Hot-Plate Carbonara, OR, the Last of the Homemade Bacon

A few weeks ago I had an amazing experience–I got to spend an entire week at a rural country house with friends from college, most of whom I hadn’t seen in mumbledy-mumble years (and when I say “mumbledy-mumble,” I mean, “upwards of 19 but not that many, for chrissakes, how old do you think I am?”). It was remarkable how comfortable we all were with one another, almost instantly, even though many of us had lost touch for eons and only re-connected via the magic of Facebook. There were few, if any, awkward moments. At least until it came to the cooking.

Now, I was perfectly happy to eat out, or to subsist on nibblies like hummus and pita chips and potato chips and brie and fruit and olives and vodka, and to be sure we did plenty of that. Nevertheless, it’s hard for me to not cook–especially when I am trying to relax, because I enjoy cooking. This house, however (which shall remain nameless, except to say that it is the former home of an eccentric couple who make even eccentricker pottery and home furnishings), did not have a functional stove; it had an Aga Cooker.

Aga Cookers are like really, really expensive pioneer stoves. You can’t just flip one on to whip up a quick omelet or cup of tea. No, these tanks take hours to heat up, and provide heat to the entire county. So in August, in upstate New York? They’re pretty much just decorative.

The vacay house did, however, have an electric teakettle, an abnormally large toaster oven, a microwave, a gas grill and a double hot plate. As one of the reunion attendees said, it was like overdecorated camping. But you know what? I love camping. I love the make-do, improvisational challenge of camp cooking. So I took my teeny baggie of leftover homemade bacon, and some parsley from my CSA, and some eggs from my chickens, and I made Hot-Plate Carbonara.

Looks pretty damn good for an impromptu dish made in an unfamiliar kitchen, huh?

Hot-Plate Carbonara

1 lb. Thin spaghetti or other pasta
2 eggs
½ cup white wine, leftover champagne or pasta cooking water
½ to 1 cup parmigiano-reggiano cheese, finely shredded or grated
small (or large) amount cooked bacon or pancetta
fresh parsley, chopped
salt and pepper

After a thorough (and sometimes frightening) search of the cupboards in your vacation home, take the largest pot or pan you can scrounge up. It will be a crappy, lightweight pot that looks like it spent the better part of the 1990s in a thrift store. That’s OK. Fill it with water and set it on the bigger burner of the hot plate. Go away and read in the hammock for 45 minutes, or until the water comes to a boil.

Take down the biggest pottery bowl from the top shelf of a cupboard, standing on a rickety painted chair if necessary. Wash the dust out of it. Crack your two eggs into it and beat. Add a generous glug of last night’s champagne, which some non-drinker or thoughtful inebriated person corked up with a twist of aluminum foil and left on the counter. Marvel at the fact that the foil actually kept the champers kind of bubbly. Drink the rest of the leftover champagne, even though it’s warm. Add the parmigiano-reggiano to the egg-champagne mixture and stir to combine. Plunk a couple of wooden spoons or salad tongs into the bowl.

When the pasta is cooked to your liking, drain it in an antique colander that looks like something your grandmother would’ve shucked peas into. Working very quickly, dump the hot pasta into the bowl, then start stirring and tossing with alacrity. Why alacrity? What’s at stake, you ask? A delicious, creamy pasta sauce is at stake. Otherwise you will have a bowl of pasta in scrambled egg sauce, and a long damn wait while the pizza delivery guy finds your rural vacation home and putt-putts up the cobblestone driveway in his 1994 Corolla. Or an opportunity to uncork some more champagne, preferably cold this time around, and begin where you left off, telling stories of escapades past and friends not forgotten.

Oh, P.S.: After tossing the heck out of it, top with the parsley and bacon; season with salt and pepper. Duh, Nick!


Abba :: Sweden as Eggs :: Chickens

Fresh from the chickens' butts!

Much in the same way that I loved Abba even before I moved to Sweden, I loved eggs way before having chickens. I like ’em scrambled, fried, poached, coddled, mollycoddled and made into omelettes, particularly with cheddar cheese and artichoke hearts. In fact, if the house were afire, one of the things I would grab (after the children, the cats, the quote books, my old photos and some of the more expensive skeins of yarn in my stash, plus my Addi Turbo circular needles) would be my All-Clad omelette pan. Oh! and my Le Creuset. Well, actually the first thing to grab should be a wheelbarrow…but I digress.

Another way I love to prepare eggs is in quiches, frittatas and stratas. I free form these. A few eggs, whatever veg I have one hand, some potatoes if I got ’em, a crust if I feel like it. And cheese, of course — ricotta or cottage blended with the egg and veg mixture, then mozzarella or parmesan or cheddar or jack scattered on top. If I have appropriate fresh herbs, in they go too. Salt, pepper. I eyeball the mixture, choose a pan, plop it in. After a trip back in time, thanks to the magic of the Barstow, I get something that looks like this:

Ain't she a beauty?

This is a swiss chard and mushroom quiche, with a cracker-crumb crust. The original recipe calls for panko crumbs to be mixed right in, but since I coincidentally (or maybe not? hmm, fate?) had a box of crackers in which most of the bottom third had already crumbified themselves, thought I would use those instead. Plus, they were “Multigrain & Seed,” which sounds healthy. It’s probably the least healthy, locavorish ingredient in the whole thing, given that the chard was from our CSA and the eggs were from our chickens. But damn, they tasted good!

Chard and Mushroom Quiche

Adapted from the Swiss Chard and Mushroom Squares over at Kalyn’s Kitchen

1 bunch swiss chard, leaves separated from stems
1/2 lb mushrooms, preferably cremini, sliced
1 T olive oil (or a little more, depending on your pan)
1 c. cottage or ricotta cheese
1 cup grated mozzarella cheese
4 eggs, beaten
small amount Archer Farms Multigrain & Seed Snack Crackers®, crumbified
seasoning of your choice. I used onion and garlic powder because I was feeling lazy, salt, pepper and some hot red pepper flakes

Chop both chard stems and leaves, separately. In a medium saute pan, heat olive oil and add the chard stems. Salt. Cook these over medium-high heat, stirring, until they are browned and mostly tender. Add the chard leaves and the mushrooms. Cook, stirring, until the mushrooms are tender, or close to it. Remove from heat and let cool.

Meanwhile, in a large mixing bowl, combine beaten eggs, cottage cheese, and about half the mozzarella. Season. Combine the vegetables with the egg mixture.

Lightly grease a large pie pan or square baking pan. Dust with cracker crumbs. Spoon egg mixture over the crumbs. Bake at 400° for 30-40 minutes or until the top is nicely browned and the whole quiche feels set, not goopy or wobbly when you shake the pan gently. Unless you are absolutely ravenous, let this sit for at least an hour. Trust me. It will taste so much better if it’s not piping hot out of the oven. Plus, being patient lowers your risk of debilitating mouth-roof burns.

"Quiche Piece" sounds like naughty slang, doesn't it? "Imma go get me some of that tasty quiche piece tonight..."


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