FOOD PASTA-CARBONARA TB

Modern pasta carbonara, with the egg cooked sous vide for an hour, still has the other elements of the classic dish: cheese and pancetta. (Food styling by Mark Graham.) (Michael Tercha/Chicago Tribune/TNS)

Michael Tercha

Sous vide, in the grip of an online translator, comes out “under empty.” Who craves a cooking contraption that promises less than zero?

Not me. I snubbed sous vide. Vacuum-sealing a steak and letting it wallow in warm water sounded less than good. Plus, the prospect of another rotund appliance made my shelves ache. Let some fancy restaurant chef invest in an immersion circulator. Too futuristic for me.

Then I read an update. In the years I’d been ignoring sous vide, the hardware had shrunk. Once a $500 bathtub, sous vide has been reformatted as a $200 (or less) stick. Prop it in a pot of water. Drop the ingredients in a zip-close bag and (using a clever underwater trick) squeeze out the air. Fits in a drawer, calls for DIY ingenuity: Count me in.

Susie and I made lamb chops that glowed medium rare, end to end. We calibrated the creaminess of creme brulee. We poached eggs right in the shell. Sous vide, I learned, offers old-school low-and-slow cooking, with precision.

Plus, it’s a time machine. Once the sealed-and-poached dish reaches temperature, it can usually hold — without overcooking — for hours. In other words, sous vide pinpoints the crux of dinner-party anxiety and cranks it down below zero. That’s my kind of future.

MODERN PASTA CARBONARA

Prep: 10 minutes

Cook: 1 hour

Makes: 2 servings

  • 1 large egg
  • ½ pound spaghetti or fettuccine
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, smashed
  • 1 slice (¼-inch thick) pancetta, cubed, about 1 ½ ounces
  • 2 tablespoons dry white wine
  • ¼ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
  • 2 tablespoons freshly grated Romano cheese
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped parsley
  • Freshly ground black pepper

1. Poach: Using a sous vide device, heat a pot of water to 147 degrees. Use a slotted spoon to lower in the egg (in its shell). Cook, 1 hour.

2. Boil: Cook pasta the old-fashioned way — in a big pot of salted water — until tender but firm. Drain.

3. Sizzle: While the pasta is cooking, heat the oil in a small skillet over medium heat. Drop in garlic; toast golden brown. Scoop out garlic and discard. Add the pancetta to the hot pan, and sizzle until crisp, 2-3 minutes. Add wine; sizzle, 1 minute.

4. Toss: Heap cooked pasta in a serving bowl. Toss with pancetta mixture. Toss with both types of cheese and parsley.

5. Serve: At the last moment, crack the poached egg onto the pasta. Dramatic, right? Toss until egg has melded with pasta and sauce. Grind on some pepper. Dig in.

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