Wednesday, March 7, 2012

The Starving Actor: Carbonara

Welcome to the first installment of The Starving Actor, with which I hope to help starving actors feed themselves.

Starving actors starve for many reasons. Mostly it's because they're poor. Sometimes they don't have time to feed themselves. Some just don't know how.

Starving actors deserve to eat well, and they don't need to lose their money or their self-respect. And they don't need fennel bulbs or agave syrup or two kinds of paprika to do it.

Our inaugural recipe, carbonara, might be on the pricier side for the most starving artists, but if you're smart and/or lucky, you can find all the ingredients you need on sale or in cheaper forms.

This recipe, originally based on one created by self-proclaimed King of Carbonara Tom Cruise, is the result of many years of experimentation and refining. That said, you'll find I don't often worry myself with the specifics when it comes to step-by-step instructions, and often deviation can result in something wonderful.


Half a package of bacon (about 1/2 pound)
A medium-to-large-sized onion
Half a package of linguini (about 1/2 pound)
2 large eggs
1 cup of Parmesan cheese
Some olive oil
Some salt
Some garlic powder

1. Chop the bacon and onion. Keep each piece of bacon lined up, just like they are in the package, and cut them into little strips, like matchsticks. We find that thick-cut bacon works best, as it does in all situations. Stop and Shop had a ridiculous sale; two packages of bacon for the price of one. Classic Italian versions of this recipe call for pancetta or a similar classical ham. Oscar-Meyer works great for us.

The onion should be chopped pretty finely to match the size of the bacon. The goal here is to try and reach a 1:1 ratio of bacon to onion. Our five strips of thick-cut bacon are just slightly outnumbered by the large onion we had, but that's okay. As long as we're close.

2. Set a pot of water to boil for your pasta. By the time you're done with the next few steps, it should be ready and boiling.

3. Cook your bacon over medium heat in a large-ish pan. Unlike some meats, bacon is fatty enough to cook fine on it's own without oil or butter or anything, but we put in a little dollop of olive oil to keep it from sticking to this particular white ceramic pan we're using. Spread the bacon out evenly and let it sit for about 4~5 minutes, stirring occasionally to make sure it's not browning too quickly.

The goal here is not to get the bacon crispy, as you may like it with your eggs in the morning, but tender. As you stir your bacon, you'll see how it goes from being raw and mushy to being tender - less flexible when moved, but still soft.

You can also tell your bacon is ready once it's swimming in its own simmering fat. Don't be afraid of the pink color - I guarantee at this point they're cooked through. Feel free to taste-test a piece and see if it's to your liking.

4. Set the bacon aside. Use your spoon or paddle or spatula or whatever you've chosen to place it on a plate with paper towels, so it's not sitting in its own grease.

Now some more adventurous chefs will be tempted to keep the bacon grease in their pan to cook the onion, as to impart that bacony flavor. In the past, it has resulted in the onions becoming extremely dry and weird, but if you're careful and stay attentive, it may be worthwhile. Otherwise you can take your pan and dump it into your sink, OR, if your landlord has told you not to do that, pour it into a glass, and then pour it into your garbage when it's cooled some.

OR, you could even reserve the grease in a jar or some other container and use it to cook something else, the same way you'd use olive oil or butter. It's great for frying eggs!

5. Cook the onion in olive oil, just enough to coat them. Stir 'em a bit to make sure they're all shiny and coated in oil, so they cook evenly. Let them sit for two minutes, then add a dash of salt and, like, half a dash of garlic powder. Give them another stir, then drop the heat a little bit and leave them alone until they get a little softer.

5. Cook the pasta, according to the instructions on its package, preferably until it's just gotten al dente. We used linguini. We just think it works better in the recipe because it's broader than spaghetti. Feel free to try thick spaghetti or something like that if you have it. At your own risk, of course.

While your onion and pasta are cooking, now may be a good time to grate your Parmesan cheese so that it's ready. "Grate my cheese?" you say, "What do I look like, a chump?" If you're paying for pre-grated cheese, then Yes you are! Not for snooty culinary reasons, but because buying your cheese in block form will save you money! Just compare the unit prices and you'll see. If you've already gotten grated cheese or don't OWN a cheese grater, I won't judge you.

In another time and place I'd advise against those Kraft powdered Parmesan cheese tubes, but this is The Starving Actor, so go with what you've got.

6. Check on your onions. Give them a stir and take a look at them. Once you see some pieces that are just turning translucent, turn the heat off and add the bacon back to the pan. Give it a stir.

7. Drain your pasta, and put it into a bowl. BUT BEFORE YOU DO, pour a tiny splash of hot pasta water into the pan with the bacon and onion. It may seem like a weird thing to do, but it provides a certain consistency among the ingredients.

8. Add the bacon and onion to the pasta and mix it up till it's more or less spread throughout. Most of it will gravitate toward the bottom, which is totally normal.

At this point, let everything sit for a minute to cool. Then mix it again.

9. Add the two eggs to the pasta and mix it up again. That's right, guys: raw eggs. If you've never heard of carbonara before, you might be thinking, "Pink bacon, raw eggs, is this guy trying to get me killed?!" Don't even worry. Believe it or not, as the eggs coat everything, the warmth from the pasta will cook them.

Early in my cooking career, I'd end up with tiny pieces of scrambled eggs clinging to my pasta, because the pasta was too hot and the eggs would cook too soon for too long. I've worked several steps into the recipe to resist this possibility, like combining everything in a separate bowl (I used to just dump it all back into the pot I used to cook the pasta) and letting it sit for a minute.

10. Add the cheese then mix that all up. The egg will combine with the cheese and a creamy sauce will come into existence.

And you got yourself some Carbonara! Serve with some crusty bread or some salad, or, y'know, by itself.

PROTIP: If you want to reheat leftovers, make sure to have it covered by something so it doesn't dry out. Like, if you've put it in some Tupperware, keep the lid on at an angle. Some say it tastes even better the next day!

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Dealing with acquaintances post-show

How do you deal with awkward encounters with acquaintances after your show? More, less misanthropic suggestions are certainly welcome.