Fun With Eggs

May 15, 2010 § 2 Comments

Homemade carbonara

If I could go back and rename my blog, I would call it something like Eyeballing It.  Something about the way I first learned to cook — my mother giving vague directions over the phone: a pinch of this, a fistful of that, not too much of the other — makes me pretty comfortable with eyeballing ingredients, adding them gradually until what’s in the pan looks or smells or tastes right.  It isn’t always terribly successful, but I figure it’s only a matter of practice until I get it right and become an awesome grandmother advising on recipes off the top of my head.  Of course, I don’t dismiss the importance of precision in cooking, especially when baking, but a bit of loosening up when recreating recipes, I think, makes one confident with individual ingredients and so more inclined to invent.

Neither of the dishes below are all-new inventions exactly.  But I made them both on the same day, using only the ingredients I had lying around at my residency, namely salt, pepper, eggs, eggs, eggs, cheese, cheese, cheese, cream, onions, garlic, bacon, and a bit of dry pasta a previous resident left behind.  Necessity caused them to become two very satisfying and festive meals for one.  It’s kind of exciting to realise that, when left to my own culinary devices after many months of living at home, I am still attracted to certain basic ingredients, certain basic kinds of simple recipes — like there’s a personal cuisine somewhere in there, intact and retrievable.

It all started when I came back from a big run in the late morning.  I was desperately hungry and out of baguette (the horror!), and there was no chance of heading into town for ingredients, or taking the time to prepare the zucchini or eggplant I had in the back of the fridge.  So I fell back on the ever-convenient egg option–and I had only two left.  The absence of baguette and the presence of a couple of potatoes made me think of tortilla española (Spanish omelet). We made it once in Spanish class with Senor Douglas, circa 1996, in the sixth grade, and then I spotted them on a tapas menu in Bangkok a few weeks ago.  So, after a quick google search on how to flip an omelet easily by sliding a dinner plate over the frying pan, off I went.

A thin, two-egg version of tortilla española

Tortilla Española — The Eyeballer’s Recipe

  • 1 small waxy potato, cut into thin slices, maybe 1/8 inch
  • less than a 1/4 cup onions, chopped
  • a bit of garlic, chopped
  • a slice of bacon, roughly diced (use chorizo if you have it)
  • a little piece of red pepper, seeded and diced
  • salt, fresh-ground pepper, olive oil
  • two eggs, beaten

1. In a small frying pan, heat up some olive oil.  It should be a bit more than would evenly coat the pan.
2. Fry up all the ingredients, along with salt and pepper, until the potato is cooked and a bit browned.

Frying up the ingredients for tortilla española

3. Get the potatoes et al in a single layer in the pan.  Add the eggs, tipping the pan around to smooth them out.
4. Let the eggs set a bit.  Then run spatula gently under the omelet to make sure you can get it off the bottom without breaking it.

With the beaten eggs

5. When the bottom is cooked and set and maybe a bit brown (the top can still be a bit runny), cover the pan with a dinner plate.
6. Using a towel, put your hand over the plate, and flip the pan over, letting the omelet fall gently onto the plate.
7. Add some more olive oil to the pan.  Gently slide the omelet back in so the top side is now on the bottom.
8. Cook some more and voila — proteins and carbs and frills, too!  Thanks Senor Douglas!

Nom nom nom nom.

Later in the day, it was time for beloved Janine to leave.  As I helped her haul her stuff down the stairs and into her car, we stumbled upon a little party at the Au Diable office.  One of the interns had just completed her final day, and there was champagne and some cake.  A typical office event — except the champagne was Champagne and the store-bought chocolate and vanilla cake was doused in booze and amazingly delicious.  C’est la France!

Then, I borrowed a bicycle and decided to investigate the many vinyards in the immediate vicinity of the residence.  Many of them have a Costières de Nîmes/Vallée du Rhone banner, indicating an appellation controlée.  It’s not the most famous wine in the world or anything, but it’s so local, it’s a bike ride away, and I consider it my civic duty to buy and drink it!  So I rode into the premises of the Chateau Virgile, indulged in a couple of degustations by a young boy of no more than fifteen, and went home with a bottle of their Cuvee L’Eneide 2007.  I think what that means is that it’s a vat/barrel-stored blend of different grapes.  The popular ones of the region are Syrah, Grenache and Mourvedre, making this wine only a little bit fruity (some berries) but mostly other flavor profiles, like smoke, chocolate, game.  The barrel also makes it taste sort of woody.  “Boisé,” said the young boy.

The paragon of locavorism

Feeling extremely pleased with myself, I biked home to make a dinner fit for my new acquisition.  Thankfully, Janine gave me her leftover eggs, and between them and the leftover bacon and a bit of capellini someone left behind from residencies past, I got to work making my favorite comfort food: pasta alla carbonara.

The Eyeballer’s Recipe

  • about a 1/4 of a packet of dry pasta — I prefer long ones for this, but short ones will do nicely too
  • one thick slice of bacon, or pancetta if you have it, chopped small
  • 2 eggs
  • a bit of whipping cream, say 1/4 cup or a bit less
  • a small fistful of grated or finely chopped hard cheese, like parmesan or grana padano or pecorino
  • salt, fresh-ground black pepper, olive oil

1. Get your pasta going, according to package instructions.  Please, please: go al dente.  You’ll never look back.
2. Fry up your bacon/pancetta in some olive oil, to your liking.  I like it crispy.  Take it off the heat.
3. In a bowl, beat up the eggs, the cream and the cheese.
4. Drain your pasta, reserving a bit of the pasta water.  Toss in the pan with the bacon and olive oil and season.
5. Let the pasta cool down a bit, maybe five minutes, and add the egg mixture.  The pasta should still be hot, but cool enough so the eggs don’t cook.  Along with the pasta water, you should have a silky, golden sauce, not scrambled eggs.
6. Eat immediately with local French wine, patting yourself on the back.

Handsome dinner for one.

There’s still much more to say about eggs!  For instance, I made my own mayonnaise the other day with little more than a bowl and a fork (and it was semi-disastrous).  An isolated residency might mean that I update a thousand times a day, though I will try to restrain myself.  Who knows what the appropriate frequency is.  My hero and crush and fellow-former-New-Yorker and food-blogging goddess and the whole reason I have a Nikon, Luisa Weiss, The Wednesday Chef, updates once a week and sometimes even less frequently than that, but…I don’t know.  I’m on a roll.


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