I’m guessing you’ve still got loads of ham left over from Christmas? It’s gone off? Too bad. What you should have done is frozen it in meal-sized blocks, then defrosted it on demand! And what better to soak it up with, than a creamy “carbonara”.

I looked this recipe up in the Silver Spoon to settle an old debate I’d had with someone about putting tomato paste in my carbonara. And whaddya know? There is no cream at all in a carbonara. It’s actually a dish distinguished by the combination of eggs, bacon, and black pepper.

A friend insists that a mutual Italian friend of ours “goes ballistic” whenever seeing ‘creamy carbonara’ on a menu. It seems that adding cream is an American thing, and not authentically Italian. So ignore the title above, it’s only to drag in Google hits.

This dish should more authentically be called fettuccine with cream. It isn’t anything like an authentic dish, and is actually copied from a Italian chef I worked with at a pub in Melbourne (and no, it wasn’t a “gastro” pub. It was just a pub with some old soaks on barstools and a bloody great, but simple, menu). He just chucked everything into a pan, and made us a feed. So I’m doing the same.

There’s no real secret to this dish. In the photo here below I’m separating out cloves of garlic from a bulb I roasted with the Christmas chickens. Roasted garlic is easy and extremely delicious. Just pop as many cloves out of their papers as you need, and put the rest away in the fridge. I do this first because it can be a little time consuming.

Next, chop up some capsicum. This isn’t essential for a creamy fettuccine. But we had some peppers still lying around form the pre-Christmas shop, and I decided to add them. If you’re vegetarian, you can probably make do with some of the firmer vegetables instead of ham. Put a little oil in the pan, then add the capsicum.

Cook these capsicum on a low heat, and make sure you’ve also go your hot water for the pasta on the stovetop as well. By the time the dish has come together the pasta should be ready.

Now I’m going to let you in on a little secret. You can marinate your own olives. It’s not difficult, and you can get some great results by putting a bouquet garni into your marinating cask. We got the one on the right from the Mediterranean Warehouse in Newtown. It camefull of some very delicious Kalamata olives, and only cost about $20.

I’ll put up a post on how to set that up sometime in the future. The trick for now though is don’t stick your hands in the cask. Use a clean implement like the wee sieve we use. That way the marinade doesn’t ferment on account of all the germs under your fingernails…

Next, season the dish with some salt, and lots of freshly ground black pepper (I also added a healthy pinch of chili powder, but that’s optional). Then, add the olives and garlic bulbs. Remove the olive pits if you must. I prefer not too. You’ll notice that the capsicum isn’t too soft when I’m adding these. You don’t want it lank, just softened.

The next thing is to slice off some of your defrosted ham. I slice it, then shred it with my hands to make it a little more ‘rustic’ and interesting. Then, add about 200ml of full cream. In other words, all of a little bottle. This one is (again) left over from Christmas. We only used a little in making chocolate strawberries and apricots.

Bring the cream to a high simmer, then turn down the heat a little. Then add about a heaped teaspoon of tomato paste. Just enough to sweeten the dish, and colour it a little, but not too much. Then, add about a tablespoon to Parmesan cheese. This will salt the dish a little, and help to thicken the sauce. The cheese shown here is a supply we keep in the fridge. If you have some flash cheese, use that.

Once you’ve added all the ingredients, it’s time to put on the pasta.

In reality you can use whatever pasta you want for this dish. We had fettuccine still around and opened, so I opted for that.

I learned in Melbourne that there’s only one thing to note about pasta. It is the meat in the dish.

Kiwis, like Americans, have this tendency to regard the beef/chicken/pork as the most important ingredient. But nothing should be further from the truth. The pasta is what a pasta dish is all about. So, ideally, I’d be using hand-made or fresh pasta and making it the focus by adding a sauce that complements it. But this isn’t an ideal world, right?

To make up for this oversight, I’ve added a little salt to the water, and I’m stirring the pasta with a pasta spoon. This should help to prevent the fettuccine sticking in a bloody great lump.

When it’s al dente, tip it into a colander and add a tiny bit of olive oil. Stir that through to coat all the pasta. Once that’s done you’ll be ready to serve it. Also, by now the sauce should have reduced down enough to a nice ‘sticky’ consistency. Again, don’t overheat the cream or it will ‘split’ into oils and milk solids and be bloody awful.

That’s the second thing I learned about pasta. The pasta should be a ‘vehicle’ for the sauce. It should ‘bind’ the sauce and hold it, not flounder around it in like a drunk in a fountain.

Once you’ve got the sauce on the pasta you’re set! You can also add the pasta to the sauce, but that can be a real hassle to serve. Then, once it’s dished out, enjoy it with a refreshing drink!

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