This spring, the weather in the Ottawa region began with bitter reminders of winter, complete with flurries. Then, we dallied briefly with warmer seasonal breezes; everything, apparently foreplay. Summer arrived shortly thereafter.
The forecast highs during the first week of May averaged 24 C (75.2 F). The heat and sunshine were unexpected, but not unwelcome.
As you can likely discern, we Canadians are adept in talking about the weather. It probably has something to do with practice, our experiencing nearly all possible weather phenomena from blistering heat to bone-chilling cold, even the odd torrential downpour.
The sheer range of weather does however make the heart grow fonder for farmers’ markets. Many opened this past weekend: Ottawa Farmers’ Market (Orleans and Brewer), Main Street Farmers’ Market, ByWard Market Farmers’ Market, and the Parkdale Farmers’ Market.
What I most look forward to when the snow recedes are the producer stalls with fresh tender greens. After a long winter, peppery and earthy leaves should be celebrated. A close second would be farm fresh eggs. Though, Bekings’ eggs can be had year-round from shops like Herb and Spice and The Piggy Market.
When a television producer from CTV Ottawa Morning Live, a local morning show, asked us to put together and demonstrate spring recipes on-air, we scrambled to find ramps and fiddleheads. With the farmers’ markets yet to open, we eventually turned to an old favourite, ricotta pasta.
A confession? That recipe, while employing freshly-made cheese, was always meant to mimic the textural components of traditional pasta carbonara: aldente pasta, egg (yolks or whole), cheese (parmigiano-reggiano or pecorino romano), cured but unsmoked pork (usually guanciale or pancetta), and black pepper. No cream! Never bacon…
Carbonara is dead easy to make, but one has to be able to make peace with raw egg. It is the naturally occurring emulsifier in egg yolks, called lecithin, that imbues carbonara with richness.
Otherwise, if you’ve an immune deficiency or if you’re with child, consider “slow poaching” your eggs (aka: poor man’s sous vide). Essentially, create a water bath with a pot set over a burner, bring the water to 145 F (63 C), add your eggs (shell-on), bring the temperature of the water back to 145 F, and let the eggs sit for an hour. If the heat climbs too high, add a splash of cold water. If the heat falls below, boost the heat temporarily or add a splash of boiling water. Most bacteria do not survive temperatures 140 F (60 C) or above. When you crack open your 145 F eggs, you will have something resembling under-poached eggs, just coddled enough to behave mostly like raw. David Chang serves “slow poached” eggs on house-made ramen at his Momofuku noodle bars.
Classic carbonara amounts to cracking an egg (chicken or duck) into a bowl, grating on plenty of hard cheese, adding just cooked (but wet) pasta, tossing with lardons of crisped cured pork, and seasoning with salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste. For a richer carbonara, use only egg yolks.
This leaves lots of room for “embellishments.” Carbonara purists had best not continue any further. To refer to our wine blogger’s family recipe, click here.
You have been warned…
Me, I cure my own pork belly for carbonara, “easy bacon.” I like to add fresh herbs: sage, basil, cilantro. Like Matt Leduc (friend to foodiePrints and former cook at Chef Marc Lepine’s Atelier Restaurant), I also make sacrilegious additions: peas, butter sauteed mushrooms, fried onions, (“gasp”) nori. Sometimes, I even swap out pasta for udon noodles.
This time, I wanted to take the richness to another level, so I cured some farm fresh chicken egg yolks to grate over the noodles with the cheese.
Technique for Curing Egg Yolks
- “harden your yolks” by water-bathing in zip top bags at 150 F (65 C) for an hour (an alternative would be to freeze the yolks overnight and thaw)
- prepare enough dry cure (50:50 salt:sugar by weight) to surround each egg yolk by approximately 2.5 cm (1 inch)
- take a lidded container and line with 2.5 cm (1 inch) of cure
- make wells for your yolks
- post water bath, peel away any remaining white
- gently wrap your yolks in a single layer of cheese cloth
- place the enrobed yolks into the wells and cover with another 2.5 cm of cure
- cure refrigerated for 48 hours
- remove the yolks from the cure and hang in the fridge for at least a week
We are presently testing a batch of eggs, cured in miso, salt fermented soy bean paste. To cure in miso, we surrounded water-bathed egg yolks in white miso for 5 days. They have been hanging three weeks.
Curing and air drying your egg yolks creates an almost cheese-like texture. Adding spices or herbs to your salt cure, flavours the resulting egg “cheese.” To date, we’ve tested black pepper and five spice.
Spring Spaghetti Carbonara
What You’ll Need:
- one 145 F (63 C) duck egg (or chicken egg)
- enough pasta for a single serving (refer to packaging)
- grated hard cheese to taste (more for garnish)
- grated cured egg yolk to taste
- freshly ground black pepper (more for garnish)
- chopped cured pork belly (preferably crisped)
- embellishments like garden peas and fried sage
- prepare your pasta as directed on the packaging for “aldente” (toothsome)
- in a bowl add the egg, cheese, and cured egg yolk
- season the egg and cheese mixture with salt and pepper to taste
- whisk the mixture until combined
- when your pasta is done, place it into the bowl with the egg and cheese mixture, draining the pasta conservatively
- sprinkle the pork belly and embellishments onto the pasta
- combine everything together
- plate with more cheese and freshly ground black pepper
Tara Simpson, Manager of Communications and Events for the Ottawa Farmers Market, recommends buying farm fresh eggs at Reinink Family Farms on Sundays at Brewer Park.
Did you visit a farmers’ market this past weekend? What did you buy? What do you plan to cook with your purchases?