I'm often asked how I 'cope' being kosher, or if there are foods that I miss. In particular, people seem to be most concerned as to how I manage without bacon. Really, though, it's not a case of 'coping' — this is a choice that I've made and a way of life that I've elected to follow. This is how things are. It's certainly no more complicated that being vegetarian, and possibly easier so. At home it is the way that things are done. When I eat out — yes, I'm happy to eat out, whether that be in homes that aren't kosher or restaurants that are decidedly of the meat-serving persuasion — I eat vegetarian. Or I eat fish. In fact, in a restaurant I am more likely to order fish. So provided that you don't fry your onions in bacon grease or put shellfish in the fish pie, I'm not that difficult to feed. Honestly.
As for the bacon question, it's not a problem. For me, the smell of frying bacon is more likely to induce queasiness than salivation. No, it won't be a bacon sandwich that dekoshers me. Therefore it is also unlikely that spaghetti carbonara will be my undoing. All the same, I am often overcome by a desire to recreate a classic dish in a form that renders it kosher. Or perhaps it would be more accurate to say to create an approximation of a classic dish. Smoked salmon carbonara is one such dish. There are all sorts of carbonara recipes out there calling for cream, white wine, and various other peculiar additions. I favour a more purist approach, but then who am I to talk? I'm committing pretty much what amounts to a culinary crime by shunning pancetta. Thus, calling it 'carbonara' is a travesty, but this is the best that I can manage. It doesn't taste too bad, either.
Ingredients, for four
- 14oz (400g) spaghetti
- 3 large, free range, organic eggs - you are going to be eating these barely cooked, please ensure that they are the freshest, highest quality eggs you can find
- 2oz (60g) grated cheese - I use pecorino, because that's what I like, but you could use parmigiano if you prefer, or even cheddar if that's all you have
- 4-5oz (150g) smoked salmon, cut into strips - I use scissors
- salt and pepper
- splash of olive oil
Cook your pasta as you normally would. For me, that's in the largest pan I own (my stockpot), in lots of boiling water, with a splash of oil and a generous sprinkling of salt until al dente.
Whilst the pasta's doing its thing, crack your eggs into a bowl, beat well, season generously, add most of the cheese, and mix.
If you haven't already cut up your smoked salmon, do it now. If this were a classic carbonara, the pancetta would be in lardons. I don't think that lardons is an appropriate term for smoked salmon, so aim for strips about 1.5 inches (3.5cm) long and three quarters of an inch (2cm) wide.
When the pasta has just hit al dente, remove it from the heat and drain it well. Its residual heat will continue to cook it, and I'm not a fan of soggy pasta mush, so getting the timing right here is important. Return the pasta to the still-warm pan and toss in the egg mixture. Mix well. That residual heat? It'll cook the eggs to a creamy sauce. No, you're not aiming for scrambled egg here, so you won't need to put the pan back on the heat. Now add the smoked salmon and mix again. Don't hang about here, or the salmon will start to cook, which isn't exactly the objective. Pour the pasta into warmed bowls, sprinkle with the remaining cheese and serve. You might enjoy a glass or two of chilled Verdicchio with it; failing Verdicchio, a light, citrussy white wine would suit the flavours.
In a fit of vegetable-depraved mania I have been known to fry off some finely sliced leeks in a mixture of oil and butter and add that to the pasta with the egg. Clearly this is something that happens only in extreme moments, but I won't tell if you won't tell.