breakfast for dinner, italian style

My grandfather, Chip, made a great breakfast – the kind that just can’t be replicated.  I don’t know whether it was some special ingredient (doubtful, though something tells me he used bacon drippings for frying his eggs), the years of culinary patina on his griddle (possible, though even my grandmother’s eggs don’t quite equal Chip’s), or the fact that he whistled “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My Head” while he made them (don’t tell me that’s not an ingredient).  But I think that it’s most likely all of those things, combined with the fact that he’s not around to make us those breakfasts anymore.  Whatever the culinary and emotional alchemy, they were excellent, and I miss them, even though I’m not much of a breakfast person.

Actually, that’s not entirely true. I love me some good bacon and eggs … just not in the morning.  For dinner, though … well, that’s another story.  But that seems to be a gene mutation, or at least something inherited from my Mom’s family, rather than my Dad’s.  No, my Dad’s family had a pretty firm meal structure – seafood on Friday nights, franks & beans for Saturday lunch, Sunday dinners that saw all five sons sitting at the table. And breakfast was Breakfast.

As such, my Dad – who also makes a mean “He-Man Breakfast” (as the Lad calls it) – has also never been big on breakfast at nontraditional times.  When I was a kid, Mom would let us have “Breakfast for Dinner” on the rare occasions when Dad wasn’t home for dinner, and my sisters and I got a kick out of it.  Now, at the end of a long day with the Lad and Lass, when Husband is in some other city or country (perhaps men, in general, prefer to keep breakfast in the 7 to 10 a.m. window?), I have definitely been known to pull out the griddle and announce that “It’s a Breakfast for Dinner night!”

Anyway, for all this chatter I’ve thrown your way, this dish has very little to do with scrambled eggs or French toast, and it’s not something you have to save for those nights when you are home alone.  In fact, you could trot this out for company. But it is essentially bacon, eggs and toast – only instead of toast, it’s pasta.  And, for some reason, the fact that it’s all tossed together (with a ton of cheese) makes this feel like dinner and not “breakfast for dinner.”

Plus, I once heard Mario Batali say that spaghetti alla carbonara is the Italian take on breakfast for dinner, so perhaps it’s not so crazy that making it led me down this particular memory lane … regardless, this is easy to throw together, luxurious to eat (despite the lack of cream found in many Americanized versions), and – company-worthy or not – could well be your new pick on those nights when a “real” supper just seems to be too much to pull off.

Spaghetti alla Carbonara
(adapted from Saveur, April 2010)

4 tablespoons good olive oil
4 ounces pancetta in a fine dice*
2 tsp. freshly cracked black pepper
1 3⁄4 cups finely grated Parmesan cheese
1 egg plus 3 yolks
Kosher salt
1 pound spaghetti

Bring salted water to a boil in a large pot.

Meanwhile, heat oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add pancetta and cook, stirring occasionally, until fat is rendered and the meat is lightly browned, 6–8 minutes. Add pepper and cook, stirring occasionally, until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Transfer the pancetta, pepper and oils to a large bowl and let cool slightly; stir in 1 1⁄2 cups Parmesan, the egg and egg yolks and whisk into a thick, custard-like consistency. Set aside.

Add pasta to the boiling water and cook until al dente, 8–10 minutes. Reserve 3⁄4 cup water; drain pasta and transfer it to the pancetta, egg and cheese mixture. Toss with tongs, adding pasta water a little at a time to make a creamy sauce. Season with salt and pepper; serve with remaining Parmesan.

* You can use bacon, but the dish will have a smokier flavor.


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