My favorite cooking vessel is my cast-iron skillet. I call it one-stop shopping in the kitchenware department. Not only is a cast-iron skillet handy on the stovetop, you can use it in the oven and even on the grill. Recently, I made a simple carbonara pasta dish in my cast-iron skillet.
Carbonara is the Italian version of chicken soup -- a comforting dish for all ages -- which consists of pasta and cured pork (guanciale) or bacon, whisked in a sauce of eggs and grated Pecorino cheese. The method is quick. It relies on the heat from the freshly cooked pasta to sufficiently cook the eggs and melt the cheese while the sauce is vigorously stirred to prevent the eggs from scrambling. From start to finish, this dish can be whipped up in less than 30 minutes.
I often mix vegetables into my carbonara, which add extra oomph to the recipe and allows me to call it a one-dish family meal, replete with the nutrients from the veggies. Peas are a year-round contender since frozen peas can easily be added to the mix. In the springtime, though, I like to add fresh asparagus.
8 ounces thick-cut bacon (or guanciale), cut into 1/2-inch pieces
2 large eggs, room temperature
1 cup finely grated Pecorino Romano cheese, plus more for sprinkling
1 pound orecchiette
3/4 pound thin asparagus, cut into 1-inch pieces
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon salt (optional)
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper
Freshly ground black pepper
Cook the bacon in batches in a large skillet over medium heat until the fat renders and the bacon is crispy. Transfer the bacon to a plate lined with a paper towel. When cool enough to handle, break into small pieces. Pour off all but 2 tablespoons fat from the skillet.
Whisk the eggs and cheese in a bowl until blended and set aside.
Bring a large pot of salted water to a rolling boil. Add the orecchiette and cook according to the package instructions until al dente; drain.
While the pasta is cooking, add the asparagus, garlic, salt and red pepper flakes to the skillet. Saute over medium heat until asparagus is bright and crisp-tender, 2 to 3 minutes.
Add the drained orecchiette to the skillet and stir to combine. Remove the pan from the heat and quickly add the eggs and cheese, stirring constantly to coat the pasta and to prevent the eggs from scrambling. Add the bacon to the skillet and stir once more. Serve immediately and garnish with additional grated cheese and freshly ground black pepper.
Yield: 4 servings. Total cooking time: 25 minutes.