The weather in Ottawa the past few months — indeed, dating back to last fall — has been akin to some kid flicking the weather “light switch” on and off repeatedly. On Monday, many people here still needed their furnaces — and a few days later summer suddenly has arrived and we are under a humidex advisory.
In the context of early summer, however, few things say “fresh” as well as a light pasta. One of my own absolute favourites is pasta carbonara which is a light, slightly creamy pasta whose creaminess comes not from cups of heavy cream, but rather from eggs. The essence of a carbonara is the beautiful pancetta (Italian bacon) which adds the essential flavours of smoke, earthiness, and even a little sweetness from the caramelization. As much as I love this dish and love to keep it pure and simple, I wanted to experiment this week because I also had a craving for salmon … and with asparagus looking so fresh and yummy right now, it also made it into the experiment.
For those new to carbonara, it is worth noting that it is a quick dish and perfect to make when time is short. You’ll be finished your prep before the water for the pasta even comes to a boil. And, if you’re organized and have done it a few times, beginning to end, this dish takes practically the length of time to boil water and cook the pasta.
There are a few keys to making this dish work: use high-quality pancetta or bacon; grill the asparagus first because this will impart more of the ‘smokiness’ lost by reducing the bacon; don’t over-cook the salmon; and use a high-quality pasta and cook it al dente. I generally use whole-wheat or gluten-free pasta in many other dishes, but when it comes to carbonara, the delicateness is lost with anything other than a refined ‘pure’ and authentic pasta.
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook time: 20 minutes
Total time: 20-30 minutes
Salmon Carbonara with Asparagus (Pasta)
- 5 ounces (150 grams) asparagus
- 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
- salt and pepper
- 3 ounces (85 grams) pancetta (or good quality bacon)
- (approximately 3-4 slices of 1/4″ thickness)
- 1 clove of garlic, minced
- 1 tablespoon extra-virgen olive oil
- 1 clove of garlic, minced
- 1 teaspoon zest, preferably Meyer lemon (small lemon)
- sprinkling of salt and pepper
- 1/2 cup of rosé (or sauvignon blanc) wine
- 1/2 cup of heavy whipping cream
- 1/2 lb (250 grams) good quality fettuccine
- 3 eggs, beaten
- 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
- 1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt
- 2 ounces of grated parmigiano reggiano, divided
- Preheat grill to 400°F.
- Prepare the asparagus by rinsing it well under cold water to remove any sand. Remove the tough bottoms by snapping the bottoms off at their “natural break-point.” Toss the asparagus in olive oil and lightly season with salt and pepper.
- Place asparagus on grill, perpendicular to grates, and grill about 5-6 minutes until grill marks appear — flip and cook another 5 minutes. Watch and be careful the fronds (the tops) don’t burn. Remove and let cool.
NB: Asparagus can be prepared a day in advance and be kept refrigerated.
- Cut asparagus into thirds, approximately 2 inches (5cm) in length each and set aside.
- Heat a pasta pot with water and follow directions to cook the pasta.
Note: you want to time the pasta to be cooked at the same time or after you have completed step 8 below.
- Do all your prep in this order, setting each aside to avoid cross contamination: dice pancetta; mince garlic; zest lemon; and grate Parmesan; chop salmon into 3/4″ chunks.
- Beat the eggs in a large bowl (you’ll be adding the pasta and all ingredients to this eventually) and lightly season with salt and pepper.
- Heat a skillet to medium-high heat. Add and cook in order: fry the pancetta for 3-5 minutes; add olive oil; add minced garlic and cook for 30 seconds; add salmon and cook about 5 minutes; season with salt, pepper, and lemon zest. Add 1/2 cup of wine to deglaze pan and cook for 1 minute; add cream and bring to simmer. Taste for seasoning and remove from heat.
- Remove pasta from water and drain well. Do Not Rinse.
→ Reserve a cup of pasta water.
- Add pasta to bowl with eggs and quickly stir. Don’t worry — the heat of the pasta will cook the eggs. This is why the pasta needs to come directly from heat. Stir quickly to ensure the eggs don’t cook unevenly and turn into “scrambled eggs.” Add salmon mixture from skillet and incorporate well. Add 3/4 of the grated parmigiano reggiano and stir in.
→ Taste for seasoning. If too dry, add a few tablespoons of reserved pasta water and/or cream.
- Serve into pasta bowls and top with additional Parmesan and enjoy.
Wine Pairing: Serve with with a dry rosé wine or sauvignon blanc.