Dueling Dinners, A Friendly Cook-off!

Jul 1st, 2007

It was a beautifully crisp summer day in Cannon Beach last Tuesday. I took the day off to go fishing. I have taken up fly fishing—for salmon this summer, along with summer residents, Mike and his son Will. On previous Tuesdays we had scouted for fish and were content that we just hadn’t found the right location yet and happy for the practice. This day, we were going where the internet directed us. Confident, I invited our visiting guests from Maryland to join us, and Will loaned his fishing gear so they could fish, too. I was pretty sure they’d be content to snap some pictures of the scenery (and the fish that Mike and I catch).

The night before we all got together and the wives decided to have a relaxing day at the CB spa then come home to cook our catches on the Barbie. Sounded reasonable to us and then the conversation took a “what-if” turn. What if we don’t catch fish, then what? Well Marty, our friend from Seattle, proclaimed himself a great Carbonara cook and said with only a few ingredients and very little effort he’d cook it if we didn’t get fish. Next thing I know Lenore is bragging on my Carbonara and you guessed it, we were all signed up for a cook off regardless of salmon on the menu! Well, in my mind, all that nonsense would be forgotten when we came home with the fish.

The next morning we took off for the internet fishing hole looking for the promised fish. John and Marty, followed behind us in their car, in case they wanted to leave before us. At streamside, they watched us awhile and took some pictures. John even caught a salamander with his bare hands and snapped its mug shot before tossing it back. Then after the third fishing hole we took them to, they politely excused themselves, something about scaring the fish and the ford SUV they had rented couldn’t take the rough terrain. Now the pressure was really on. Mike and I worked it a bit longer and started talking about listing our gear on eBay. It was looking like we’d never catch a fish.

On the way back my attention turned to Carbonara. I know my recipe isn’t at all the classic method. Lenore makes one too, but again not the classic. It’s not that we don’t like the classic recipe, but it is just that we try to avoid using raw or under cooked eggs and the classic uses eggs that are cooked only by the heat of the pasta! So my version is reduced cream and no egg at all. And Lenore’s version is with olive oil and no egg or cream. Light and summery, she says.

The judge for the contest was self appointed. Claiming expertise on Carbonara, our friend, John took on the job. He had tasted a few different ones in his day, and Marty’s as well. Gee that sounds a little slanted right there, but they are “company” and it wouldn’t be polite to insist Lenore judge too!

Coming in empty handed again, I knew there wasn’t going to be much I could do to changes the course of the evening. The Cook-off was on. I do this very recipe for the Pasta 101 class, and it is often voted their favorite, but next to the real deal, I couldn’t be sure.

John and Marty were already home when we strolled in with tackle—no fish. Marty had already gathered his ingredients for Carbonara and was relaxing on the patio. I started to pull together my ingredients feeling very happy that I froze the English peas when they were sweet and fresh a few weeks ago. I was sure that gave me some edge. Then I pulled out my house smoked bacon made from pork bellies that I cured and smoked myself—I’m thinking, another plus. To keep it simple we are using dry pasta—same brand of linguini for both dishes. If only I could make fresh Pappardelle—Is that my secret ingredient? Marty is using pancetta since the ham he always uses wasn’t available. Sounds like a great substitution to me. He doesn’t use peas of any kind, so that could be a plus on my side.

Marty finishes his dish first—everyone gathers at the table—a few pictures—then serve it up! The ooze and ahs for Marty’s recipe were loudly ringing in my ears as I am still finishing my batch. At last, my bowl goes to the table—wait don’t forget the fresh grated aged parmesan. Again, snapping pictures and audible accolades coming from the wives and John. I sit down to my plate of both kinds side by side. I taste Marty’s; darn this is good. I taste mine; good but sure miss that homemade pasta; maybe I’ll try pancetta in my recipe next time—a nice salty addition.

Plates were clean—no one could even eat the salad Lenore made. We just sat there content. “Time to judge, John,” someone said. “I cannot,” he responded like a diplomat. Come on John, it’s your job to judge—you said so, I thought. “No, really I liked them both—they are so different, and both great!” So I proclaim Marty’s version the winner—after all I really enjoyed the garlicky version he created. Lenore smiled a proud smile—knowing how I much really like to win.

Here are the recipes for you to enjoy!
MARTY’S CARBONARA Watch out for the garlic! 1 # best quality spaghetti
½ # ham*, bacon or pancetta cubed
1 whole head garlic, peeled, sliced, reserve 1 TBS raw
3 eggs
Pepper and Salt to taste
1 cup Grated Parmesan Cheese
Flat leaf parsley garnish
*When using Ham add EVOO for cooking in the pan since ham is so lean. Method: Cook the bacon in a skillet big enough to hold the finished dish. Pour off some of the fat leaving about 3 TBS. Sauté the garlic, (reserving 1 TBS for later), with bacon until slightly translucent and not brown. In separate pot, cook spaghetti in salted water until al dente. Drain well and toss in pan with bacon and garlic. Toss well to distribute meat and garlic. Remove from heat and stir in eggs and the reserved tablespoon of raw garlic. Toss gently to cook the eggs from the heat in the pasta and the pan off the heat now. Season with Salt Pepper and grated Parmesan Cheese. Serve immediately garnished with flat leaf parsley.

BOB’S CARBONARA
½ cup bacon, minced
½ cup shallots, minced
2 cup heavy cream, reduced to 1 cup
½ cup aged parmesan, finely grated
1# cooked spaghetti or other pasta
2 cup peas, blanched, optional
3 -5 TBS parsley, minced Method: Cook bacon in medium large pan to crisp and render fat; remove bacon and reserve; remove ½ the bacon fat; add shallots; cook until aromatic not brown; add cream and heat thoroughly; Add pasta, cheese and peas; dish up and garnish with parsley.