I’ve been following with interest Mark Bittman’s Opinion pieces about the state of America’s food landscape. His latest piece calls out the USDA’s sin of omission: in telling Americans what to eat more of, the agency carelessly glosses over the types of food that people should be eating less of.
As eloquent as Bittman’s piece is, what really got me thinking were the commenters to the article. In particular, I was struck by the predicament that many dual-income and single-parent households seemed to face: A genuine desire to incorporate more home-cooked meals into their diet, but, for one reason or another, find it hard to sustain a change like this in the long-term.
It got me wondering, is it really that impossible? Wouldn’t just one homecooked meal a week make a difference to a diet accustomed to frozen foods reheated in the microwave? A meal a week builds up to four meals a month, surely a decent foundation on which to start introducing more healthy and natural foods into one’s diet?
Of course, what do I – as a food blogger with no kids and only a husband to feed – know about the difficulties of whipping up a homecooked meal for four after a full days’ work?
Actually, I know it pretty well. I didn’t need to cook a meal for four every night (two was challenging enough), but with a job that entailed a three-hour commute each day, five days a week, I was constantly tempted by convenience, to rip open a packet of MSG-laden noodles instead of chopping the garlic for a stir-fry after a long day at the office.
When I look back at that one year of Corporate America, I’m honestly surprised that we cooked as often as we did, considering the stresses of adjusting to a new country, ridiculous commutes and the joys of workplace politics. But cook we did, fueled by a real love for our Farmers’ Market that quickly became our weekend routine. It was a weekly pit-stop where we just couldn’t help but load up on a week’s worth of vegetables, eggs and sustainably-raised meat. Awed by the freshness of the produce, and, for the first time, meeting the people that actually raised the animal/vegetable for my plate, making the effort to cook through our groceries was the least we could do, out of respect for the farmers that grew our food.
Nostalgia aside, in truth, the magic ingredient that took the edge off weeknight cooking was Pasta. Both fresh and dried, their varied forms made for quick, simple meals, taking all of 30 minutes to go from ingredient to table. With a side salad and a glass of wine to boot. Paired with the basics: olive oil, garlic, parsley, the occasional egg, a pinch of parmesan, a satisfying dinner was had, in the shape of whatever we had on hand in the crisper that day.
So, to inspire the homecook-to-be who’s hesitant or anxious about cooking weeknight dinners, here’s a recipe for Pasta Carbonara guaranteed to surprise (for its efficacy) and win your heart (with its deliciousness).
Pasta Carbonara (based on a Mario Batali recipe)
Of all the pasta dishes in our repertoire, this variation for Carbonara has earned its place in our pasta hall of fame for its ease and deliciousness. By way of a good friend, L, the original Mario Batali recipe forever changed my perception of Carbonara as a heart-attack-food-coma-inducing, bland, cream-laden dish. Done the traditional way, no cream is involved, just the gelatinous quality of fresh raw egg, lightly cooked in the residual heat of the pasta, dressed up with parmesan and bacon. If you’re preparing this with fresh pasta, prepare the bacon and the eggs first and cook the pasta as a last step.
8 oz/ 200 grams spaghetti or linguine
1 teaspoon olive oil
2 cloves of garlic, minced
4 oz/100 grams good quality bacon, sliced into 1/4-inch strips
1/2 cup dry white wine
2 fresh large eggs
4 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Salt and pepper
4 sprigs of parsley, finely chopped
1. Cook the pasta in heavily salted boiling water according to the packet instructions.
2. While the pasta is cooking, over medium heat, add the olive oil and garlic into a skillet, stirring to cook, about 2 minutes.
3. Add the bacon to the oil and garlic. When the strips of bacon turn a light shade of pink (about 5 minutes), add the wine, scraping the bottom of the pan as it bubbles away. Reduce the heat to low and let the wine evaporate until it’s almost gone. Set aside to cool.
4. Prepare individual bowls for the pasta, breaking an egg into each bowl, then adding the grated cheese. Lightly whisk the egg and cheese together until incorporated, then add a pinch of salt and pepper, and divide the bacon equally (or not) between each bowl.
5. When the pasta is ready, drain, then divide it into two portions and quickly toss in the egg-cheese mixture to coat each strand. Garnish with parsley and more cheese if desired. Serve hot.