A comforting fall dinner

Eating

Eating  2011, oil on board, 12 x 12 inches

On these cool, fall evenings with the light failing so early, I turn to familiar, comforting dishes for our dinner.  One of our favorites is pasta carbonara, creamy and savory.  My version is not a traditional Italian carbonara and I hope you too will feel free to add and subtract ingredients to suit your taste. I adapt the recipe according to whatever is in my fridge, be it a bit of bacon or ham, herbs such as parsley, thyme or chives, and onions, shallots or garlic.  A vegetarian version might include mushrooms cooked over high heat in olive oil until brown and tender. This is how I made carbonara a few weeks ago.

parsley and ham

I chopped a yellow onion and sauteed it in a bit of olive oil, then added pieces from a slice of Black Forest ham.  I strewed the mixture with leaves from several sprigs of thyme, still growing under the apple tree outside the kitchen.

onions,ham,thyme

I kept this warm while I brought a pot of water to the boil then tossed in about 5 ounces of penne,  enough for the two of us.  In a small bowl I combined two eggs with a big handful of grated parmesan and beat them together. (Use one egg and more parmesan for each additional serving.)

eggs and parmesan

When the pasta was tender, al dente tender, I drained it. I dumped the hot pasta into the warm pan with the ham and onion, then added the egg and parm mixture, tossing and stirring until combined, creamy and liquid.  (I didn’t want to make scrambled eggs.)  The heat of the pasta cooked the eggs just enough to make a delicious sauce.  I added a large handful of chopped parsley and a good grind of black pepper and the dish was ready to eat.

 

ready to serve

To accompany the pasta I made a simple salad inspired by a traditional Waldorf Salad but without the mayonnaise.  I added thinly sliced apple and toasted walnuts to salad greens, then dressed everything with a mustardy vinaigrette to offset the creamy pasta. (Combine a tablespoon Dijon mustard with a tablespoon red wine vinegar, or to your taste.  Slowly add 2-3 tablespoons olive oil  to make an emulsion.)

apple salad

With a side of steamed broccoli and some homemade breadsticks, dinner was served.

So, the breadsticks.  My usual favorite commercial breadsticks are out of stock so I decided to make my own.  No more store bought for me.

Combine 3/4 cup of very warm water with 1 1/2 teaspoons dry yeast and a teaspoon of barley malt.  This last is optional but adds a subtle flavor to the sticks.  When the yeast has proofed, add it to 1 1/2 cups unbleached flour, 2 tablespoons wheat germ, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1 tablespoon olive oil.

ingredients

This will make a soft dough.

dough

Knead until well combined and smooth, adding a bit of flour as necessary to keep from sticking.  On your lightly floured counter, roll or pat the dough into a 10 x 7 inch rectangle.  Rub with olive oil and cover with plastic.  Let rise for about an hour.

ready to rise

I use a marvelous technique for forming the breads that I learned from a recipe in Carol Field’s Italian Baking. When the dough has risen, don’t deflate but cut in half, then into narrow stripes across in the other direction. Pull each piece gently and twist slightly from each end to make a skinny stick.  Mine always have a nob on each end.  I like the rough, rustic look.  The dough is soft so don’t fuss. Place on a sheet of parchment laid on a baking sheet.

risen dough

ready to bake

Bake at 400° for 20 minutes or until brown.  Cool on a rack.  (I rewarm leftovers in the toaster oven at 300° for a few minutes to regain the crunch.)

baked

I like to serve the breadsticks upright in a pretty vessel, this one made by Chiu Leong.

on the table

 

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