Saturday, 20 August 2011

Jamie's Zucchini Carbonara

What the zucchini giveth, the bacon taketh away. Okay, make that the bacon, cream, and egg yolks - but you get the general idea. Despite the gorgeous seasonal zucchini, this isn't exactly health food - but it is delicious. And any years it takes off your life? Totally worth it.

Carbonara is all about the bacon. And eggs. And noodles. Which is why you absolutely must have the best you can find. Skip that grocery store bacon in the plastic package. You know the one I mean, with the toxic soup that you have to pour off into the sink when you open it. Get some good bacon from the butcher. The kind they cut by hand and wrap in paper. And some free-range eggs. And skip the store brand pasta - it's too gluey. Get a good name-brand one, it's worth the extra fifty cents.

Now that you have your awesome ingredients, including some beautiful fresh zucchini - work on your mise (meez - short for mise en place - the art of having everything prepped and laid out). That means have everything ready in front of you. And read the recipe a couple of times before starting. Because once you toss this together, you have to be ready to eat! Carbonara has a magic time, when the noodles are all slippery from the egg yolks. A hush descends over the table and eaters are reduced to grunts and moans. It's that good. Make it for someone you love. Or, make it for yourself. You're worth it.

Beautiful Zucchini Carbonara
Jamie Oliver, and

Carbonara is a classic pasta sauce made with cream, bacon and Parmesan and is absolutely delicious. Try to buy the best ingredients you can, as that's what really helps to make this dish amazing. I'm using a flowering variegated variety of thyme but normal thyme is fine to use. When it comes to the type of pasta, you can serve carbonara with spaghetti or linguine, but I've been told by Italian mammas (who I don't argue with!) that penne is the original, so that's what I'm using in this recipe.


    Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
    6 medium green and yellow zucchini
    1 pound penne
    4 large free-range or organic egg yolks
    1/2 cup heavy cream
    2 good handfuls freshly grated Parmesan
    Salt and freshly ground black pepper
    Olive oil
    12 thick slices pancetta or lean bacon, cut into chunky pieces
    A small bunch fresh thyme, leaves picked and chopped, flowers reserved (if you can get hold of flowering thyme)
    Optional: a few zucchini flowers

Before you start cooking, it's important to get yourself a very large pan, or use a high-sided roasting pan so you can give the pasta a good toss.

Put a large pan of salted water on to boil. Halve and then quarter any larger zucchini lengthwise. Cut out and discard any fluffy middle bits, and slice the zucchini at an angle into pieces roughly the same size and shape as the penne. Smaller zucchini can simply be sliced finely. Your water will now be boiling, so add the penne to the pan and cook according to the package instructions.

To make your creamy carbonara sauce, put the egg yolks into a bowl, add the cream and half the Parmesan, and mix together with a fork. Season lightly with salt and pepper and set aside.

Heat a very large frying pan (a 14-inch is a good start - every house should have one!), add a good splash of olive oil and fry the pancetta or bacon until dark brown and crisp. Add the zucchini slices and 2 big pinches of black pepper, not just to season but to give it a bit of a kick. (I added in a pinch of red pepper flakes too) Sprinkle in the thyme leaves, give everything a stir, so the zucchini is coated with all the lovely bacon-flavored oil, and fry until they start to turn lightly golden and have softened slightly.

It's very important to get this next bit right or your carbonara could end up ruined. You need to work quickly. When the pasta is cooked, drain it, reserving a little of the cooking water. Immediately, toss the pasta in the pan with the zucchini, bacon and lovely flavors, then remove from the heat and add a ladleful of the reserved cooking water and your creamy sauce. Stir together quickly. (No more cooking now, otherwise you'll scramble the eggs.)

Get everyone around the table, ready to eat straightaway. While you're tossing the pasta and sauce, sprinkle in the rest of the Parmesan and a little more of the cooking water if needed, to give you a silky and shiny sauce. Taste quickly for seasoning. If you've managed to get any zucchini flowers, tear them over the top, then serve and eat immediately, as the sauce can become thick and stodgy if left too long.