Carbonara Nests with Quail Eggs & Lardons
This is an elegant, seasonal springtime twist on a classic dish . . . because It's Lauren, of Course!
Pasta carbonara is creamy, yet there should not be a drop of cream used to make it. Magic happens when eggs, cheese, and starchy pasta water become one to create a sauce in a matter of seconds. This dish is all about technique, not torture. It's both very simple and a little complicated because it is procedural. If you follow the procedure, you will succeed. These elegant nests can be purchased dry, so you don't need to form them yourself. If you want to skip the quail egg garnish, it still will be a celebration of springtime, cheese, and bacon! If you want to skip the nests altogether, try this classic Carbonara instead.
Essential equipment: large saucepan or stockpot; 2 large mixing bowls; whisk; medium sauté pan; ladle; slotted spoon; dry and wet measuring cups; measuring spoons; box grater; wooden spoon; rimmed sheet pan
12 dry pasta nests
2 large eggs and 2 egg yolks, room temperature
½ cup grated Pecorino Romano
¼ cup grated Parmesan
4 ounces slab bacon, guanciale, or pancetta, cut into lardons 1/3 cup freshly shelled peas, cooked
¼ cup finely chopped Italian (flat-leaf) parsley freshly ground black pepper to taste
pinch of salt to taste
18 quail eggs to garnish
1. Place a large, shallow pot of water plus a scant tablespoon salt over high heat to bring to a boil.
2. Meanwhile, in a large mixing bowl whisk together the eggs, yolks, and cheese. Season with generous amounts of freshly ground black pepper and a pinch of salt. Set aside.
3. Add the bacon to a cold pan turn and place over medium heat. Sauté until browned and crisped, but still tender. Remove from heat, drain bacon on paper towels, and set aside both the pan with rendered fat and the drained bacon.
4. Add the pasta to the boiling water and cook until al dente. Have an empty, large rimmed sheet pan ready for the pasta once drained.
“ILOC tip: if you are concerned about keeping the pasta as warm as possible for service, fill the large rimmed sheet pan with hot water that you set aside for the drained pasta. Once you drain the pasta, you can dump the hot water, dry the sheet pan and then add the drained pasta to this prepared, warm sheet pan. It's all about technique, not torture...because It's Lauren, of Course! So, if this feels a little bit like torture, skip it!”
5. Reserve 2 cups of pasta water in a measuring cup, then drain pasta, one nest at a time, using a slotted spoon and add to the large, rimmed sheet pan. Drizzle the pasta nests with some rendered fat from the bacon pan and gently shake the pan well to coat.
6. Immediately stir ½ cup pasta water in the cheese mixture to temper it, and then add a little more to reach the desired creaminess. Drizzle that mixture over the pasta nests, shaking gently to coat.
“Even though you have reserved two cups of pasta water, do not feel compelled to use all of it. You want to use the first half cup to temper the eggs and cheese (to bring them to temperature) so that they do not scramble when they touch the hot pasta. You might decide that you do not want or need any additional water, or you might find that you need to use most of it. Remember: you have reserved 2 cups so that you have more than enough, not just enough. You know the drill: it's about technique, not torture!”
7. Sprinkle the bacon and peas over the nests. Place 3 nests in a shallow bowl and fill each with quail egg, if desired. Sprinkle with the parsley. Serve immediately, adding additional grated cheese and freshly ground pepper.
Makes 4 servings.