Carbonara is not grown up Mac & Cheese

By Scott Greenberg

So we’ve all heard the stupid, Sunday comics joke about carbonara/alfredo: “It’s just like mac & cheese for adults!” Har har, roll laugh track, throw pie, etc.

And yeah, after you get past the, “Gee golly, isn’t that just a hoot and a holler” moment, you realize they’re pretty much full of shit. Carbonara and Mac & Cheese are NOTHING alike, unless you consider having pasta and cheese enough to qualify for “alike.” In that case, a plate of lasagna is the same thing as that horrible gray pasta salad I had forced down my throat at last weekend’s barbecue.

No, they’re way-the-hell different, and not just because of the ingredients, but because of the method. Mac & Cheese, for all its creamy deliciousness, is pretty much just slapping cheese in a pot and adding cream and pasta. No fanfare, no moment of culinary creation, just stir and stir and plop: food. Really good food, but still. There’s no art to it.

Carbonara, on the other hand, has that moment. It’s the moment when you slowly pour the raw eggs and cheese into the pasta and stir and watch everything go from a pile of gross to a piece of sublimity of pasta-borne perfection in seconds. Maybe I’m romanticizing it a bit, but hey, that’s the whole point, isn’t it? Take something misunderstood and unappreciated and make love to it. And that’s exactly what we’re gonna do here: make something that’s a hell of a lot more than just “grown-up Mac & Cheese.”

And then make love to it.

Here’s what you need:

• 1 pound heirloom tomatoes

• One leek

• Four strips bacon

• 12 ounces pappardelle’s pasta

• 1/2 Vidalia onion

• Three eggs

• Two cloves garlic

• 3/4 cups grated Parmesan

• 3/4 cups heavy cream

• 1/2 cup cooked peas

Here’s how you do it:

First, preheat your oven to 400 degrees.

Wash the tomatoes, then slice them in half. Make sure you pierce the tomatoes with the tip of your knife before you slice them; that’ll help make sure they don’t squirt all the good stuff all over your kitchen floor. And no, I’m not gonna gratify you by making an obvious joke from that. Pervert.

Put the tomatoes on a baking sheet lined with parchment, cover them with olive oil and some salt and pepper and roast for 40 minutes.

While that’s in the oven, cook the pasta (you can save some of the water to thin the sauce, but … the whole point of carbonara is that thickness (I say don’t bother)) Also, slice up your bacon into small pieces and fry on the stove at medium heat.

Mince the onion and garlic.

Cut the green part off the leek, cut it in half long-ways and slice it thin.

Pour off the bacon grease, add 1 tablespoon of olive oil to the pan, and heat on medium-low. Add the veggies once it’s heated, and cook for about five minutes, then set aside.

Get a medium bowl and whisk together the eggs, Parmesan, cream and some salt and pepper.

Slowly pour half the eggy stuff in with the pasta, add the tomatoes, peas, bacon and other veggies, then slowly pour in the rest. Make sure you stir the entire time. This is the magic moment, people. Light some candles or something. Make it special.

Here’s some slow music from Kanye West, its “Everything I Am:”

Like I said, maybe I’m over-thinking this. But there’s something about this dish that’s just … different. Roasting and cooking and whisking all the pieces, combining them, and watching it all come together just feels good. It definitely feels better than mindlessly tossing a bunch of cheddar and shells in a pot, that’s for damn sure.

See you next time, lovers.