The Perfect Comfort Meal for One

Although it may not be the first thing that comes to mind when you hear the words comfort food, pasta carbonara is one of my all-time favorite pick-me-up dishes. For a meal to be comforting it has to have an element of nostalgia and growing up whenever my dad made his pasta carbonara, I took tremendous pleasure in each delicious bite.

It’s also one of the first dishes I learned how to make. On a cold fall night eight years ago, I was homesick living in Spain, so I called my dad and asked him to send me the recipe. Since then, if I’m feeling down in the dumps or missing home, I make pasta carbonara. I’m not the only one who craves the coziness that comes with a bowl of carbonara while living in a foreign country: when my sister moved to Bolivia, she called my dad and asked him for the method to his famous carbonara, too.

Besides nostalgia, the other components that make a food comforting, carbs, cheese, and cream, can all be found in carbonara. The recipe listed here isn’t my dad’s version (he adds Italian sausage!), it’s a simplified take on the classic Italian technique with pancetta instead of guanciale. As it’s what I often make myself when I’m home alone, this recipe serves one.

Pasta Carbonara

A quarter sized handful of spaghetti
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 slices cold pancetta, chopped
1 small shallot, minced
1 garlic clove, minced
Splash of white wine
1 egg
Splash of cream
1/4-1/2 cup finely grated parmesan cheese
Freshly ground black pepper

  1. Fill a large pot with water and place over high heat. Season generously with salt and bring to a boil. When the water is boiling, add the spaghetti and cook 1 minute less than the directions on the spaghetti package (which is usually about 8-10 minutes).
  2. Meanwhile, heat a large skillet over medium low heat and add the olive oil. When the oil is hot, add the pancetta and cook slowly until it begins to render its fat, about 4 minutes. Add the shallots and garlic and stir to coat. Turn the heat up to medium and cook for 4 minutes, stirring to make sure that the shallot and garlic do not burn. When things are starting to stick to the pan and brown a little, add a splash of white wine to scrape up all the browned bits.
  3. While the pancetta, shallots, and garlic cook, beat the egg in a small bowl. Add a splash of cream and 1/4 cup of the cheese to the bowl. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper and beat to combine.
  4. When the pasta is cooked transfer it with a pasta fork to the pan with the pancetta, shallots, and garlic. Add a tablespoon or 2 of the pasta water to the pan and stir the mixture to combine all the flavors. Cook 1 minute.
  5. Remove the pan from the heat and working quickly, add the egg mixture to the pasta. Toss the pasta stirring it until each strand is coated in a creamy sauce. Transfer to a bowl, top with more parmesan and freshly ground black pepper, if desired, and enjoy immediately.

Serves 1.

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