Necessity truly is the mother of invention. After two dismal flops at MLLA recipes for June, and a clock that stops ticking for no one, I rummaged my pantry for on-the-fly ideas that would improve my odds of success at a very late hour. Carbonara sauce, as lush and rich and wonderful as it is, is a great challenge for a vegetarian cook who has an uneasy relationship with undercooked eggs. Although I frequently fake meat flavors with mushrooms (the wilder and stinkier the fungus, the better) I was much more concerned that I would go through all the motions only to wind up with the characteristic raw sauce clinging to my lovingly arranged mafaldine noodles. Scott has a very good appetite, but without my participatory consumption, there would be a mound of leftovers unable to be reheated without the egg seizing into tiny bits of curdle which only our imaginary Fido would be happy to chow down on.
Though merely a hunch, I prepared a savory custard cheese sauce, not unlike pastry cream, vigilantly whisking it on the lowest heat setting just until steaming and barely opaque enough to cover the back of a spoon. The eggs were cooked, the sauce was silky, and the texture naturally thickened when met with the pasta starch during the critically timed assembly and tossing. I cannot overemphasize the importance of timing for this recipe to work. As with most egg dishes that you do not intend to scramble, temperature control requires skill and confidence, but these qualities can be learned in real time, even if you are running out of it. While I make no claims to be as clever as Napoleon's Chef Dunand after the Battle of Marengo, some of the best cooks are those who can think on their feet. I absolutely did not know where I was going with this, but it's found a home of hungry mouths who definitely march on their stomachs around here.
Vegetarian Morel and Lentil Carbonara Pasta - My own recipe
Serves 2-3. Leftovers cannot be reheated.
8 dried whole morels, soaked in 1 cup hot water for 1 hour
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 tablespoons butter
2 large cloves garlic, pressed or minced
1 cup heavy cream
4 large eggs
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1-2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 cup lentils (any kind), boiled in 4 cups of water until firm to the bite but not mushy (about 7 minutes)
1 teaspoon olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
3/4 pound long, textured pasta (such as mafaldine, linguine rigate, or fusilli)
20 fresh chive blades, snipped into 3/4-inch pieces
Additional salt and ground black pepper to taste
Additional grated Parmesan to serve on side
In a medium saucepan, warm the olive oil with butter over low heat until butter is melted. Add garlic and stir. Maintain the lowest heat to prevent garlic from burning. Cook garlic until translucent and golden (about 5 minutes). Turn off heat; remove saucepan from burner. Add heavy cream and stir. Set aside to cool while you beat the eggs with an electric mixer in a medium bowl on high speed until thick and foamy (about 5 minutes). Slowly add 2 ladles of the warm cream sauce into eggs to condition them to the heat. Whisk immediately to combine. Transfer egg mixture to the saucepan with remaining cream sauce. Over the very lowest heat, and while whisking constantly, slowly heat the sauce until it just begins to steam. (You can best see the steam rise by lifting the saucepan and viewing the edges at eye level.) Dip a spoon into the sauce. It will be slightly thickened and cling to the back of the spoon. This process should not take more than a few minutes. Remove saucepan from heat, and while continuing to whisk, add Parmesan, salt, and pepper. The Parmesan will melt almost immediately. Add 4 tablespoons of the morel soaking water to the egg and cheese sauce. Reserve saucepan uncovered on a cold burner to prevent further cooking.
Rinse cooked lentils under cold water and toss in bowl with olive oil and salt. Cooked yield will be approximately 2 cups. Reserve.
Cook pasta according to package directions. In meantime, drain remaining morel water and reserve for future use. Slice morels lengthwise. Reserve.
Drain cooked pasta and immediately transfer to a large cold serving bowl. Do not return to the hot pot you cooked it in. Stir and pour egg and cheese sauce over pasta and toss well. Stir in lentils. Arrange morel slices on top. Scatter with snipped chives. Taste for additional salt and pepper. Serve immediately with additional grated Parmesan.
This recipe, rich in lentils, is for Aqua of Served with Love, who kindly offered to host MLLA 36 while she was in the middle of a very dramatic household move to South Africa. Her round-up will be online as soon as she catches her breath.
In meantime, I am busy with last-minute preparations to announce MLLA 37 which kicks off Year 4 of an event which I am still pinching myself for its popularity. Do stay tuned for extra-special features and prizes for the month of July. I shall be assuming the hosting duties. I expect it will be a very crazy time.