One of my favorite things to do is to put together a delicious meal when it looks like there isn't anything in the house to eat. A few weeks ago I was off-Island for a few days and my husband and his friend, Herb, visiting from Vermont, whittled down what little food there was when I left. This would be challenging. Perfect.
I started by looking in the icebox (yes, I still say icebox). Hmmm, a rind of Parmesan cheese, a few handfuls of spinach leaves, hotdogs, several eggs, a dab of butter, a dash of milk, assorted jars of condiments, white wine, sparkling water, a half-used lemon. Not terribly promising. I shut the door and then opened it again. I always think something new will appear and it did! I had missed three slices of bacon underneath the package of hotdogs.
Okay, now to check the cupboard. A can of black beans, several boxes of rice, the end of a can of peanuts, Wheat Chex, lots of oils, good Sicilian olive oil - thank god - and a half box of spaghetti.
Yes! I could do it. We'd have spaghetti carbonara with a tiny spinach salad. I put a CD of Tosca on and opened the cold bottle of wine, Pinot Grigio. I might as well enjoy a glass, and I'd need some for the pasta sauce.
I gathered up Marcella Hazan's cookbook, making sure I don't spill all the extra recipes, museum stubs and postcards of annunciations I stuck in over the years. I've cooked most of her pasta recipes. Now, instead of driving to the market, I could take a few moments to sit by the fire, savor the wine, munch on those few peanuts, and read about pasta Bolognese and fettuccini con fungi.
The page for spaghetti carbonara is lightly spattered with oil. Oh no, garlic! Is there any left? Garlic is essential. I dashed into the kitchen and looked nervously in the garlic jar. Phew. Two large cloves, just enough. I settled back in my chair - still no need to go out.
This is a modified version of Marcella's Hazan's spaghetti carbonara from Essential's of Classic Italian Cooking, Knopf, New York, 2000.
Spaghetti carbonara (serves 2)
3 slices of bacon
2 garlic cloves
2 Tbs. olive oil
1/8 cup white wine
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
Half a box of spaghetti
While the pasta water is heating, peel and flatten the two whole garlic cloves. They go into a small sauce pan with the olive oil over medium heat until the garlic is golden, at which point discard the cloves.
The bacon is sliced thin and added to the infused olive oil. Cook until crispy. Add wine and let it bubble for a few minutes, then turn off the heat.
Break the egg into a small serving bowl and beat lightly with a fork. Add most of the grated Parmesan, saving a bit to add just before serving. Add salt and pepper, and mix.
Add cooked spaghetti to this bowl, tossing quickly, coating pasta well. Mix in warmed bacon and oil.
Serve. Add last bit of grated cheese on top.
For me the six essential ingredients to have on hand are pasta, garlic, olive oil, wine, canned whole tomatoes, and fresh greens. Everyone has the things they cannot do without. What are yours? E-mail me at: Lauralwain@yahoo.com. I'll put together your responses in a follow-up story.
Laura Wainwright is a contributing writer to The Times.