Spaghetti alla Carbonara and Fennel and Citrus Salad — Top Chef Night

When you think of a hot, humid, languid summer day what’s the first thing that comes to mind? A big ol’ bowl of pasta, right? Probably not, but we’ve been dying to crack into Jonathan Waxman’s “Italian, My Way” book for a long time so we said, “Damn the weather, we’re diving into carbonara.”

Because the dish is heavy, we did decide to lighten things up a bit with a salad and went with the Blood Orange and Shaved Raw Fennel with Black Olives option. However, blood oranges are not in season right now so I went with half a container of mandarin oranges and half a container of pink grapefruit wedges, both without juice. Also, K doesn’t like olives so he missed out on those. It’s a very simple salad really — shave a fresh fennel bulb on a mandoline, throw in some citrus wedges, add some lemon juice and olive oil, olives (if you’re so inclined) and salt and pepper to taste. I mixed it up with my olives and went with a few salty, puckery French Nicoise olives and some huge, buttery Italian olives.

The spaghetti alla carbonara was nearly as quick and easy to make. K was dying to use the leftover guanciale (pork jowl) we had from a previous dish and this was the perfect fit. He chopped it up then cooked it slowly in some olive oil while the pasta was boiling away. When both the guanciale and pasta were ready, we threw the pasta into the guanciale pan (which was swimming with fat), added a little pasta water and stirred. We turned on the burner again, added some grated Parmesan and a few egg yolks. Then, my favorite direction in the recipe, we “beat furiously” for about a minute so the yolks incorporated themselves into a creamy sauce instead of a scrambled mess.

Done and done! If you’re carbo loading for a summer marathon this should be your dish of choice. The pasta was perfectly al dente and creamy, not at all eggy. It was incredibly rich and had a wonderful, salty, earthy meat taste that permeated the whole dish, but came out especially when you chomped into that crunchy guanciale.  The salad was crisp and refreshing, tart with a hint of anise flavor. The salt pops from the olives were a nice touch. Every bite from both plates was like an Italian kiss.

Shaved Fennel and Citrus Salad


Spaghetti alla Carbonara a la Jonathan Waxman

Alterations: Used mandarin oranges and pink grapefruit instead of blood oranges in the salad and K skipped the olives.
Soundtrack: Brit pop including The Smiths, Robin Hitchcock, James, Pulp and more.
Would we make this again: Oh yeah. Special trips to Clancy’s to pick up guanciale will be made specifically for this dish.


2 thoughts on “Spaghetti alla Carbonara and Fennel and Citrus Salad — Top Chef Night

  1. Pingback: Pig Skin Ravioli (aka Pancetta and Guanciale Ravioli) — Top Chef Night « Eat.Drink.Life.Love.

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