Friday, August 2, 2013

Maybe Not “Healthy”, But “Healthier”

I have a problem with breakfast. There are few healthy choices for breakfast, except oatmeal — and there are some mornings when I just can’t take oatmeal.

Spaghetti carbonara is not a breakfast dish. In fact, I have avoided spaghetti carbonara because it is pasta, eggs, heavy cream, butter, cheese, bacon or pancetta – otherwise a heart stopping concoction of carbs, fats, and cholesterol. I gave it a pass.

Then, Ruth Reichl happened. Ruth Reichl’s Spaghetti Carbonara recipe is delicious and wonderfully simple. No heavy cream. No butter. Only pasta, egg, a little cheese, some garlic and bacon. Oh, it is so good. Just bacon & egg. I can handle bacon and eggs. It isn’t a ‘healthy’ meal, but it has fewer carbs and less fat than two eggs over easy with bacon, hashbrowns & toast.

But still, there was something missing. Ruth Reichl is a bit coy with garlic; cooking it then removing it. If you are afraid of fat, she can offers to remove some of the bacon fat. I felt the recipe needed something more. It needs spinach!

I added spinach, kept the garlic & the bacon fat. Let’s face it, I gilded the lily. Now it is my Sunday brunch choice.

Spaghetti Carbonara with Spinach


1 serving a (dime sized bundle) dry, uncooked, Angel hair pasta
slice thick sliced, good quality, Bacon
1 clove Garlic
1   Egg
¼ lb. (¼ 1lb. frozen bag) Spinach
¼ C grated Parmesan cheese
    Salt, to taste
    fresh, ground Pepper, to taste


  • 10-inch skillet
  • 2 quart saucepan
  • Knife
  • Cutting board
  • Microplane grater
  • Small bowl
  • Fork
  • Tongs
  • 2 tablespoon measuring spoon
  • Heat-proof cup
  • Spider, strainer or colander
  • Small rubber spatula;
  • Trivet


  1. Fill 2qt saucepan ⅔ full with water. Heat on high.
  2. Place 10" skillet on high heat.
  3. Cut bacon into ¼-inch slices (lardon), immediately place in heated skillet. Turn down heat to med.
  4. While the water is heating and the bacon is browning, peel and grate garlic.
  5. Break the egg in the small bowl. Discard eggshell. Use the fork to whisk the egg.
  6. Add parmesan cheese to the egg. Set on the table.
  7. Set trivet & small spatula on the table. Make sure salt & pepper are on the table too.
  8. Have the spinach measured and ready to cook.
  9. When water comes to a boil, place pasta into the boiling water and give it a stir.
  10. The bacon should be browned and crisp. Add grated garlic. Allow to cook for only 30 seconds. It should be ivory colored; if it gets any darker the garlic will burn and become bitter.
  11. Immediately add the spinach to the pan, on top of the bacon and garlic. This will stop the garlic from burning. Turn the heat up to medium high.
  12. Check the pasta. Give it a stir.
  13. Turn the spinach/bacon mixture in the pan. Use some of the larger spinach bits to deglaze the bottom of the skillet.
  14. By the time the pasta is cooked (one of the few times I say to cook to al dente) the spinach/bacon mixture should be heated through. Lift the pasta out of the pasta water with a spider and place in the skillet. Use the tongs to mix.
    OR If you are using a strainer or colander: drain pasta, reserving at least a ¼ cup of pasta water. Add pasta to skillet and mix.
  15. Add between 2 tablespoons and ¼ cup of pasta water to the pasta/spinach/bacon mixture. Enough to make it slightly watery. Toss while in the pan to mix the pasta with the spinach.
  16. Remove from heat and place on trivet on the table. Immediately add egg/cheese mixture, using rubber spatula and fork to mix egg in with pasta, bacon and spinach.
  17. Taste and add salt to taste
  18. Sprinkle with fresh, ground pepper just before serving.

Generous single serving (because everyone else seems to be squeamish about eating garlic on Sunday morning). This recipe can be easily doubled.

I serve the carbonara in the skillet, placing the skillet on a trivet on the table. If you are making more than one serving, bring the skillet to the table and add the egg/cheese mixture with a flourish! Showmanship will only add to the taste.

Have everything ready ahead of time and the cooking will run like clockwork. It takes about the same time to heat the skillet as it takes to cut the bacon into lardons. The bacon takes about the same time to cook as the water takes to boil. Once the garlic hits the pan, you have only half a minute to add the spinach if you don’t want the garlic to burn. The spinach takes about the same time to heat through as the pasta takes to cook.

Note on spinach: I use the frozen, chopped spinach in the bag. It doesn’t have to be cleaned. It doesn’t have to be chopped. It doesn’t have to be squeezed or drained. I have used fresh, bagged baby spinach greens, but I prefer the frozen, chopped.

Note on bacon: One and half slices? Well, one is too little. It doesn’t deliver the taste. You can go to two slices, especially if you cannot find a good quality, thick sliced bacon. Any more makes the bacon overwhelming.

Note on the egg: Some people are wary of eating raw egg. If the egg mixture is added just as the pasta/spinach is removed from the heat, the egg will cook and thicken the sauce. Watch the pasta water in the bottom of the skillet; if it has small bubbles when you remove it from the heat, the temperature will be at least 212°F (100°C) which is enough to cook the egg. If you are still not sure – or your immune system is compromised – you can add the egg while the skillet is still over the heat; then toss and remove it to the table.

Note on the pasta water: The added pasta water makes a silky sauce. Without the pasta water or adding the egg while over the heat can curdle the egg, so that you end up with scrambled egg instead of a silky sauce. It’s not a major disaster and still tastes delicious. See my Pasta Rant for more on cooking pasta.

Note on salt: I don’t salt the pasta water. The bacon and the parmesan cheese add salt. Taste it after the egg is added to see if it needs salt. (Also, the unsalted pasta water is great on your plants once it cools.)

Note on pepper: Don’t skimp at the end. This dish needs fresh ground pepper.

Okay, I admit, while the bacon & egg & pasta have remained the same, I keep on adding more garlic and spinach. I’m up to two cloves of garlic per serving, which definitely makes this an apres church dish.

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