Winter is definitely starting to creep up on us… It seems that with the exceptional Indian summer that we’ve had, autumn has been completely by-passed. The temperatures have dropped a little during the day (ok, so it was still 17°C outside yesterday lunch time, but inside the lab it felt like about 15°C. Which is really cold when you’re just sitting at your desk not moving much) and rather a lot during the night – it’s cold first thing in the morning. I think I’m going to have to dig out my bed socks soon (I am obviously the epitome of hotness, in case you didn’t know) and switch to my warmer duvet (though I don’t think I’ll be needing my full-on winter 14.5 tog one here… that might be a little much). Despite the weather taking a turn for the colder, at least the sunny weather is forecast to continue for at least the rest of this week. Sunshine makes everything better. So does pasta.
I wanted some comfort food when I got home yesterday evening, and a mushroom and spinach carbonara recipe that I’d seen in Cuisine over the weekend fitted the bill perfectly. I’m not sure that it can quite be described as a carbonara – there’s no pancetta, and I used blue cheese rather than parmesan in the sauce. But the sauce is made up of barely-cooked eggs and a touch of cream, so it is very carbonara-esque (though apparently there Italian-made carbonara doesn’t involve cream… according to Wikipedia, source of all knowledge). Are there rules on what can and can’t be called a carbonara? I’ll call it a carbonara until somebody informs me otherwise. Mostly because I don’t really know quite what else to call it…
Reason #564 that I love NZ: you can get real shallots here. So I’ve been adding shallots to almost everything lately because I’m still so excited about that. Almost everything savoury, I should add, and this was no exception. The original recipe calls for wide lasagne noodles, but half the fun of a carbonara is elegantly twirling it onto your fork
and then inelegantly splattering it all over your chin. I couldn’t find any tagliatelle, which is my favourite twirly pasta (very technical term), so I went with spaghetti, wholewheat of course, dahling. I try to use wholewheat pasta whenever I can – it’s better for you after all, no more effort than using normal pasta and doesn’t even take much longer to cook (unlike wholegrain brown rice which takes forever to cook). It’s a cheat’s way of eating slightly healthier. Although perhaps slightly negated when you make cream-based sauces to go with it, but shhhh! In my mind the spinach and wholewheat pasta totally counterbalance the cream, eggs and cheese in this recipe. That’s how healthy eating works, right…? Ok, ok, it doesn’t, and this isn’t the healthiest of recipes, but I’m not suggesting that you eat this everyday. From time to time though, it makes perfect comfort food that can be prepared fairly quickly to boot, which makes it perfect to throw together after a long day in a cold lab. Now, where did I put my bed socks…?
Mushroom & spinach blue cheese carbonara
Adapted from Cuisine (May 2012)
Since the eggs in the sauce are only barely cooked, make sure to use fresh eggs. If you don’t like blue cheese, you can use 30g of parmesan, as specified in the original recipe, or 80g of feta. I’m sure that a crumbly goat’s cheese would also work well. If you are cooking this for vegetarians, make sure to pick a vegetarian-friendly cheese. I use reduced fat crème fraîche, as that’s just what I always have in the fridge as it’s slightly healthier. Don’t try and be healthier by using oil instead of butter for the mushrooms though – they won’t taste as good.
250g Portobello mushrooms (other mushrooms would work fine)
1 clove of garlic
180g wholewheat spaghetti or tagliatelle
4 tbsp crème fraîche
80g creamy blue cheese, plus extra to serve
200g fresh spinach
Black pepper, to serve
1. Bring a large pan of water to the boil with a little salt.
2. Slice the mushrooms and finely dice the shallot and garlic clove. Melt the butter in a large frying pan or wok over a medium heat and add the mushrooms, shallot and garlic. Sauté for about 10 mins, stirring from time to time, until dark and tender.
3. Meanwhile, add the pasta to the pan of boiling water, and cook until according to package instructions until al dente.
4. In a small bowl, lightly beat together the eggs and crème fraîche. Whisk in the crumbled blue cheese and set aside.
5. Once the mushrooms are cooked, add about 4 tbsp of the pasta cooking water and the spinach (you can slice the spinach if you want – I totally forgot to do so) and stir for a few minutes until the spinach is wilted.
6. Drain the pasta and return to the saucepan. Add the egg mixture to the pasta over a low heat, and stir for about a minute so that the eggs begin to cook. Add the pasta to the mushrooms and spinach fold together (depending on the respective sizes of your saucepan and frying pan/wok it might be easier to add the mushrooms and spinach to the pasta rather than the other way around).
7. Split between pasta bowls, top with a little crumbled blue cheese, season with black pepper and serve whilst hot.
PS – The obvious answer to the question in the title is “when it’s in my belly” or some variation thereof. Bonus points to you if you thought that to yourself on reading it.