April Link Love

I think it is finally safe to say that spring has arrived in Pittsburgh.  I’ll say it again, FINALLY! The sun’s been shining, we’ve been getting some April showers, and soon the seasonal Farmers at the Firehouse market will be back up and running in the Strip.  I look forward to creating some seasonal recipes using unusual veggies, as well as some classic spring ingredients.  Mmm!  In the meantime, this month’s links cover craft beer, Pittsburgh sports, tips for grocery shopping, and some positive things happening around the city.

  • Pittsburgh Craft Beer Week kicks off tomorrow and continues through the 27th –  events have been selling out fast.  You’ll find me sampling some of the “Collaboration Beers” at The Beerhive this weekend!
  • Speaking of craft beer, PNC Park gets Food Republic’s vote for best craft selection at a ball park.
  • In other Pittsburgh sports, I thoroughly enjoyed this article about why Jarome Iginla chose the Penguins.  
  • On a completely unrelated note, I really love grocery shopping.  It’s right up there with shoe shopping.  The Kitchn recently posted five simple tips for smarter grocery shopping.
  • And the New York Times’ Dining and Wine section featured this article explaining the advantages of buying a whole chicken instead of the pre-packaged parts.  (I always buy chicken whole and use the leftover bones to make my own stock.)  I’ll try to feature some posts soon on how I use the different parts…
  • Fellow local food blogger Leah Lizarondo Shannon recently wrote about Pittsburgh’s Food Revolution on Jamie Oliver’s website.  The public and private sectors are working together to create community gardens, improve food at local schools, and spread awareness about health and nutrition.  You can donate money towards their cause through their Facebook page.  (They are well on their way to reaching their goal, let’s help them along!)
  • After a family left Pittsburgh because they didn’t feel welcome, Vibrant Pittsburgh and the World Affairs Council of Pittsburgh decided to get local families to host dinners for newcomers.  The organizers hoped to find 10 to 15 willing hosts; but because Pittsburgh is such an awesome city, they ended up with 50 volunteers, plus 30 more who wanted to do it at a later date!  I’ve found the new people I’ve met since returning to Pittsburgh to be extremely welcoming and am very happy to be part of such a friendly community.  Way to go, Pittsburgh!
  • The Beauty Shoppe recently published a piece describing Banjo Night at the Elks Lodge on Pittsburgh’s North Side, and what its popularity reveals about Pittsburgh’s changing demographics.  Just as Pittsburgh is drawing younger residents because of the many opportunities here, so, too, is Banjo Night. I look forward to checking out this phenomenon some Wednesday night in the near future.
  • Over at the National Aviary on the North Side, a baby owl is born.  She’s not the cutest baby animal I’ve ever seen, but who doesn’t go through an awkward phase at some point during their youth?
  • In other news for ornithologists , there are currently three sets of bald eagles that have nested in areas around Pittsburgh.  It’s being considered environmental milestone — nature’s confirmation that the Pittsburgh region had cleaned up its act.
  • And the Pittsburgh Zoo and PPG Aquarium welcome a baby gorilla AND a baby tiger as well as a red panda (which unlike the baby owl is seriously adorable!)

red panda

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Spanish-Style Baked Eggs in Tomato Sauce

These baked eggs – also known as Huevos a la Flamenca – are a traditional Spanish dish, with many versions, depending on the region. This recipe uses chorizo from Parma Sausage, homemade tomato sauce, Spanish smoked paprika, and young Manchego cheese from PennMac.  I used my most-favorite-ever fresh eggs from The Farmer’s Wife – you can find her at the Farmers@Firehouse beginning Saturday May 11th.  Get there early to buy them – they’re so amazing that they sell out fast most mornings!  I brought my Spanish paprika with me from New Jersey, but you could definitely find some at Penzey’s – it’s also sometimes called pimentón.  This dish is traditionally made and served in individual clay pots called cazuelas, but you could also prepare them in little casserole dishes or ramekins.

This dish makes an amazing weekend brunch, but it’s satisfying enough that it could also be enjoyed for lunch or dinner as well.  I like baked eggs served with fresh Mancini’s bread.

The recipe below serves two.

Spanish-Style Baked Eggs in Tomato Sauce Ingredients

Ingredients
1/2 cup Spanish chorizo, diced
1/2 teaspoon Spanish paprika
2 cups homemade tomato sauce
4 eggs
1/4 cup young Manchego cheese, grated

Diced Chorizo

Mancini Bread

1.  Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

2.  Heat the olive oil in a saucepan over medium heat.  Add the chorizo and paprika, cook until brown.

3.  Add the tomato sauce.  Reduce the heat and simmer for 15-20 minutes.

Spanish-Style Baked Eggs: Tomato Sauce

4.  Coat the cazuelas with a bit of olive oil.  Fill each dish about halfway with the tomato sauce.  Place two eggs into each dish, sprinkle with a little salt and pepper, and top with the grated cheese.  (Tip: I pre-crack my eggs into small bowls to make sure not to get any small pieces of shell into my final dish.)

Four Eggs

Spanish-Style Baked Eggs in Tomato Sauce (Prep)

5.  Place the cazuelas into the oven and bake until the whites are firm and the yolks are still soft and runny, about 10 minutes.  The cooking time may vary depending on your oven, so check them at around 8 minutes.  If they’re not done at 10 minutes, leave them in a little longer, but check frequently to make sure they don’t overcook!

6.  Carefully remove the cazuelas from the oven.  Sprinkle with some freshly chopped parsley or chives if you like.  Place onto cool plates or placemats to avoid damaging your table.  Serve with fresh bread.

Spanish-Style Baked Eggs in Tomato Sauce

Spanish-Style Baked Eggs in Tomato Sauce

Spanish-Style Baked Eggs in Tomato Sauce

Click here to download a printable PDF of this recipe.

Homemade Tomato Sauce


Homemade Tomato Sauce

Of course there are places in the Strip where you can buy wonderful, quality tomato sauces – but I like the ability to customize my own sauce, and it’s less expensive than buying specialty sauces from the store.  Also, I know that by making my own sauce, it won’t have any of the preservatives or other strange ingredients that sometimes make their way into the usual grocery-store brands.

When I saw the display of enormous canned goods in Sunseri’s, I could not help but buy a big can of tomatoes to make a very large batch of tomato sauce.  This tomato sauce is extremely easy to make and uses basic ingredients you could find anywhere – you can get the fresh produce and herbs for this recipe at Marty’sStan’s, or Wholey’s, – I was shopping early in the day so I purchased all of my fresh ingredients and PennMac.  When shopping for canned tomatoes, I like to look at the ingredients on the label to find one that contains only tomatoes, or maybe just tomatoes and salt.

It’s impossible for me and my husband to eat all of this sauce before it goes bad, so I like to divide it up into jars or small containers that I can keep in the freezer and pull out to defrost whenever I need them.  If you have the equipment, you could also can it.  I use this sauce in pasta dishes, soups, on pizza – it’s so versatile!

Tomato Sauce Ingredients

Ingredients
1 very large (6 lb 9 oz) canned crushed tomatoes
2 large onions, chopped
2 carrots, finely shredded
1 stalk celery, chopped
8 cloves of garlic
1 bunch fresh thyme, stems removed
1 bunch fresh parsley, chopped
1/4 cup olive oil
Salt
Freshly ground black pepper

Canned Tomato

Onion

Shredded Carrot

Sliced Garlic

Thyme

Chopped Parsley

1.  In a large pot, heat the olive oil over medium heat.  Add the onion, celery and garlic, and season with a little salt and pepper.  (Be sparing in your use of salt if your canned tomatoes already contain salt.) Cook until they’re soft and just starting to brown.  Add the carrot and herbs, cook until the carrot is soft and starting to brown.

Homemade Tomato Sauce

2.  Stir in the tomatoes and bring to a boil.  Reduce the heat to a simmer for one hour.

Homemade Tomato Sauce

3.  Taste the sauce, and add a bit more salt or pepper if you like.  If you prefer a chunkier sauce, go ahead and divide the sauce into small containers to freeze.  I prefer a slightly smoother sauce, so I like to allow the sauce to cool in the refrigerator before pureeing in a blender.  Do this in batches so as not to overfill the blender.  Then place the pureed sauce into small containers for freezing.

Homemade Tomato Sauce

Feel free to use this recipe as a basis for your own personalized sauce – for example you could use different herbs, add a little bell pepper, or maybe add some red pepper flakes for a little extra kick.  🙂

Wine Spritzers – Two Ways

White Wine Spritzer with Lemon Lime and Mint 1

I mentioned in Friday’s post that I was going to create some “Strip District” wine spritzers this weekend. I wanted to test out a few variations, and Saturday was such a lovely day to stroll the Strip, so I took my time browsing around for fun ingredients to try. I made my purchases from many Strip District vendors: wine from the Strip’s family-owned R Wine Cellar, Italian sodas from Penn Mac, strawberries from Stan’s Produce (at an amazing price), lemongrass and mint from Lotus Food, citrus and sparkling water from Marty’s Market. After testing out about five or six different combinations, I decided to share my two favorites with you here.

R Wine Cellar

Wine Spritzer Basics

Wine Spritzer Variations

I’m no mixologist, so I can tell you that wine spritzers are incredibly easy to make: a basic version is a mix of wine and sparkling water served with ice. You can adjust the proportions to whatever you think tastes best and gives the right amount of fizz. Because the wine is diluted, they’re perfect for an afternoon spent out in the sun, or over the course of a long summer barbecue. The first recipe you’ll see below is a sangria-inspired red-wine spritzer, mixing in a bit of fresh-squeezed blood orange and grapefruit juice. The second is a very bright and refreshing white-wine spritzer made with lemon soda instead of sparkling water, and garnished with lemon and lime slices with sprigs of mint.

The proportions below make one rather-large or two more-modest spritzers. These could easily be scaled up and made in a pitcher for a large crowd… which I think I might do for my upcoming book club get-together in May! 🙂

Red Wine Spritzer with Blood Orange & Grapefruit
1/3 cup Zinfandel (or other red wine), chilled
2/3 cup sparkling water, chilled
2 tablespoons red grapefruit juice
2 tablespoons blood orange* juice
Garnish of grapefruit and blood orange slices
Ice

*Blood oranges can be tricky to find – and therefore can be a little pricey. It was a pleasant surprise to find them at Marty’s, so I couldn’t resist including them in this spritzer. If you can’t find blood oranges or aren’t up for splurging on them, go ahead and substitute regular orange juice.

Blood Orange and Grapefruit 1

Blood Orange and Grapefruit 2

Red Wine Spritzer with Blood Orange and Grapefruit

White Wine Spritzer with Lemon, Lime & Mint
1/2 cup Pinot Grigio (or other white wine), chilled
1/2 cup lemon soda, chilled
Garnish of lemon and lime slices with mint
Ice

Lemon and Lime

White Wine Spritzer with Lemon Lime and Mint 2

For either spritzer, combine all ingredients in a cocktail shaker and give it a good shake. Alternatively, if you do not have a cocktail shaker, just put all the ingredients in a large enough glass or cup that you have enough room to give everything a good stir without splashing out of the glass. Once everything is stirred, transfer to a wine glass, or tall drinking glass. Serve immediately so it doesn’t lose its fizz.

Please feel free to use these recipes as inspiration to come up with your own signature-spritzer. Other great ingredients to try might be raspberries, peaches, basil, or cucumber. What is your favorite thing to drink when spending the day outdoors?

Friday Link Love

I’m thrilled to hear that it’s finally going to feel like spring in the ‘burgh this weekend.  I’m looking forward to soaking up some sun while I stroll through the Strip on Saturday.  🙂  Once a month, I thought it would be fun to share some links to interesting things I’ve found around the web.  This month, I’m featuring celebrities in the kitchen, all things spring, and – of course – Pittsburgh.

  • Part of the purpose for this blog is to encourage people to support local businesses.  In honor of “National Mom & Pop Business Owners Day,” here are ten reasons to buy local.
  • It seems everyone’s getting excited about food and cooking.  Justin Timberlake is putting an apron over his suit and tie – rumor has it he’s obsessed with baking.
  • Big Bird joins Michelle Obama in the White House Kitchen as part of her “Let’s Move” campaign.  This photo makes me smile.
  • I don’t have a spring cleaning routine, but I couldn’t help but be a bit inspired by this cute video highlighting six ways to ‘Rent-ovate’ your kitchen.
  • Very appropriate for Easter:  The seven health benefits of chocolate.  (Seriously.)
  • Nothing says warm weather quite like “barbecue.”  Texas Monthly hires architect-turned-BBQ-blogger Daniel Vaughn to be its first barbecue editor, a position that exists at no other newspaper in America.  This may very well be my dream job.
  • Many people think of wine spritzers as the stuff women drank at summer barbecues in the ’70s and ’80s.  But according to the New York Times, they’re back in vogue.  I’m motivated to make a Strip-District version this weekend!
  • The promise of spring has me itching to get out and about.  Pop City Media published an article featuring date night ideas in Pittsburgh.  I’m a bit of a science geek, so I’d like to check out the Carnegie Science Center’s Observatory Skywatch.
  • Pittsburgh has been getting a lot of positive press lately.  I share so much of it on Facebook and Twitter that my family jokes I should be named “Ambassador of Pittsburgh.”  The latest good news: Pittsburgh has been included in Forbes Magazine’s List of the Top 15 U.S. Cities’ Emerging Downtowns.
  • And this!  It’s almost baseball season again and I love going to games at PNC Park.  Not to my surprise, TripAdvisor recently named PNC Park “Best Ballpark in America”

Happy Friday!

bunny tongue

Summer Roll Salad with Spicy Peanut Dressing

17 Summer Roll Salad

I greatly enjoy eating all types of Asian cuisine:  stir fry, Thai curries, Vietnamese pho, Korean BBQ, soupy dumplings, sushi, the list goes on…  However, I’ve never really attempted to make any Asian dishes myself.  The delicious and complex flavor combinations often seem to use techniques and ingredients I’m not familiar with.  Part of this Strip District cooking adventure was to challenge myself to experiment more with my cooking.  I didn’t want to take on something too complicated for my first attempt at Asian cuisine, so I tried to keep it simple.  An iconic Strip District treat is Andy’s sushi from Wholey’s, and one of my favorite things to order from Andy are his summer rolls.  Not quite ready to take on fussy rice-paper wrappers, I came up with the idea to turn Andy’s summer roll into a salad.  Below is my take – very similar flavors, but also very easy for even a beginner to execute.  I used frozen shrimp from Wholey’s – I like to buy the big bags of wild caught U.S. shrimp that are right across from Andy’s sushi bar.  I picked up the Asian ingredients and vegetables from Lotus Foods – this is a fantastic place to check out if you haven’t been there before:  all kinds of specialty Asian sauces and spices, as well as a very large selection of fresh produce, fresh tofu, and lots of frozen fish and seafood.  I will definitely be making more trips there, especially since they stay open til 6pm on weeknights, which is much later than most of the other shops in the Strip.

The recipe below serves 2-3.

02 Summer Roll Salad Ingredients

Ingredients
1 cup vermicelli rice noodles
8-10 shrimp, peeled and deveined
1 carrot, peeled and cut into thin matchsticks
1 cucumber, cut into thin matchsticks
1 small jicama* (or 1/2 of a larger jicama), peeled and cut into thin matchsticks 1 celery stalk, thinly sliced
A handful of bean sprouts
1 scallion (green onion), thinly sliced
A couple sprigs of fresh basil, chiffonade
A few lime wedges

3 tablespoons rice vinegar
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons peanut butter
1 tablespoon fish sauce
1 tablespoon honey
2 teaspoons sriracha
1 teaspoon finely grated ginger

*Jicama is a round, starchy root vegetable that tastes like a cross between a potato and an apple.  It’s popular in Mexican and Asian cuisine.  It can be eaten raw or cooked.  In raw form it is very crispy and doesn’t discolor.  When cooked, it’s similar to a water chestnut.  

12 Summer Roll Salad Veggies

15 Salad Garnish

1.  Whisk together the rice vinegar, soy sauce, peanut butter, fish sauce, honey, ginger and sriracha to make the dressing.  You may want to start with just one teaspoon of sriracha and add more to taste.  Sriracha is a combination of ground chiles and garlic and can be pretty spicy.  If your dressing is a little too thick, add a bit of water.  Set this in the refrigerator while you prepare the rest of the ingredients.

04 Spicy Peanut Dressing

08 Spicy Peanut Dressing

10 Spicy Peanut Dressing

2.  Cook the vermicelli noodles in boiling water for 2-3 minutes.  Remove and wash with very cold water for 1 minute.  Drain them, and toss them in some sesame oil to keep them from sticking together.  Cover and set these in the refrigerator.

3.  Warm a bit of olive oil in a pan over medium heat.  Season the shrimp with a bit of salt and pepper, add them to the pan, and cook until pink, about 4-5 minutes.  Remove them from the heat and set aside.

11 Shrimp

4.  Toss the cool noodles with the carrot, cucumber, jicama, celery and bean sprouts.  Add a bit more oil if the noodles are too sticky.

13 Summer Roll Salad

5.  Arrange the noodles and vegetables on a plate.  Place the cooked shrimp on top, drizzle with the spicy peanut dressing.  Garnish with the basil and scallion.  Serve with fresh lime wedges.

18 Summer Roll Salad

20 Summer Roll Salad

Click here to download a printable PDF of this recipe.

Beer Braised Short Ribs over Celery Root Purée

Short Ribs Braised in Porter Ale


Whenever faced with a chilly, grey weekend like the one we just had in Pittsburgh, I like to cook something warm and hearty. These short ribs, braised low and slow with aromatic vegetables and porter ale, were just the ticket. This week’s short ribs are from Rose Ridge Farm via the Laptop Butchershop. If you’re not familiar, it’s an interesting concept. You sign up to be on an email-list, then four times a year you receive an email announcing the pick-up date, location and the participating vendor product/price lists. You send your order(s) to each vendor, and then pay whenever you pick up. Pick up is on Saturdays at the Farmers@Firehouse (next to Bar Marco). Because it only happens four times a year, I use it as an opportunity to stock my freezer with carefully-raised and delicious local meats. The vegetables for this recipe – onion, carrot, celery root, horseradish and herbs – were all purchased at Stan’s Produce Market. And the beer I chose for this recipe was Great Lakes Edmund Fitzgerald Porter from my favorite neighborhood bar, The Beerhive. I like porter ale in this recipe, but you can try a different dark and flavorful beer of your choice. I also took a slight shortcut and used frozen beef stock from Marty’s Market instead of making my own.

Celery root is a bit of a bizarre-looking vegetable.  I like to puree it as a substitute to mashed potatoes.  It has a mild celery-flavor that adds a little bit more interest that regular potatoes, but feel free to substitute mashed potatoes if you like.  There is a pretty handy video on how to trim and peel a celery root here.

Strip District Shopping

I adapted this recipe slightly from Molly Stevens’ recipe in All About Braising.

The recipe below serves two.

For the braise:
2 bone-in short ribs (“English” or “Franken” style so long as they’re cut thick)
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 large onion, chopped into 1/2″ pieces
1 carrot, peeled and chopped into 1/2″ pieces
1 1/2 cups porter ale, or more if needed
3/4 cup low-sodium stock (beef, veal, chicken or vegetable)
1 sprig of fresh rosemary
1 large or 2 small bay leaves
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

For the glaze:
3 tablespoons pure maple syrup
1 sprig of fresh rosemary
1 tablespoon freshly grated horseradish

For the celery root purée:
1 large celery root, peeled and chopped into 1/2″ cubes
1 small potato, peeled and chopped into 1/2″ cubes
1/2 cup milk
2 tablespoons butter
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Celery Root Puree

1. If necessary, trim any large pieces of excess fat from the short ribs, but don’t remove any of the tough-looking pieces that hold the meat together.

2. If you’ve planned ahead and have the time, do this step 24 hours before you plan to cook the ribs. Sprinkle the short ribs all over with salt and pepper. Cover with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator. If you don’t have the time, just be sure to season them before you place them in the pan to brown.

3. Preheat the oven to 300 degrees. Pat the ribs dry using a paper towel, being careful not to remove the seasoning.

4. Pour the olive oil into a Dutch oven or other heavy pot. If you’re doing a larger batch, add only as many ribs as will fit without touching, and brown them on all sides until dark brown. Be careful not to overcrowd the pot. Transfer the browned ribs to a platter, and continue for the rest of your batch.

Brown Ribs

5. Remove all but about a tablespoon of fat from the pot. Remove any charred black bits from the bottom of the pot, being careful not to remove the flavorful caramelized drippings. Return the pot to medium-high heat and add the onion and carrot. Season with salt and pepper, stirring a few times, until the vegetables start to brown and soften, about 5 minutes.

Vegetable Chop

6. Add the beer and bring to a full boil. Boil for about 2 minutes, scraping the bottom of the pot with a wooden spoon to help deglaze. Pour in the stock, bring this to a boil, and reduce the heat to a simmer. Return the ribs to the pot, along with any juices they released. Tuck the rosemary sprig and bay leaves in between the ribs. The ribs should be partially submerged in the liquid. If necessary, add a bit more beer, stock or water.

7. Cover the pot and place it in the oven to braise. Check under the lid after the first 10 minutes to see that the liquid isn’t simmering too aggressively; if it is, lower the oven temperature 10 or 15 degrees. Gently turn the short ribs every 40 minutes or so. The short ribs will need to braise for a total of two hours. If you are doing a larger batch, you may need to extend the cooking time for an additional half hour. You will know they are done when the meat is falling off the bone.

Braise

8. While the ribs are braising, combine the maple syrup with the rosemary sprigs in a small saucepan. Heat to a gentle boil over medium heat. Turn off the heat, cover, and set aside to infuse for 1 hour. (The glaze can be made up to a few days ahead and refrigerated.)

Maple Syrup

9. While the ribs are braising and the glaze is infusing, you can make the celery root purée. Boil the celery root and potato until soft, about 10-15 minutes. Drain and place into a blender with the milk and butter. Blend until smooth. Place in a saucepan or bowl and keep warm until ready to serve.

Celery Root Peel

Celery Root Chop

10. When the ribs are tender and the meat is pulling away from the bones, use tongs or a slotted spoon to carefully transfer them to a shallow baking dish that is large enough to accommodate them in a single layer. You can try to keep the ribs on the bones and intact, but don’t worry if some bones slip out.

11. Using a large spoon, skim the excess fat off of the top of the braising liquid. Pluck out the remains of the rosemary stem and the bay leaf(s). Pour the remaining liquid, along with the vegetables, into a blender or food processor. Blend to a smooth, even consistency. Return the blended mixture to the dutch oven and reduce to a nice thick sauce. Keep this warm while you finish glazing the short ribs.

12. Heat the broiler on high. If the glaze has been refrigerated, bring it to room temperature beforehand so it can be brushed onto the ribs. Stir the finely grated horseradish into the glaze. Brush this onto the short ribs. Place the ribs under the broiler and broil until they’re caramelized and sizzling – keep an eye on them, but this should take about 3-4 minutes.

Glaze

13. Now, put it all together. Drop a large dollop of celery root purée into each serving bowl. Place the glazed short rib over the puree (the number per serving will depend on the size of the ribs). Spoon the braising liquid around the ribs and serve immediately. I like to garnish almost everything with fresh herbs, so I sprinkled some chopped parsley on as well.

Short Ribs Braised in Porter Ale

  • The short ribs can also be prepared in a slow cooker. I’ve done this on weekdays for a speedy and satisfying dinner. Follow steps 1-5. Combine everything in the slow cooker. Refer to this handy guide to adjust the cooking time, but 8 hours on a low setting or 4 hours on a high setting will work well. Skim the fat, blend and reduce the sauce as before. Follow the remaining steps to glaze and serve.
  • You can also braise the short ribs up to two days ahead of time, and just finish with the glaze and broil when you’re ready to serve.

Bucatini alla Carbonara

Bucatini alla Carbonara

 

I first came across a recipe for spaghetti alla carbonara in Mario Batali’s Molto Italiano cookbook.  It’s a recipe with a very short list of ingredients, but when Batali described it as “slightly tricky in its execution,” I became intimidated.  There is a photo of it in the book – it looked absolutely delicious, so I had to attempt it.  It was not a success on the first try, but after much trial and error, along with some tweaking of the original Batali recipe, I’m now proud of how well it turns out every time.  I thought it would be a great first recipe to share with you here – I’ll share a few tips I’ve learned that make this recipe a bit less tricky to execute.  I also like this recipe because it can be scaled easily for however many people you plan to serve – you can adjust it to make for one person, or four.

I’m sure many of you, like myself, have ordered carbonara in a restaurant and received a pasta tossed in a rich cream sauce with bacon.  That is not this recipe, although this version is indeed rich and delicious.  True Roman carbonara contains no cream, and instead relies on eggs, cheese and pasta water to create its smooth and creamy consistency.  Because there are so few ingredients in this dish, I encourage you to find the best pasta, cheese, eggs, and cured pork you can find.  For this dish, I used bucatini pasta and pecorino romano from “Penn Mac” (as everyone in Pittsburgh refers to it), fresh eggs and guanciale from Crested Duck Charcuterie (at the Pittsburgh Public Market).  For those of you wondering what guanciale is – as I did when I first read about it in Batali’s recipe – it is an unsmoked Italian “bacon” made with pork cheek.  I prefer its flavor in this dish over pancetta or bacon – it seems less salty and more nutty.  I’ve been experimenting with different peppercorn mixes from Penzey’s Spices – for this recipe I’m using a mix of white and black peppercorns, but feel free to experiment with different varieties if you like.  I also garnished the pasta with some fresh parsley from Marty’s Market.  The most authentic carbonara’s typically don’t use a parsley garnish, but because this carbonara is so creamy, I like a bit of fresh green on top to lighten it up a bit.

The recipe below serves two.

Ingredients:
Extra virgin olive oil
1/4 pound guanciale cut into 1/2″ cubes (you can substitute good pancetta or bacon)
1/2 pound bucatini (you can also use spaghetti)
3/4 cup freshly grated pecorino romano cheese
2 very fresh large eggs, yolks and whites separated
2 sprigs of fresh parsley, chopped
Freshly ground black pepper

Bucatini alla Carbonara Ingredients        Pasta and Cheese

Chopped Parsley

1.  Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat.  I add about 2 tablespoons of salt to my 8-quart pot.

2.  Heat the oven to between 180 to 200 degrees.  Place the bowls you’ll serve the pasta in into the oven.  I’ve found that warming the bowls makes for a better sauce at the end.

2.  While the water is coming to a boil, heat a bit of olive oil in a saute pan over medium heat.  Once the pan is warm, drop in the guanciale and cook until it’s rendered to a crispy golden brown.  Remove the pan from the heat – place the guanciale on a paper towel to cool.  Drain all but 1 tablespoon of fat from the pan.  Set aside.

Guanciale        Guanciale

3.  Cook the bucatini in the boiling water until al dente.  Refer to the pasta package, but this should take about 10 minutes.

4.  While the pasta is cooking, combine the egg whites and half of the grated pecorino.  Sprinkle in a healthy amount of ground black pepper.  Whisk this together.  Save the egg yolks for later.

Egg Whites and Cheese        Carbonara Whisk

5.  This is an important step.  Once the pasta has cooked about halfway, scoop out about 1/4 cup of hot pasta water.  Slowly add the hot water to the egg-cheese mixture while stirring quickly and continuously.  This tempering of the eggs will help keep the sauce from getting lumpy when you add it to the hot pasta later.  Set this aside.

Carbonara Tempering

6.  A couple minutes before the pasta is finished, return the remaining guanciale fat to a burner over low heat.  Once the pasta is done, toss it in the pan with the warm rendered fat.  Stir it around to make sure all of the pasta is thinly coated.  Then stir in the tempered egg-cheese mixture while shaking the pan.  Stir like crazy!  This will help create a nice smooth and creamy sauce with evenly melted cheese that’s not too lumpy.  Add the crispy guanciale.

Carbonara Progress

Bucatini alla Carbonara

7.  Divide the pasta among the warmed serving bowls – be careful when removing them from the oven.  Use a spoon to make a little “nest” in the center of the pasta, and gently place one yolk into each next.  Garnish the pasta with more black pepper, pecorino cheese, and chopped fresh parsley.

8.  Once the pasta is served, each person should stir the yolk into the pasta.  The warm pasta and sauce, along with the warm bowl, will help cook the yolk while creating an even richer, creamier sauce.

Bucatini alla Carbonara

Bucatini alla Carbonara

Bucatini alla Carbonara

What tricks have you learned to perfect a favorite dish you enjoy cooking?

Click here to download a printable PDF of this recipe.

What’s going on here?

After more than a few years away, I am proud to announce that I have recently planted myself back in Pittsburgh.  As an amateur foodie and ambitious home-cook, it was a happy accident upon my return, I found myself living in the Strip District.  After a few months here, I feel that I have yet to take full advantage of Pittsburgh’s culinary mecca.  There is such a rich variety of shops selling fantastic and inspiring ingredients, and I feel like I’ve only just begun to scratch the surface.  So, game on – it is time to spread my cooking-wings and get adventurous!  Italian, Korean, seafood, spices, fresh produce – there are so many cuisines and techniques to explore!  I have listed 25 food stores located in the Strip, and there are also dozens of different vendors at the Pittsburgh Public Market and Farmers at the Firehouse.  Over the course of this blog, I aim to showcase recipes that feature ingredients from each of these wildly different shops…  and (hopefully) live to blog about it… 

PS – If you notice that I have omitted any of the Strip’s beloved food vendors – please  let me know so I can incorporate them into this crazed Pittsburgh challenge.