When I discovered that our CSA box this week contained a head of fresh garlic, it seemed criminal to just chop it up and toss it in a stir-fry. No, no, no, that just wouldn’t do. Not long ago I spent an entire Thursday afternoon at the farm pulling weeds from that never ending sea of garlic you see down below. Having helped to bring that head of garlic in to being, I didn’t want it going into some second rate dish, I wanted it to be the center piece of something wonderful. I wanted to make raw garlic carbonara.
It’s a delightful thing, and I am extremely tempted right now to just give up the recipe and be done with it. Maybe employ a little peer pressure: “Don’t wuss out, come on, everyone one else it trying it. What are you waiting for?! You should be cooking!” But I don’t think that I can in good conscience lure you, my oh-so trusting reader, into this glorious, eye-watering garlic extravaganza without full disclosure of the risks.
You see, raw garlic carbonara was one of the first recipes I learned to make from my very first vegetarian cookbook, The Passionate Vegetarian. Up until that point the vegetarian meals I had begun cooking for myself had seemed bland. I feel differently about vegetarian cooking now, but at the time I was plagued by an internal, nagging mantra of self-questioning: “Where’s the bacon? where’s the meat? where’s the excitement?!” Then I tried this pasta. The raw garlic made for a different kind of spiciness, one that was pungent and totally in my face, and unlike anything I had eaten. I am going to go out on a limb here and claim that my very first bite was a transcendent experience. That’s right, transcendent. It set a whole new bar for the level of flavor I was comfortable with adding to a dish.
And so for 8 months or so, maybe a year, I happily made this pasta almost every other week. Then I met Dave, and things started to get serious, and one night I decided that I would cook him my favorite meal. If he loved it, I thought, it could be our favorite meal together and wouldn’t that just be swell? In my girlish enthusiasm, I added one extra clove, and then another, and by the time I was done I think I must have added the entire head.
Can you see where this is going?
It was an extra spicy, extra special dish, and Dave and I devoured it enthusiastically. Little did I realize the curse I had wrought on our romantic evening. Halitosis… garlic breath!. Probably the worst I have ever, and hopefully will ever, experience. I know now that there’s not much to do but wait it out – wikipedia confirms it. Still, that didn’t stop us digging through my cupboards in search of some magical, date-night saving home remedy: Tooth brushing? it added a minty freshness, but did nothing for the garlic; Parsley? it tasted real nice, but still nothing; Suck on a stainless steel spoon? it didn’t work after the first 5 minutes, and it certainly didn’t work after a second 5 minutes.
Not that it mattered, in the end. Dave and I both really do love garlic. I wish I could say that was the last time that one of my meals went a bit overboard with the allyl methyl sulfide compounds, but I am not very good at learning that sort of lesson. Some things, I’ve decided, are just worth the garlic breath.
And yet, I recognize that it’s not for everyone. Or at least, that it’s probably not the best first choice for impressing someone you hope to kiss soon afterwards. So the other day I set about trying to make this recipe it a bit more accessible. I settled on adding only a couple of cloves of garlic raw, and then I sauteed the rest. The sauteed garlic adds a bit of sweetness and nuttiness, and really rounds out the flavor of the sauce. It still has the spiciness of the raw garlic, just toned way, way back.
Garlic Spaghetti Carbonara
Adapted from the Passionate Vegetarian
If you’re feeling like a solid, garlicky kick in the nose, I wholeheartedly encourage you to skip the sautee and try this recipe with only raw garlic. The strength of raw garlic can be a wee-bit unpredictable, but I think 6 or 7 cloves is usually a good number. Don’t be a hero.
In addition to the garlic, I should note that the egg is also intentionally raw to start. In a pasta alla carbonara like this one, the hot pasta takes a bit of the edge off the raw garlic, and cooks the egg just enough to bring the sauce together into a creamy, glorious mess.
350g / 12oz whole-wheat spaghetti or linguine
2 tsp olive oil
2-3 cups spinach or kale, washed and dried and torn into bite sized pieces (optional)
6 to 7 cloves garlic (or to taste), peeled and chopped into large pieces
1 large egg, raw
1/4 cup butter, softened
1/3 cup freshly grated parmesan or romano cheese
1 tbsp fresh basil
1 tbsp fresh parsley
dash of salt and freshly ground black pepper
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Drop in the pasta and cook until al dente. Drain, reserving a bit of the extra pasta water in the process, and set aside.
If your are sauteing some of the garlic and/or adding greens: Heat a tsp of the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat, about 3/4 of garlic, and saute until just soft but not yet brown, about 1-2 minutes. Remove the garlic pieces from the pan. Add your greens to the skillet and cook until they’ve just wilted, 1-2 minutes.
Combine garlic(s), eggs, butter, cheese, herbs, a dash of salt and a bit more pepper in a food processor. Pulse to combine until you achieve a thick paste.
Return the pot you used to cook the pasta to the stove and heat the remaining olive oil. Add the cooked pasta and the cooked greens (if using), stir over medium heat for about 2 minutes until the pasta is nice and hot. Remove from heat, and dollop the pasta with the garlic paste. Toss to combine, and if it seems a little dry, drizzle in some of the reserved pasta water. Top with a sprinkle of cheese, serve immediately.
Makes 3 – 4 servings