For some reason I’d always imagined spaghetti carbonara to be one of those impossible to get right dishes, best left for the experts and ordered when eating out. So when I read this post from Eat Like a Girl about a year ago I was shocked to learn how quick and simple it actually is. No cream, no fuss, just a little oil, egg yokes, parmesan, freshly ground black pepper and hot pasta. Needless to say I’ve eaten a lot of carbonara since then.
Of course traditionally carbonara would also include cubes of pancetta or bacon lardons, however as I try to avoid eating meat too much in the week I often don’t have any in the house and so will turn to a seasonal “vegetarian” version like this instead. (The version in the picture actually does have bacon in it because it’s an old picture from a few weeks ago rather than the bacon-less version I made tonight. Oops.)
I say “vegetarian” because for strict vegetarians this recipe wouldn’t quite cut it; parmesan cheese is made with animal rennet, as are it’s cheaper substitutes Grana Padano and pecorino. There are similar Italian style hard cheeses that are vegetarian that can be swapped in, although they’re not as readily available, and those I’ve tried have never been quite as nice as the real thing.
The duck egg is a new addition. I’ve made carbonara previously both with just the yokes and with a whole chicken egg. The version with yokes is, unsurprisingly, creamier and would always be my preference were it not for the tiny pots of egg white that end up accumulating in the freezer never to be used. Of course there are loads of recipes the whites could be used for, primarily baking meringues or macarons, or simply an egg-white omelette if that’s your sort of thing, but it isn’t mine and invariably they end up going to waste.
To avoid this I usually opt for the less creamy whole egg version on a week night, but no more. Enter the duck egg; with it’s larger, richer yoke the whole egg seems to do just as well as a pair of chicken egg yokes and means I get deliciously creamy carbonara without any wasted whites. Hooray!
Duck Egg and Asparagus Carbonara
- 150g-200g spaghetti (however much you’d normally cook for two people)
- 1 duck egg
- A bunch of asparagus (12 or so spears)
- 30g freshly grated parmesan
- A clove of garlic
- Small knob of butter
- A glug of olive oil (1 tbsp-ish)
- Salt & pepper
Cook the spaghetti in a large pan of boiling salted water for about a minute less than the packet instructions (about 9 minutes probably).
Snap the woody ends of the asparagus spears and cut them into inch long lengths. Heat the oil in a large frying pan and toss in the asparagus. Smash the garlic clove with the broad side of a knife, take the papery skin off and add to the pan. Fry the asparagus for about 4 minutes over a medium-high heat, you want to get some colour on all sides but let it keep a bit of crunch.
While the asparagus and pasta are cooking, break the duck egg into a mug or bowl and beat together with the grated parmesan and some freshly ground black pepper.
When the asparagus is ready, take the garlic clove out as you only wanted it to flavour the oil. Give the pan 30 seconds or so to cool down, then drop in the knob of butter and allow to melt in the residual heat.
Drain the cooked pasta reserving some of the cooking water and add to the asparagus; I just use tongs to pull the pasta straight out of the water and into the frying pan.
Use a spoonful or two of the reserved water to thin the mixed egg and parmesan, pour over the pasta and toss until everything is coated. The heat from the water and the pasta will thicken the egg to form a glossy, creamy sauce.
The butter and the wet pasta should have cooled the frying pan down enough to avoid the egg in the sauce scrambling instead of thickening, but if you find that happens the simple solution is to mix the egg and the parmesan in a large enough bowl and add the buttery pasta and asparagus to that instead. I would do that, but I’m lazy and would rather avoid the extra washing up if I can. As long as the frying pan has cooled down though it shouldn’t be a problem.