Pasta ‘Carbonara’ with Cavolo Nero
Before you read any further, I warn you this recipe is inauthentic in the extreme. Generations of Italian Mammas will be turning in their graves at my impertinence in calling this a carbonara. But this is the sort of easy pasta dish I make almost weekly throughout the year: an onion cooked down to an intensely sweet base, a little bacon (or even some smoked salmon), a handful of veggies, a drizzle of cream and a couple of eggs to thicken and enrich. It is a sort of carbonara. Today’s incarnation had very thin ribbons of deep green cavolo nero twirling through the spaghetti. The handful of plants I have been nurturing in the garden for months and months have finally matured and we are enjoying the harvest several times a week.
- 120g smoked streaky bacon, chopped
- 1 tbsp olive oil, plus an extra drizzle
- 1 large onion, finely chopped
- 200g dried spaghetti
- 2 generous handfuls, about 120g cavolo nero (or other dark green leaves), washed and shredded into spaghetti-thin ribbons
- 2 cloves garlic, crushed
- 100ml Marsala
- 3 tbsp crème fraîche
- 2 eggs
- 40g freshly grated Parmesan
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
In a wide, deep frying pan, toss the bacon in the oil and fry over a medium heat for 10 minutes or so until it is starting to crisp and colour at the edges. Reduce the heat to as low as possible, add the onion and sweat until it is soft and almost melting. The sweetness you get from the long, slow cooking of onions cannot be beaten, so don’t try to rush this step: it will take at least 20 minutes, if not 30, to do it properly. A sheet of damp baking paper over the surface will create a steamy lid that helps the process along.
While the onions are cooking, bring a generous pan of salted water up to a vigorous boil and cook the pasta until al dente. A minute before it is due to be ready, add the shredded cavolo nero and stir to push it under the water. Cook for a mere minute so that it retains a little crunch, then drain the pasta and cavolo nero well, tossing in a drizzle of olive oil. Set aside while you finish the sauce.
When the onions are really soft, turn the heat back up again and add the garlic, frying for just a minute or so until you can smell the aroma wafting up from the pan. Then pour in the Marsala and allow it to bubble away and evaporate. Add the crème fraîche, eggs and most of the Parmesan, reserving a little for sprinkling on top. Season to taste, being generous with the black pepper. Stir thoroughly to mix, then tip in the pasta and cavolo nero, tossing together for a couple of minutes until everything is really hot. Serve in warmed bowls, with the rest of the Parmesan scattered over the top.