Creamy Linguine with Bacon and Peas + a Giveaway
The Night the Lights Went Out on Georgia: Whoever said that it’s better to light a candle than to curse the darkness probably never had to cook dinner in the dark.
My husband and an old high school buddy were planning a trip to Georgia to attend a concert of another classmate, George Walker Petit, a wonderful composer and amazing jazz guitarist (and producer to boot), I’ve slobbered about before (that’s him in the photograph below and over there on the right on the cover of End of August. Love the shoes, by the way, George).
Adam’s friend would drive to our house, overnight, and the two of them would head south in Adam’s red Mustang, Ruby (yes, we name our cars). My comment after a ride in Ruby is usually either: “Well we made good time!” or “I think you actually achieved lift-off!” Adam maintains it’s Ruby’s fault because she likes to stretch her legs. Of course, it has nothing to do with the fact that my husband enjoys blowing by the speed limit in a vehicle with that many horses under the hood.
The last thing I wanted to think about was two guys, reminiscing about their good old days, while taking a male-only road trip in an extremely fast car. So, instead, I thought about what to make Adam’s friend for dinner. Adam had requested his favorite pasta with bacon, peas, and tons of shaved Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese (you can’t even fathom the ungodly amount of cheese he puts on top of it). Whenever Adam wants comfort food, this is hands-down his favorite and there are never, ever any leftovers. Darnit.
Going with an Italian theme, we’d start with a nice assortment of hors d’oeuvres, followed by the pasta, a simply dressed mixed salad and good crusty bread. I turned on the house lights, cranked up the volume on George’s CD, which I chose to set the mood for their journey, lit a few votives, (unscented of course, so they don’t compete with the smell of the food) and put out the antipasti.
Adam’s friend arrived, and after introductions were made, we poured a nice Cabernet that our guest had graciously provided and toasted to old friends and new ones. Then, the power went out. Now, you have to understand that where we live this is nothing new. It happens all the time. If the wind blows the wrong way it goes out. Another small hiccup that we deal with around these parts, but it usually comes back on relatively quickly so we didn’t pay too much attention at first. We stood around with drinks in hand, chatting and munching on cheese and prosciutto, commenting on how charming the situation was in the warm, soft glow of candlelight.
Those warm fuzzies quickly dissipated after a call to the power company confirmed that we were the only customers in this delightful situation. We answered their seemingly silly questions: Yes, our bill had been paid. Yes, we checked the breaker. They said they would send a repair crew…eventually. This did not bode well. And I still had to make dinner.
The good news – my Viking stove is dual-fuel, so at least I could cook. The bad news – there was only one sorry flashlight in the house (you’d think we would have learned our lesson by now, huh?). So there I was, cradling this low-beamed pathetic imitation of a torch under my chin, trying to aim it at the burner while stirring a béchamel sauce for the pasta. It was so dark, I could barely see my whisk. After a few minutes, Adam came to relieve me of this twisted cooking position that would have impressed a seasoned Cirque du Soleil performer. Then, he started talking again, animated as always, and there went my illumination.
“Adam! I can’t see! I need the light!” I cried.
He apologized and refocused but, as soon as he was back in the discussion for about a minute, my light source vanished once again. This went on another five or six times, whenever he needed to punctuate the conversation with an animated hand gesture. Luckily, the sauce was nicely thickened and ready for the cheese. I removed the pan from the heat, pulled out my trusty rasp and started grating Parmesan with abandon. A quick salad toss, bowls on the table and dinner was served.
After the pasta was gone and the dessert was eaten (vanilla ice cream with a shot of espresso on top), we talked well into the night. Hours and hours later, there was still no power. Since the boys had to make an early get-away and needed an alarm clock, they decided to sleep at the main house which did have power. I opted to remain in the pitch dark with the dogs and fell asleep to the sound of the waterfall in the big leather easy chair. It was about 2 a.m. when the power was restored. Since I had not thought to turn off all the lights and the CD player that I had turned on (the power, remember?) it was like an alien invasion had landed in my living room when the power came back on. I almost pole-vaulted out of that chair with a knee-jerk expletive. Not the best way to wake from a deep sleep.
I got up and peeked in the kitchen. It looked like a cheese bomb had gone off in there. Sighing, I decided to call it a night and clean up later. But before I nodded off in the comfort of my bed, I thought about the evening’s events and laughed out loud. It wasn’t exactly how I had hoped the night would play out, but still, it was one for the books.
I did learn one thing, though: a béchamel is definitely one classic white sauce that every cook should have in his or her arsenal. Because once you master the relatively easy technique of stirring milk into a butter-flour roux, you can almost do it with your eyes closed.
Or at least in the dark with a really bad flashlight.
- kosher salt
- ½ pound bacon, cut in ½ inch pieces
- 1 large yellow onion, diced
- freshly ground black pepper
- 1 tablespoon minced garlic
- 1 cup frozen baby peas, thawed
- 1 pound spaghetti
- 2 cups whole milk
- 2 bay leaves
- dash of freshly grated nutmeg
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 1-1/2 cups freshly grated Parmesan cheese, plus more for serving
- Bring a large pot of water to boil over medium-high heat, seasoned with 1 tablespoon kosher salt. In a large skillet, cook the bacon over medium heat until crisp, 8 to 10 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, remove the bacon and transfer to paper-towel-lined plate, reserving 1 tablespoon oil in pan.
- Add the onion to the skillet, season with some salt and pepper, and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until soft, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and peas and cook for 1 minute more. Remove the pan from the heat, crumble in the cooked bacon; cover and set aside.
- Cook the pasta in boiling water, stirring occasionally, until al dente, 8 to 10 minutes. Reserve about ⅓ cup of the pasta water; drain the pasta and return to the pot. Add in the onion mixture and cover while making the sauce.
- In a small saucepan, combine the milk, bay leaves and nutmeg. Heat the milk to a simmer; discard bay leaves. In a separate pot, heat the butter over medium-low heat until melted. Add in the flour; whisk until smooth. Cook for 1 minute, stirring constantly. Gradually add in the hot milk, stirring with a whisk until blended. Bring to a boil; cook for 8 to 10 minutes, or until the sauce is thickened, stirring constantly. Remove from the heat. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
- Add in the cheese and check for seasoning.
- Pour the sauce over the pasta, tossing with tongs to combine, adding some reserved pasta water a little at a time to coat and achieve desired consistency. Serve immediately, garnishing with minced parsley and extra grated cheese.
What’s your favorite comfort food? Pasta? Chocolate? Meatloaf? To enter the giveaway, like us on Facebook! Then tell us what your favorite comfort food is in the comment section under this post on our Facebook page and you’ll be entered to win a copy of one of George’s fabulous cd’s. One entry per person, please.
Click on the link above to see a step-by-step pictorial on how to make a béchamel sauce.
Content and photography © 2012 Hutchstone, LLC. All rights reserved.