The Child gave me a lovely gift on Christmas: a set of new pans. She’d heard enough of me complaining about the set I bought with The Departed – which weren’t actually bad pans, but they scratched up badly and very quickly and after just a few years of use, look like they were used for target practice by a squadron of Iron Chefs.
These new pans are cheerful and clean, and they heat up fast – I was a bit alarmed by a warning on the bottom of the pans to only use them on “low or medium heat,” but apparently that’s because if you use high heat, your food will be rapidly reduced to ash. I discover this when I break in the first pan with a couple of strips of bacon, and have to quickly turn the heat down.
The Child is pleased, and watches me cook with obvious pride in her selection, but also with a certain amount of interest in what I’m cooking. It smells good, she says. I miss bacon.
She made her pescatarian pledge several years ago, and to my amazement, only broke down once, succumbing to temptation at Red Robin with an order of chicken tenders that she has regretted ever since.
She sniffs the air and agonizes over the decision. I am fine with whatever you do, I tell her.
She succumbs, and eats one piece.
I try not to discuss it too much, but later I ask if she feels bad about eating it, and she says, no. I really miss bacon. I miss chicken mcnuggets, too.
We have a long discussion about her eating habits. I don’t mind her refusal to eat meat, and never have – I’d happily make vegetarian dishes all the time. But it’s a struggle, because most of the time she doesn’t like them, or worse, she likes them the first time she eats them, and I’m happy to have found something to add to my limited Child-friendly repertoire, but then the next time I make the exact same thing, she doesn’t like it. I’ve explained the need to broaden her horizons, or if she is unwilling or unable to do that, to learn how to manage them politely, because it’s a pain to be around, and she’s going to find that people are increasingly less tolerant of this trait as she gets older.
She tells me she thinks she may grow out of it, or at least her internet research on the subject has led her to this conclusion, but she’s also afraid she may have this other, rare condition she read about, which causes her to never grow out of it.
I’ve done this same research, and have this same fear.
But the day after Christmas, she’s still not regretting her decision to eat one piece of bacon, and I inquire, would you be willing to eat a little bacon, just here and there? You used to like spaghetti carbonara so much.
I miss that, too, she says. I miss that a lot. Maybe, could you make it, and just not tell anyone that I ate it?
Sure, I could do that, I tell her.
So I opened up my binder of recipes to what was once an old standby, Creamy Spaghetti Carbonara. I found this dish from Anne Quatrano on Food and Wine, and used to make it regularly when The Departed’s children came over for their scheduled visits; the kids all loved it, and called it bacon and eggs spaghetti. It’s easy to make, though I nearly always manage to forget to reserve some of the pasta water for the sauce – just swap in some regular water if you do this. The recipe calls for pancetta, but I just use regular bacon and cook it a bit longer. There’s no need for olive oil if you do this. It probably goes without saying, but just in case: If you use regular store bacon, don’t get maple flavored. The bacon flavors the dish. (Unless you want maple-flavored spaghetti, in which case, enjoy!)
- 1 pound spaghetti
- 2 large egg yolks
- ½ cup heavy cream
- 1 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
- 6 ounces thickly sliced pancetta, or bacon, cut into ⅛-inch dice
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 cup Parmesan cheese (3 ounces), plus more for serving
- Pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
- In a large pot of boiling salted water, cook the spaghetti until just al dente. Drain, reserving ½ cup of the pasta cooking water.
- Meanwhile, in a small bowl, whisk the egg yolks and cream. In a large, deep skillet, heat the oil. Add the pancetta or bacon and cook over moderately high heat, stirring, until crisp, about 4 minutes. Add the garlic and cook until golden, 1 minute.
- Add the spaghetti to the skillet. Cook over low heat, tossing, until coated. Slowly add the reserved pasta cooking water and beaten egg yolks. Toss until coated with a creamy sauce, about 1 minute. Add the cup of Parmesan and the nutmeg; season with pepper. Transfer to bowls and serve, passing extra Parmesan.