There are all sorts of meals.
There are those meals that mean nothing and that are forgotten as soon as the last mouthful is chugged down. All too many of my lunches are like that at the moment, frantic bites of sandwich or forkfuls of salad in between emails and conference calls.
Then there are those meals where the food makes a negligible contribution. I cannot remember a single thing that my boyfriend and I ate on our first date; I can’t even tell you what kind of food the restaurant served. I’m sure this is something to do with the large number of mojitos that I do remember but I like to think it’s just because we were talking so much that the food seemed somewhat incidental.
There are those meals which I can still taste. The dish of radishes, homemade fromage blanc and ancient grains that we ate at Commonwealth in San Francisco in the summer. The sharpness of the radishes and the creamy tartness of the cheese will linger long in my memory.
There are meals that are memorable for all the wrong reasons; storming out of a restaurant after a fight over lunch with my ex-boyfriend, throwing £20 (more than the cost of my lunch – I remember thinking that was a very important point) on the table as I ran out the door. Or the Valentine’s meal at a Michelin-starred restaurant that gave my boyfriend food poisoning.
Then there are those meals which are perfect in their simplicity and, in that moment, are all that you could possibly want.
This dish is inspired by one such meal, again in San Francisco in the summer. We arrived in San Francisco at about 7pm on a Thursday night after a long and slow two days in the car (and one night in a terrible hotel that we couldn’t wait to escape). We were tired and stiff and grumpy and, above all, hungry. A quick google led me to an Italian restaurant, close to our hotel. I can’t lie – proximity was one of the main reasons for the choice.
Although I tend to be drawn to lighter pasta dishes, on that night I became transfixed by the idea of the carbonara tortellini – little parcels of pasta stuffed with ricotta and sauteed in a sauce of pancetta, onion, red pepper flakes and cream. As soon as I saw the dish on the menu, I knew that it was exactly what I was craving. And it was perfect in every way.
In the weeks after, I found my mind wondering back to that dish. It was only natural that I would try to recreate it as soon as I got home. The real trick is to cook the onions low and slow; they should be sweet and sticky with no astringent crunch to them. The mellowness of the onions is balanced with the saltiness of the bacon (although the earthiness of mushrooms would also work nicely) and everything is bound together with a splash of white wine and a generous pour of cream. I served it with homemade orecchiette but any kind of pasta will do including, as the restaurant served it, a filled pasta like tortellini or cappelletti.
I wouldn’t advise eating something like this every night but, personally, I can’t think of many better ways to restore some equilibrium to my life.
Inspired by a dish at Fino, San Francsico
Yield: Serves 4
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 6 rashers of bacon, chopped
- 1 large onion, roughly chopped
- 2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
- A glug (about half a glass) of white wine
- 300ml (1 1/4 cups) double/heavy cream
- Salt and pepper, to taste
- 1 quantity of orecchiette or 300g (12oz) pasta
- Heat the oil in a large pan over a medium heat. Add the bacon and fry until thoroughly cooked. Remove the bacon from the pan and set aside, leaving behind any fat etc.
- Add more oil if necessary and heat over a medium heat until the oil is sizzling. Add the onions and garlic and cook for a minute or so before reducing the heat to medium-low. Cook for 20 – 30 minutes until the onion is grey and translucent (ideally you don’t want it to ever get brown).
- When the onion and garlic are cooked, add the bacon back into the pan and turn the heat back up to high.
- When everything is nice and hot, throw in your wine and allow it to bubble away until most of the liquid has evaporated.
- Finally, add the cream and any salt and pepper and allow to simmer over a low heat, stirring from time to time, while you cook the pasta in a large pan of salted boiling water.
- Drain the pasta, add it into the pan with the sauce and mix thoroughly before plating. Serve with plenty of fresh parmesan.