Long after the charm of TV Dinners had worn off, and even after we had dismissed most of the 60s’ “futuristic” notions of what food would be like in the 21st century, American society remains in large part enamored by the notion of fresh tomatoes in the dead of winter.
Why? There are ethical, economic and environmental reasons why it really ought not be so. Those, however, are not the focus of this blog. My focus – at least in this article – is on two other reasons: the culinary and the spiritual. First, have you tasted winter tomatoes? For the most part, they suck. I would use good quality canned tomatoes over the best supermarket offerings – including those called “organic” or “heirloom” – every day of every week. They just plain taste better…at least in the dead of winter.
But there is another point, perhaps a bit more subtle, perhaps a bit more ephemeral. Our world, however it may have come into being, does not exactly encourage consumption of tomatoes (or other warm weather produce) in winter, does it? There are, in contrast, no shortage of wonderful ingredients coming on line as Spring approaches. Why would you want bad tomatoes instead of good fava beans?
And, in fact, there are not many things that say “Spring” more than fava beans. They speak to a time and a place. They whisper of renewal and shout with enthusiasm about what is to come.
The simple addition of this marvelously seasonal ingredient, fava beans, to the classic and wonderfully simple Spaghetti Alla Carbonara transforms the dish into a plate of food that speaks about Spring. It does so without losing an ounce of Roman authenticity and, instead, focuses the dish on the season. It brings one in touch with the rhythms of things far greater than we are. It brings us in touch with the earth itself.
Spaghetti Alla Carbonara with Fava Beans
- 1 pound dry spaghetti
- 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 4 ounces Prosciutto end or slab bacon, cubed or sliced into small strips
- 4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
- 20 pods of fava beans, double peeled (out of pods and out of slip covers)
- 2 large eggs
- 1 cup freshly grated Pecorino-Roman cheese, grated, plus more for serving
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 1 handful fresh flat-leaf parsley, chopped
Make the Pasta. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil, add the pasta and cook for 8 to 10 minutes to the point that the paste is al dente. Drain the pasta well, reserving 1/2 cup of the starchy cooking water to use in the sauce, as necessary.
- Make the Sauce. Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a deep skillet over medium flame. Add the Prosciutto end and saute for about 6 minutes over high heat, until the Prosciutto is crisp and the fat is rendered. Toss the garlic into the fat and saute for less than 1 minute to soften. Add the fava beans and sauté for another 2 minutes.
- Complete the Dish. Add the hot, drained spaghetti to the pan and toss for 2 minutes to coat the strands in the bacon fat. Beat the eggs and cheese together in a mixing bowl, stirring well to prevent lumps. Reduce the heat in the pan to simmer and pour the egg/cheese mixture into the pasta, mixing quickly until the eggs thicken, but do not scramble (it is lower risk to do this off the heat, but the results will never be as good). Thin out the sauce with a bit of the reserved pasta water, until it reaches desired consistency.
- Plate the Dish. Transfer serving portions — mounding a quarter cup, for example – to each plate. Season the carbonara with several turns of freshly ground black pepper and taste for sal. Bring the remaining cheese, together with the