Just before the official start of summer, as market bins begin to fill with squash, tomatoes, and peaches, I briefly crave the comfort of wintertime foods. It might sound odd, but it happens every year. Throughout spring, I get my fill of bright, green leaves -- nutritious dandelion, baby artichokes, and crunchy purslane -- and I eat as many stalks of asparagus as I can find. But then, June Gloom sets in, covering Southern California in a blanket of gray sky, and my culinary hankerings turn to cured meats, silky eggs, and cheese. That's the moment when I make pasta alla carbonara.
I begin by following the traditional Roman recipe, which calls for frying cubes of guanciale, salt-cured pork cheek. This Italian specialty isn't the easiest to find, so I sometimes substitute pancetta or bacon, though I would never admit this to my Roman friends. While the pasta boils, I whisk eggs with grated cheese and lots of coarsely ground black pepper. This mixture is combined with the hot pasta and becomes a silky sauce, thickened and barely cooked by the steaming noodles. To my June Gloom pasta alla carbonara, I add one nonconventional ingredient -- peas -- because I like the pop of freshness and color that they bring to this dish.
English peas (sometimes called garden peas) are sweetest when freshly plucked from the vine. They differ from flat snow peas in that their rounded pods, which are fibrous and inedible, encase a row of nearly spherical peas. The recently developed sugar snap pea is an in-between; it has an edible pod that is not as flat as that of a snow pea but not quite as plump as that of an English pea. All peas are cool season crops. By the time summer heat arrives, their brief season will have come to an end. Farmers from Tehachapi, such as Alex Weiser of Weiser Family Farms, are still bringing sweet English peas to the Santa Monica Farmers' Market. Grab them while you can, and try this bucatini alla carbonara recipe on a gray early summer day.
Bucatini alla Carbonara with Peas
I like the intense, funky, barnyard flavor of guanciale, but pancetta or bacon also work well in this recipe. You can make pasta alla carbonara with spaghetti or any other noodle shape that will catch this luscious sauce.
¼ pound guanciale, pancetta, or bacon, sliced into ½-inch cubes
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 egg yolk
1 cup grated Parmigiano or Pecorino Romano, plus extra to serve
½ pound bucatini
¾ cup shucked peas (from about ½ pound in the pod)
Kosher salt and coarsely ground black pepper
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.
In a skillet over medium-high heat, cook the guanciale in the olive oil until lightly colored and crisp on the outside, but slightly soft in the middle, about 6 to 8 minutes. Take the pan off the heat.
In a large bowl, vigorously whisk the eggs with the egg yolk, Parmigiano, and lots of black pepper. Set aside.
Drop the pasta into the boiling water, and cook until al dente. During the final 2 minutes of cooking time, add the peas directly into the pot with the pasta. They should turn vibrantly green in color. Reserve 1 cup of the cooking liquid, then drain. Now get ready to work speedily: Immediately transfer the noodles and peas to the skillet with the guanciale. Pour in a splash of reserved cooking liquid, and stir well to coat each noodle. Transfer to the large bowl containing the whisked eggs. Continue stirring until the sauce thickens ever so slightly.
Serve promptly. Pass a bowl of grated cheese at the table, if you like.