In searching for some new inspiration for what to cook next as we begin a new season, I considered cucina provera, “cooking of the poor.” The point was to prepare a simpler, more inexpensive meal that recalled leaner times, where, for example, eggs were more available and an affordable source of protein rather than meat.
A dish that might include eggs—a frittata, for example, or better yet, a pasta dish. Both of those approaches certainly met my criteria but I was looking to prepare something just a little different.
As a starting point I thought it might be interesting to include a pesto, but I often prepare pesto-type sauces, so I was still looking for something more. It’s not summer yet, so the classic Genovese basil and pine nut pesto variation just didn’t appeal to me at this time. Having written about pesto in a December 2014 post, Pesto—A Perspective, An Approach, I knew there was a wide range of ingredients and approaches to take in getting to an interesting pesto variation. But which ones?
Often, I have made a rustic pesto using the thicker stems from a bunch of broccoli rabe, so this time why not use the long thick stalks from the beautiful head of bright green organic broccoli, the more common brassica, I just purchased?
OK, pesto, check! But pasta simply sauced with a pesto was not yet different enough, I needed something more.
My inspiration finally came from Dr. Seuss by way of his book Green Eggs and Ham, a copy of which I gave to my wife Margaret for her birthday back in 1981 in an effort to win her hand and also to encourage her to try eggs cooked with soft yolks. I was only successful with one of those two challenges . . . but I digress!
Why not eggs? I have often read recipes where eggs are included in the finishing of a dish, such as the well know pasta alla carbonara. Often times the eggs are either gently cracked open and placed atop the main ingredient to cook in the heat of the dish just before serving, or alternately poached first and then added to finish the dish. The eggs and ham idea was appealing to me, although the ham part, from my perspective, needed to be more like pancetta or guanciale. The eggs, well, in order for my wife to even consider them, the yolks could not be soft, so I opted to hard cook them and use them as part of the final garnish.
Now I was closing in on what was shaping up to be a pasta dish that was different, quick and easy to prepare, made good use of repurposed and mostly pantry ingredients, and was economical.
The rendered pancetta oil, the pesto, and a little pasta water would provide the sauce to coat the pasta; the chopped pancetta, toasted bread crumbs, and chopped hard cooked egg, along with some red chili flakes would decorate the finished dish, and to add a little more color and texture, fresh micro pea tendrils, a spring ingredient, were woven into the pasta before plating, making the final dish just a little more interesting.
Bacon & Egg Pasta
Ingredients (serves 2 to 4)
¼ pound dried pasta per person (in this dish I used fresh cavatelli)
3 to 4 broccoli stalks, trimmed, sliced, poached until very tender
1 large garlic clove, peeled
1/3 cup shelled pistachio nuts, lightly toasted
½ cup parsley leaves, loosely packed
½ cup arugula leaves, loosely packed (optional)
Salt, pepper, chili flakes
Several slices of pancetta (guanciale, or bacon), rendered and crisped
2 hard-cooked eggs (1 per person)
4 tablespoons breadcrumbs, lightly toasted
1 2-oz package micro pea tendrils
Place a large stockpot of salted water over high heat to boil. Poach the broccoli stems until very tender, remove to a colander to cool. Reserve the water for cooking the pasta and adding to the sauce.
Rough chop the pancetta and render in 2 to 3 tablespoons of olive oil in a 12- to 14-inch sauté pan over moderate heat until crisp. Remove the rendered pancetta with a slotted spoon to drain on a paper towel and set the sauté pan aside.
Lightly toast the pistachio nuts, cool, and rough chop. Set aside.
Hard cook the eggs. My no-fail method is this: Place the eggs in a single layer in a saucepan, fill with cool water and cover. Place the pan over high heat to boil. Once at a full boil, remove the pan from the heat and allow to rest covered for 16 minutes. After steeping, flush the eggs with cold water until cool enough to handle. Gently crack the shells all around and peel. Perfect hard-cooked eggs! Set aside to finish the dish.
Lightly toast and crisp the bread crumbs and set aside to finish the dish.
If you consider yourself a purist you might prepare the pesto in the traditional manner using a mortar and pestle. However, for many of you, if time and labor in the kitchen is a consideration, opt for the food processor, which is what I used in this recipe.
Place the poached softened broccoli stems, garlic, toasted pistachio nuts, parsley, and arugula (if using), in the work bowl of the processor. Pulse several times to begin to mash and blend the ingredients. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and add the salt, pepper, and chili flakes. Turn on the processor while drizzling olive oil into the feed tube until an emulsion is formed.
Scrape down the sides again, taste and correct the seasoning as needed, and pulse a few more times for the final pesto mix. Set aside.
Reheat the large pot of water to cook the pasta. Return the large sauté pan to the stove over low heat to warm the rendered pancetta oil.
Finely dice the drained pancetta and mix together with the toasted breadcrumbs. Finely chop the hard-cooked eggs.
Cook the pasta to the package instructions, or to your taste. Once done, transfer to the large sauté pan and raise the heat. As the pasta begins to slowly sizzle, add 2 to 3 tablespoons of the pesto and a ladleful of the pasta water, then toss the pasta to evenly coat with the sauce. Adjust the pesto and pasta water emulsion to your liking and distribute a tangle of the pea tendrils around the pan over the pasta. Toss again to incorporate the tendrils as they will wilt and cook from the heat of the pasta.
Plate the finished pasta and sprinkle the breadcrumb pancetta mix along with the chopped egg and chili flakes on top. Ready to serve and enjoy!
Keep in mind this recipe features just one variation of a pesto, as there are many. Also, the pancetta could have just as easily been hot Italian sausage, or flavorful Merguez sausage, or left out altogether for those who prefer meatless dishes. The eggs could have been either poached or fried, whatever your preference as there are no hard and strict rules here.
Any extra pesto freezes well in small jars topped with a drizzle of olive oil.
Quick, easy, and economical, paired with your favorite bottle of wine and a side salad, you can’t go wrong. What are you waiting for?
Eat well. Be well.
So pour yourself a glass of wine, select some music to accompany, relax, cook, and enjoy … Peace!