Sunday, September 27, 2009

You Too Can Be A Trained Professional!

The customers are still enjoying a grand evening downstairs in the trattoria ... I can hear the cheerful roar up on the third floor, where my little garret room is tucked away. It is midnight,, Friday midnight, the week-end is starting and my feet hurt, every bone in my body aches and I have set myself on fire only once this week. Chef managed to set himself on fire twice, so he’s winning. What’s the prize?

We’ve actually had it pretty quiet this week ... until tonight. We had reservations for two parties of two for 8 o’clock. The first party arrived and were just getting their ordering under way when the second party arrived ... all five of them ... which morphed into seven when someone used their cell phone and called for friendly back-up on the main course and desserts. All you can do is laugh and enjoy the crazy ride when this happens.

Almost every item on our menu is made entirely from scratch. Bread (I’m the baker), tiramisu, fish, octopus dishes, rabbit, snails (we don’t actually grow these ... we just encourage them a bit ... ), scampi (likewise), filet of anything you can filet, gelato, patisserie cream, tarte di Nonna, the lot. Many of the wines featured are typical to the area, or close by. The delicious carnaroli rice comes from just south of Verona, and the potatoes are grown by the Chef’s parents on their plot. Fresh veg is supplied by a gentleman who comes around in a truck twice a week and tootles cheerfully on his horn to advertise his availability for business.

Yes, things can go a little haywire. Tonight we ran out of zucchini and had to improvise. My tortellini were a little damp (too much water spray before closing) so cooked oddly. (They taste great, just did not act normal in the pot, and Chef was concerned. And if Chef is concerned, I am MORE concerned.)

Chef gave me a great lesson today on making a deliciously-smooth carbonara. This is something you can do at home ... be encouraged to try it! I made it for the four of us for lunch.

Get out: pasta of your choice (home-made fresh is best, but let’s face reality folks), 6 thick slices of bacon (don’t give me that look; get out the damn bacon if you’re going to do this recipe), 4 egg yolks (this is important ... separate them well. Keep the whites for use at another time), some grated parmesan cheese OR good, sharp pecorino (I think the pecorino works best ... pecorino is sheep-milk cheese, and parmesan is cow-milk cheese), fleur de sel or kosher salt, a pepper grinder and some cream or whole-fat milk.

Start by sautéing the bacon in a large, flat-bottomed pan, until slightly crisp ... gently crush and reserve. Keep the drippings. (This is comfort food you’re making, not some rubbish for a diet loaded with grapefruit, chicken and an enthusiastically-named quarter-litre of banana-flavoured goo in a tin). Get your pasta cooking in generously-salted water. The water should be the same saltiness as sea-water. Don’t go cheap on the salt for pasta! Store-bought linguini, for instance, will take about 9 ½ minutes to be al dente. If you’re using fresh, adjust your start-time as needed. Do not over-cook your pasta (I say this because most folks do).

Add a good dollop of finely-freshly-grated cheese to the egg yolks and stir. Add pepper and perhaps a little salt (but since you very generously salted your pasta water this should not be a problem). If needed, add a little milk or cream ... you want a sauce that is, well, decadent. No pursed-lip self-righteousness about this dinner ... this is food that schmecks, and you should be proud to make it!

When the pasta is just before al dente take it out of the water with tongs. DO NOT DRAIN IT or rinse it off ... just throw it directly into the large bacon pan, with the drippings and the bacon, and stir it around quickly. Do not overheat this pan. Gently pour in the egg-yolk mixture and stir. The yolks should stay creamy, and not cook hard. Remove from the heat and serve immediately onto warmed plates and enjoy with friends.

Enjoy this with a good glass of Barbaresco!

You, too, can be a trained professional. Try This At Home!