Breakfast ‘per la cena’ (breakfast for dinner – Italian style)

Some time ago I got into a pasta rut, by which I mean every other dinner I made was *choose shape of* pasta with a jar of sauce (tomato-based). I got stuck in that habit because it was a) cheap b) pantry ingredient friendly, c) easy, d) quick, and e) my kids ate it. We all got so sick of pasta. I mean, really, rotini versus spaghetti and Newman’s Own Sockarooni versus 365 roasted vegetable sauce isn’t really variation in one’s diet, nor is it enough variation to stave off boredom through repetition).

Save for my kids’ unwavering love of macaroni and cheese, we definitely have cut back on our pasta consumption. I can’t pinpoint when this happened, but after several weeks of noodle overload, I pulled the plug and avoided such dinners except in extreme circumstances (think: lots of people over for dinner with little time to make something).

Now, we all enjoy breakfast for dinner. If I’m doing well in terms of meal planning, we’ll have a breakfast of some sort for dinner at least one time a week. I like it because it is quick, easy, and my kids eat it. Sound familiar? Yep, same “wins” as you get with the pasta.

Last week I got my farm-fresh eggs and was thinking of what to do with them as I did the shop at Trader Joe’s when I spotted a package of pancetta and remembered a favorite we hadn’t enjoyed in a really long time (mostly due to the pasta hiatus): spaghetti carbonara! It’s breakfast for dinner Italiano style.

I’ve made it many times and I’ve used Rachel Ray’s recipes in the past, but for years I’ve done it “my way.” It’s quick and easy and tasty.

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 lb (1/2 box) of whole wheat spaghetti (I use the thin stuff)
  • 1 small package (1/2c – 1c) pancetta diced (I also sometimes use 2 thick-cut strips of bacon diced – this makes a smokier baconier tasting dish)
  • 2 eggs
  • 3/4 c. finely, freshly grated Parmigiano Regianno cheese (using the ‘good stuff’ and grating it yourself really makes a difference in this dish)
  • 1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper (again, freshly grating really makes a difference in this dish)

Directions:

Bring plenty of water to the boil in a pot large enough to accommodate 1/2lb of spaghetti pasta. Meanwhile, start cooking the pancetta (or bacon) over medium to medium high heat. Once the water boils, add the pasta and stir. Set your timer about 1 minute shy of the fully cooked time on the pasta box (mine was 7 minutes). The goal is to finish cooking the bacon/pancetta at about the same time as the pasta timer sounds, so adjust the temperature under the meat appropriately. For me, that meant turning the heat down and just keeping things warm for the last couple minutes.

While the bacon/pancetta and pasta cook, grate your cheese and grind your pepper. Crack your eggs in a large bowl and, using a whisk, beat them until they lighten slightly in color. Add the pepper and grated cheese and mix together with the egg. The mixture should be a thick somewhat pasty consistency.

As soon as the timer goes to signal the pasta is ready, drain your pasta (do not rinse!), reserving about 1c. of pasta cooking water. I actually just use some tongs to pull the pasta out of the pot and plop it into the pan next to it on the stove, retaining the heat as best as possible. Put the pasta into the pan with the cooked bacon/pancetta and stir. Yes, that bacon/pancetta grease stays in the dish for the yum factor (I never said this was low-fat).

As soon as you’ve stirred the pasta and bacon/pancetta around, add the egg/cheese/pepper mixture to the pan and stir. Your pan heat should be very low at this point (or even turned off). The heat of the pasta and remaining heat in the pan is enough to cook the egg. However, I err on the side of caution with my kids consuming this dish and often turn the heat back on under the pan for a minute or two (this will make the dish a little less creamy). Add pasta water as needed to loosen up the sauce. I ended up adding about 1/2c. of the water.

That’s it – you’re ready to serve your dish! (Mine clocked in at under 15 minutes total.)

I was in such a rush to get this on the table that I forgot to snap a photo. The other great thing?: My kids inhaled it!

Since this went down well, I think I’ll try making another twist on pasta for the 2nd half of the box of spaghetti – I’m thinking something asian-style with peanut sauce, maybe. I’ll let you know when I put it together.

Do you have a go-to dinner? Anything you’ve relied on so much you just can’t face it again for a while? A riff on an old favorite that’s now a new favorite for your family?

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