the salad later.
- Right before serving, toss half of the dressing into chopped romaine lettuce with croutons (save the other half of the dressing for later).
We had dinner with some JAQK Cellars 2008 Pearl Handle Chardonnay. The creaminess in the Chardonnay went perfectly with the sauce in the pasta and the saltiness of the Pancetta, and the acidity of the wine complimented the Caesar dressing. We only drank a couple glasses of the wine, because we wanted to save our livers for the real star of the night: V. Sattui Madeira.
I purchased this bottle three years ago on a trip to Napa, the very first time I visited V. Sattui. If you’ve been to V. Sattui, you know it can turn pretty sceney on the weekends. They have a great deli and cheese shop at the winery, and lots of picnic grounds. The tasting room is pretty large and packed with out of towners. It’s a great winery to visit with a large group, especially if you’re having lunch there. Most of their wines are pretty good, but the Madeira is by far the best.
MM loves dessert wine, so together we actually managed to finish the bottle while we watched Midnight in Paris (highly recommended) and feasted on a box of Whitman Chocolates and homemade truffles that my baker-roommate made. The Madeira is a perfect after dinner wine, to drink on it’s own or with something sweet. It’s similar to a port, but a little lighter with flavors of caramel and nuts. My father has referred to it as a “hot tub wine” but I think you can drink it just about anywhere, for any occasion – especially a movie date on the couch with your sweetheart.