Carbonara with garlic breadcrumbs

“What about Carbonara?” suggests Tom.

“… with garlic bread?”

It’s a balmy Sunday afternoon in London, toward the end of an unusually hot June. We were at a wedding last night. Due to antibiotic-induced teetotalism, there’s not a hangover in sight. Instead, Tom capitalised on the situation and saved on a taxi by driving us back from Hampshire in the middle of the night.

Still, exhaustion has induced comfort eating, and a plate of vegetables just ain’t going to cut it. But carbonara with garlic bread? I’m no health freak, but that’s just extra carb on carbonara. There’s a nubbin of yesterday’s baguette on the side though, which makes me think that perhaps pangrattato – Italian breadcrumbs – would make a canny compromise.

This recipe is highly controversial in its use of crème fraiche (that and, of course, the breadcrumbs). I can only I apologise to Italian Nonnas spinning in their graves. Traditional recipes use egg-only, but I think that by adding a spoon of crème fraiche, it helps stop the sauce from turning scrambly, and encourages a nice glossy sheen. Non-traditional recipes use cream, which I agree is an aberration. Come on, it’s rich enough already!

My other tip is not to scrimp on the spaghetti. The difference between expensive and cheap spaghetti is about 20p per serving, but the difference in quality is enormous. Cheap spaghetti is slippery, but the good stuff has a rougher texture which helps a sauce cling to it. Go on, splash out, you never know when you might be house-based due to post-wedding collapse and in need of something to deliver urgent comfort.

Carbonara with garlic breadcrumbs
Serves 2

150g smoked lardons
150g dried spaghetti
2 egg yolks
1 whole egg
1 tbsp crème fraiche
1 handful parmesan, grated
Generous pinch of freshly cracked black pepper

For the pangrattato
4 tbsp olive oil
2 handfuls breadcrumbs
1 garlic clove, crushed
1 tbsp thyme leaves, picked

  1. Cook the smoked lardons in a frying pan, stirring occasionally, until the fat starts to crisp. Then tip them onto a wad of kitchen roll, which will absorb excess fat.
  2. Meanwhile, bring a pan of water to the boil, add a dash of salt, and cook the spaghetti according to pack instructions.
  3. Mix the egg yolks, whole egg, crème fraiche, parmesan and cracked black pepper in a bowl, and set it to one side.
  4. Next, make the pangrattato by heating the olive oil in a frying pan. Add the breadcrumbs and a pinch of salt, then sauté for about five minutes, agitating the pan from time to time, so that the breadcrumbs crisp all over. (An extra knob of butter won’t hurt here!)
  5. Add the garlic, thyme and a dash more oil 1 minute before the breadcrumbs are done. Keep stirring, on the heat, until the garlic is cooked.
  6. Finally, drain the spaghetti (don’t be too thorough — a bit of residual water is a good thing). Return the cooked spaghetti to the hot pan it was cooked in. Add the lardons, and the  egg-cheese- crème fraiche mixture. Stir, so the heat of the pasta and pan cooks the egg. If needed, put the pan on a very low heat, stirring the whole time until the sauce becomes custardy-thick and glossy. Divide between two bowls, and top with the pangrattato breadcrumbs.

Two-to-three-day old bread, blitzed in a food processor (crusts and all) makes excellent breadcrumbs. They freeze well, and are far more satisfying to use than supermarket-bought breadcrumbs, which are often found in the ambient aisle, and contain all sorts of odd ingredients (turmeric extract, corn starch, palm oil, antioxidants).
Though white bread is most conventional, rye or sourdough make great tasting breadcrumbs too. If you don’t have a food processor, then simply tear the bread into rustic-crouton shaped pieces which will still have a nice crunch and delicious garlicky flavour.

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