When Bacon & Eggs Become Transcendent For Dinner
All the Oscar buzz about Meryl Streep's performance in "Florence Foster Wallace" - this is her 20th nomination - brought me back to 1986, and the movie, "Heartburn," Nora Ephrom's semi-autobiographical account of her marriage and subsequent divorce from Washington Post writer, Carl Bernstein, of "All The President's Men" fame. Streep plays Rachel, a food writer for New York Magazine, to Jack Nicholson's Mark, a well-connected columnist for the Washington Post. They hook up at a wedding and by the next scene they're getting married. Home ownership, a baby and another on the way follow in short order, before she discovers that he's having an affair. For me, it's an homage to the 1980s, when towering shoulder pads were de rigueur. Oversized jackets draped over turned-up collars awash in winter white, mauve, peach and mint. Pre-"pay-for-play" product placement by a pre-bankrupt Eastern Air Lines looks as anachronistic as the cigarette smoking and big hair that reign all over the film.
But my favorite part of the movie is when Streep goes home with Nicholson on that first night and makes him a post-coital batch of Spaghetti Carbonara, which they enjoy in bed straight out of the serving bowl with two forks and two spoons. In my book, it is the single most sexy food scene of all time. Like the dish itself, the scene is simple, unadorned and the characters mesh. Spaghetti Carbonara is just bacon, eggs, cheese and pasta. Simple. And when the ingredients mesh, it becomes a creamy, smoky, delicious dish. But one wrong move and you've got scrambled eggs and pasta.
The movie didn't win any awards. It's nowhere near Streep's best performance, although from the very first scene she's captivatingly beautiful. There's a great cameo by a young Kevin Spacey who gives her his seat on the subway before following her to group therapy and robbing the group. But the scene with them in bed together eating Spaghetti Carbonara set into motion for me this idea that food could be sexy. Not in a porn star eating a strawberry when the pizza delivery guy shows up kind of way. But in taking the time to cook something special for someone you care about.
Spaghetti Carbonara is something I whip up quite a bit when neither Jeff or I have gone to the grocery store and it's late and we're starving. We generally eat it standing over the kitchen counter. I know that's not as sexy as Meryl Streep and Jack Nicholson eating it in bed. But our lives are pretty simple. Spaghetti Carbonara is truly just one step beyond bacon and eggs for dinner. But, like most things in life, it's taking that extra step to make something special. In the movie, we don't see her in the kitchen, but I can imagine the care Rachel must have taken to make it just right for Mark. If you have eggs, bacon and Parmesan Cheese you can make this dish. And you should.
2 Egg yolks
1 C Parmesan cheese, shredded
4 Slices Bacon, diced
Pasta (two servings)
Bring a pot of salted water to a boil and add pasta. In a cast iron skillet over medium high heat cook the bacon until you've rendered the fat and it's just crispy. Take the bacon off the stove and leave it in the skillet. In a large bowl combine the egg yolks and half the cheese. Strain the pasta and add it to the bacon in the skillet with the fat and all. Stir to combine. Then pour the pasta and bacon mixture into the bowl of egg yolks and cheese. Stir briskly until a creamy sauce forms. Add the remaining 1/2 cup of cheese. If you reserve some pasta water you can thin the sauce if needed. But I like it thick and creamy.
The trick to the sauce is to meld the ingredients. By incorporating them in steps, you'll avoid cooking the eggs. You may try and fail a couple of times but it will still taste good - the texture will just be weird.