Sunday, December 27, 2015

Dinner at Mom's- Carbonara and Kale

Kale is still king. King of the salad bowl anyway. This green leafy superfood that was once the culinary buzzword of the moment is still hanging on as a favorite for diners everywhere. In many ways, kale is the new spinach! This salad plays off the old 70s classic- warm spinach salad- which was often prepared tableside and with a lot of theatrics. No need for all that nonsense anymore. 

Whenever I have my family over for dinner it has got to be special. They have come to expect something quiet special when Mom cooks. It's my own fault, but it's also something I really love doing, and makes me very very happy. On this particular occasion, my middle child is coming for dinner. Laurie, if you remember from THIS blog post, is a busy restaurant manager and has days off that aren't compatible with most of us weekend people. It's a rare treat to get to spend time with her. She called me a few days ago and said "Mooooooother you need to make me homemade spaghetti tonight" and while we couldn't make that day work, we did plan for tonight. Whatever I want to cook, she said, she will eat it. Now I just need to plan a menu! One of Laurie's favorite dishes growing up was Spaghetti alla Carbonara- the real authentic recipe with raw eggs, butter and cream, and to be honest, it's so fast and easy I was more than happy to make it. 

Like I said this recipe is a spin-off of that 70s classic, warm spinach salad. No need for a fancy dressing and a lot of fuss- it all comes together in a skillet and bowl and the vinegar and a little bacon fat make the best dressing to coat those hearty leaves. I won't bore you with another lecture on the health benefits of kale, just take my word for it- this stuff is good for you. So let's have dinner and then we will talk more about Laurie, my middle child.

Warm Bacon and Kale Salad

1 large bunch kale
6 slices bacon
good Balsamic vinegar
1/4 cup sliced almonds
Parmesan cheese (a hunk for shaving)

In a heavy skillet (cast iron is great) toast the almonds over medium low heat until golden brown. Remove to a plate to cool. 

Wash the kale thoroughly, shaking to dry. Strip the leaves off the center stem and tear into bite sized pieces. Set aside.

Cut the bacon into half inch pieces. Place in the skillet and cook until brown and crispy. Remove to a paper towel to drain. Pour off about half of the bacon fat then add the kale. Cook, turning with tongs just until the kale brightens. Remove to a bowl. Sprinkle with the bacon pieces and a sprinkle of salt. Drizzle with Balsamic vinegar to taste. Toss. Pour salad onto a serving platter; sprinkle with the almonds and shaved Parmesan cheese. Serve immediately.

Like I said Laurie often requested Carbonara growing up. Luckily I grew up in an all-Italian neighborhood and got to spend time in Italy experiencing real Italian food, not the Americanized sanitized and processed versions, and old style Carbonara is one of those dishes. Here is how to make this classic-

4 eggs, room temperature
1/4 cup half and half, room temperature
1/4 cup butter, cut up, room temperature
1/4 cup parmesan cheese
6-8 slices bacon, cooked and crumbled
1 small onion
2 garlic cloves
pinch of red pepper flakes
freshly minced parsley
1 lb thin spaghetti

Begin by combining the eggs, half and half, butter and parm in a large bowl. Set aside.

In a skillet cook the bacon until crisp, remove and drain; reserve a tablespoon of the fat. Add the onion and cook 2-3 minutes until translucent. Add the garlic and cook one minute. Remove to a small plate and spread out to cool slightly.

Bring a large pot of salted water to boil. Mix the bacon and onions into the egg mixture. Cook the pasta until al dente, then drain and immediately add to egg mixture, tossing to coat the pasta. The heat cooks the eggs. Toss in the parsley and serve immediately.

Before adding the pasta. The heat melts the butter and
cooks the eggs
Laurie arrived promptly at 7 pm for her special dinner at mom's house and invited a friend of hers to join. Knowing me well, they arrived with a fantastic bottle of ten year old Cabernet and we had a wonderful time eating, talking, laughing and drinking wine. Laurie has been working her way up in the restaurant scene in Des Moines for several years and has gained so much knowledge in many areas- the behind-the-scenes, the food, the customer service, managing staff and developing quite an appreciation for good food and good libations. Keep an eye on this girl. She is going places!

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