If you haven’t picked up a copy of Heidi Swanson’s Super Natural Cooking: Five Ways To Incorporate Whole and Natural Ingredients into Your Cooking, you’re due for a trip to Amazon. As promised, the book provides a real, approachable segue between cooking the way you do now and cooking with more natural foods and whole grains. Typically when I get a new cookbook, I hunker down on the couch with a cup of tea, the book, and a stack of sticky notes to mark the recipes I’m most excited to try. The other night I ended up reading basically the entire thing because there’s so much informative text – I tend to skip many of the boxes in cookbooks because I know how to peel a tomato, slice a mango, zest a lemon, and chop chocolate. But this book will be a real educational tool for me, simply because whole grains are one of cooking’s coffers I haven’t explored much. Now the book looks like it’s growing little yellow Post-It weeds out of the cracks between every page.
Since my husband still doesn’t want me to use his name here, one of my readers suggested an exhaustive list of possible screen names, from which my husband selected Tito. This is a crotch rocket-riding alter ego I haven’t met, and really doesn’t fit his personality (as I know it) in any way, but Tito it is.
So Tito doesn’t love pasta. And as you’ve probably noticed, he tends to say what he thinks. (Example: on Monday when it was pouring, I let my hair dry naturally and tried to get it to curl a little, and he told me I looked like a flood victim. Joking, of course. But I got the point.)
Pasta carbonara falls into what he unflatteringly calls “Middle Italian” food (as opposed to Middle American, which involves Can of Soup Casseroles and possibly Hamburger Helper). I disagree, but I love carbonara, so perhaps I’m biased.
With a little trepidation, I decided to cut carbonara’s flavors away from its spaghetti and paste them onto soba, Japanese noodles make from buckwheat, which Heidi tells me is actually an herb, not a traditional grain. Result: deep flavors of great pancetta (I didn’t say Heidi would make me a vegetarian), cream, Parmesan, and a healthy dose of peas layered into noodles with their own earthy flavor.
“Ichiban carbonara,” said Tito.
Recipe for Soba Carbonara
Recipe 144 of 365
Traditionally, carbonara requires tossing hot, hot pasta with a mixture of eggs and cream, so that the heat from the noodles poaches the egg and forms a lovely thick sauce. Here’s a version that uses Japanese soba (buckwheat) noodles, which are typically rinsed with cold water after cooking. (Don’t do that here.) Next time I’ll toss in a handful of toasted Panko breadcrumbs mixed with a bit of chopped Italian parsley to add a bit of crunch.
TIME: 15 minutes (begin cooking the noodles before the bacon is done)
MAKES: 2 servings
1/4 pound pancetta (one 1/3” thick slice), cut into 1/4” dice
1 large egg yolk
1/2 cup heavy cream
Salt and freshly ground pepper
4 ounces (1/4 pound) soba (buckwheat) noodles
1 cup frozen baby peas*
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
Put a large pot of water on to boil for the soba.
Cook the pancetta over medium heat in a large skillet until browned and crispy, 7 to 10 minutes. Transfer to a paper towel-lined plate to drain and set aside.
Meanwhile, whisk the yolk, cream, and some salt and pepper together in a small bowl to blend. Set aside.
Cook the soba noodles according to package directions (probably about 8 minutes, but it may depend on the thickness of your soba). Just before the soba is done, add the peas right to the water along with the noodles. Drain the peas and noodles and return them to the pan, and immediately add the egg/cream mixture, tossing the noodles with tongs as you add it so it coats everything evenly. Add the cooked pancetta and parmesan, toss to distribute evenly, and serve immediately.
*If you find fresh peas, by all means, use them, but add them to the soba about three minutes before the noodles are done cooking.