Hypothetically, let’s say you have had a couple of weeks (or 12 months) of being constantly awoken in the night by an adorably cute and cuddly baby. Now let’s say that same bundle of cuteness has a few teeth coming in at the same time and feels compelled to wake up his mommy and daddy four or five times a night. This hypothetical mommy blogger might feel the need to comfort herself with bacon…lots and lots of bacon. Oh, and a large helping of creamy pasta too. What is an extraordinarily delicious way to shovel in large quantities of bacon and pasta you might ask? The answer comes in the form of a creamy egg-based sauce called carbonara.
Carbonara is a pasta dish originating from Rome containing pancetta, olive oil, Pecorino Romano or Parmigiana cheese, eggs, and black pepper. The pancetta is cooked (usually in olive oil) until crispy, and the eggs, black pepper, and cheese are stirred in off the heat with the pasta to keep the eggs from scrambling. There is no reason to sway too far away from this classic combination of ingredients, unless you happen to have ripe and juicy summer tomatoes and a very special form of bacon, known as cottage bacon…more on that in a bit. Pancetta is the Italian equivalent of bacon, the major difference being that it is not smoked and is usually sold in a small slab waiting to be into cut into tiny chunks and fried up just like it’s American counterpart. Although tasty, pancetta is quite a bit more expensive than bacon. My version of the ultimate carbonara has fettuccine, fresh tomatoes, garlic, and Pecorino Romano!
In the past I’ve made carbonara with good quality bacon to save some dough. Of course it’s always delicious, but it’s never tasted as authentic as the carbonara at my favorite local Italian restaurant. That is until I discovered glorious cottage bacon!
My husband and I recently discovered it at the farmer’s market when we tried to purchase bacon from a local pork farmer. They were all sold out after only being open for thirty minutes, but they suggested cottage bacon as a substitute. Neither of us had ever heard of it before but figured it was worth a shot. They explained that is was leaner than bacon because it had more meat. When cooked, the texture is a cross between country ham and bacon. It’s not nearly as salty as country ham, which is why I love it so much.
My mom said when she was growing up my grandfather used to ask the butcher at the grocery store for the “end pieces” or “bit ends” of the bacon because it was less expensive. This is cottage bacon. If the butcher at your local grocer can’t accommodate your request for the “bit ends” of the bacon, by all means use regular thick-cut bacon or pancetta.
To make this luscious pasta, start by boiling the fettuccine or spaghetti in a large pot of salted water. When the pasta is cooked, reserve two tablespoons of the pasta water before draining! While the pasta is cooking, grab the biggest sauté pan you have on hand and fry up the cottage bacon on medium heat in small batches until crisp and set aside, reserving two tablespoons of the fat from the pan. While you are
eating all the extra bacon cooking the bacon chop up the garlic and fresh tomatoes. Once the bacon is cooked, remove from the pan and reserve some of the fat. Sauté the garlic until just fragrant, about 30 seconds or less, and quickly add the tomatoes to keep from burning the garlic. Season with a touch of salt (remember the bacon is salty!) and simmer for a few minutes until the liquid is reduced and the tomatoes have thickened somewhat. Crack two eggs in a bowl and whisk in the hot pasta water to “temper” the eggs and set aside. This will help to keep the eggs from scrambling once they are added to the pasta.
Although traditional carbonara only uses the egg for creaminess, I added a touch of cream to the tomatoes for extra richness (remember I’m sleep-deprived and need food therapy). Simmer the cream for about one minute or until thickened and remove from the heat. Immediately add the pasta to the pan and make a nest for the eggs. Use chopsticks or tongs to incorporate the eggs, pasta and sauce. The residual heat from the pan will cook the eggs.
Add the chopped cottage bacon (or pork of choice) and sprinkle in lots of Pecorino Romano cheese or Parmigiana and freshly cracked pepper!! Are you drooling yet?
Bon Appetit Ya’ll,
Cottage Bacon and Tomato Carbonara
- 1 pound fettuccine or spaghetti
- 2 eggs
- 2 large or 4 small fresh tomatoes chopped
- 2 cloves garlic chopped
- 1 Tbsp Olive Oil
- 8 oz cottage bacon regular bacon, or pancetta
- 1/3 cup fresh cream
- Pecorino Romano or Parmigiana
- Water for boiling pasta
- salt and pepper
- Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add pasta and cook according to package directions.
- Cook cottage bacon, regular bacon, or pancetta in a large sauté pan over medium heat until crispy. Set aside and reserve two tablespoons of fat from the pan.
Add olive oil, reserved bacon fat, and the chopped garlic to the pan and cook until just fragrant, about 30 seconds.
- Immediately add chopped tomatoes to the pan to keep garlic from burning and simmer until the liquid is reduced and the tomatoes have thickened. Season with a touch of salt.
- While sauce is simmering, reserve two tablespoons of the pasta water and drain the pasta.
- Crack the eggs in a separate bowl and whisk in the reserved hot pasta water.
- Once the tomato sauce has thickened, remove from the heat and add the cooked pasta on top to make a nest for the eggs.
- Add eggs in the nest and stir with chopsticks or tongs to incorporate the sauce, eggs, and pasta. The residual heat from the pan will cook the eggs.
- Shave fresh Pecorino Romano or Parmigiana on top and toss in chopped bacon and fresh black pepper.
- Serve and top with more cheese, just because!!