The Simple Pasta Carbonara Recipe That’s Great for Dinner Parties

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The kitchn Pasta Carbonara Recipe

Saturday night we had our friends and their two adorable children (brothers almost 2 and 4) over for dinner. We served pasta carbonara, two gorgeous salads, and garlic bread. A simple yet satisfying meal. It was the first time I made pasta carbonara and I was surprised at how easy it was. Although the online recipes kept warning me not to let the signature egg and cheese sauce turn into scrambled eggs when it hit the hot pasta. That part was easy. The hard part was deciding to have everyone over for dinner in the first place.

We had just been out of town for a few weeks and felt like we were still recovering from giant piles of laundry and a cluttered house. As a consummate homebody, I look forward to the weekends we get to spend at home. But one of the things that makes our house feel like a home is having friends over for dinner. And before our trip, that had not happened for a long time.

I couldn’t help but wonder what had been holding me back all this time. The only thing I could think of were a handful of excuses like: we’re too busy, the house is a mess, I don’t know what to make, what if it’s not good enough? Cooking for others is something I really enjoy. Thought I’m still a novice, it’s a skill I want to improve.

In the end, I decided that there will always be a list of excuses. It doesn’t have to be perfect to be memorable and meaningful. And, if your friends are truly great people (like ours), they will help make sure everything else goes smoothly. Even if that means bringing over a space heater when your heat suddenly stops working the night of your dinner party. The only things that truly matters are the memories you create around the table and the time you spend together because these moments seem more infrequent as you get older.

So, after a good pep talk with myself, I decided to make pasta carbonara. It’s something we had and loved while in Rome and I was intent on recreating it. I followed this recipe from the kitchn. I love the recipe because it includes a lot of tips from famous chefs. And it’s incredibly simple, focusing on a few high-quality ingredients as the stars. It proves that a dish doesn’t have to be complex to be impressive.

I thought the recipe turned out great, but there were a few things I could have done to improve it:

  • Add more pasta water

After stirring in the egg and cheese mixture, the recipe recommends adding some reserved pasta water. I should have added more because the cheese started to get a little sticky and the pasta ended up resembling a mac and cheese more than a pasta dish.

  • Serve right away

Between all of the stirring that must happen after the pot of pasta comes off the burner and getting everyone set up at the dinner table, it’s easy for the past to lose some of its heat. It tastes best when served hot, so I would recommend calling everyone to the table before taking the pasta off the burner.

  • Get the bacon a little crispier

The bacon was good but I should have gotten it a little crispier, using a pan that gets hot quickly like a non-stick or my All-Clad. A crispier piece of bacon will stand out in the pasta better, both in taste and appearance.

Where to Eat in Rome

Welcome to the third post in my series about our trip to Rome. I’ve already talked about how to save when traveling to Rome, what to do while there, and now I’m going to share one of my favorite parts, where to eat! Although it is often imitated, Italian food straight from the source is like no other. The pasta melts in your mouth like only homemade pasta (I assume) can do. The restaurants use seasonal ingredients in all of their recipes, making everything taste fresh and unique to that moment in time. Everything we had seemed simply prepared yet offered a feast for the senses. Each ingredient is designed to stand out, whether it is a subtle squeeze of lemon juice and salt or a spicy bite of arugula to complement something sweet.

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We were so jetlagged when we arrived that we tried the first restaurant we spotted near our Airbnb, Ristorante Target. I wish I had taken photos because it was one of the best meals of the whole trip.  I had the maltagliati pasta with tomatoes, shrimp, and arugula. When we finally had a night’s worth of sleep, we were up early most days and needed coffee. To optimize our time and save money, we didn’t focus too much on breakfast. We started most days with “due espresso” and a croissant at the café and bar near our Airbnb. There is a place to get coffee and pastries around every corner, so don’t worry about options.

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We enjoyed a nice lunch one day at Cucina Del Teatro, not far from Piazzo Navona. It’s tucked down a cute little flower- and table-lined alleyway. I still dream about the pumpkin soup. And the pizza with fresh seasonal ingredients is one I’ll never forget.

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For a fancier dinner one night, we tried Da Fortunata. It offers a great view of the Pantheon if you get the chance to sit outside, and has some of the best spaghetti and clams I’ve ever had. I highly recommend starting with the burrata and tomato salad.

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We spent one afternoon in Trastevere where we tried a truly authentic restaurant Tratorria da Lucia. Everything was simply prepared but delicious, especially the cacio e pepe. The restaurant was packed on a Sunday afternoon with what seemed like students and families, a telling sign about its popularity among locals.

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Like I said in one of my earlier posts, we spent a lot of time near and around Pizza Navona. I can’t vouch for the restaurants right on the square, but Rick Steeves recommends many that are off the beaten path but close by. Bar Del Fico is one such place and featured one of my favorite newly discovered delicacies: octopus carpaccio. It’s pressed and thinly sliced octopus served with olive oil, lemon juice, and fennel. Show stopper! I had the linguine and lobster for my main course. Need I say more?

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The very last night, we tried my favorite restaurant of the entire trip. Another one near Piazza Navona: Enoteca Cul de Sac. It’s a tiny restaurant with barely enough space for all of the wine let alone people, but this also felt like a place where the locals might frequent. We started with the escargot. It was served in a mind-blowing parsley butter sauce. I had the lasagna for my main. Each noodle was evenly cooked and every bite was a perfect melt-in-your-mouth mix of sauce, noodle, meat, and cheese. It felt good to end the trip on such a high note!

Rome is an affordable city to visit, so food is definitely one the aspects you can really enjoy. I found the prices at most restaurants comparable to going out to eat in a city like Pittsburgh. There were options at every price point. When in doubt, have the wine. It’s all good!

Zucchini Bread

With the colder weather we had this weekend, I was in the mood for baking, but I wasn’t ready to make something pumpkin just yet. So I turned to this classic summer baking project. It’s a go-to for people with an unsustainable amount of zucchini taking over their garden this time of year. I’ve never made zucchini bread before, so I wasn’t sure what to expect. This recipe from a Dash of Sanity will definitely move to the top of my list because of how easy it is to make. It has just the right amount of sweetness, which tasted perfect with a little mascarpone. I made this while watching the Steelers/Browns game. I can’t believe they tied and how badly each team played! At least it was a close game.

Turkey Stuffed Peppers

These Skinny Taste Sante Fe Turkey Stuffed Peppers are packed with gooey cheese, ground turkey, corn, black beans, tomatoes, and a lot of flavor. You would hardly believe that one serving or half a pepper is 160 calories. Of course you’ll want to eat more than just half a pepper! I make a few modifications to this recipe. I keep the stems on the peppers. It’s easier to keep the meat in the peppers that way. And I usually use 1 pound of turkey and 5 to 6 peppers because these go fast at my house and the leftovers are great!

Lunch Pantry Staples

With back to school time upon us, I can’t help but feel the need to get stocked up and organized despite the fact that I am well past that phase of my life. Feeling like you have everything you need to tackle your work week is just as satisfying. Since I started working full time 11 years ago, I have always packed my lunch. It’s often times cheaper and healthier than many of the cafeteria and takeout options available. It’s sometimes hard to stick with it, especially when I’m traveling on the weekend, but having a few pantry staples on hand helps me transition from my jam packed weekends to the work week.

Canned Chickpeas or Black Beans
These are great for punching up a salad or veggie bowl. I often use black beans to make a taco salad with lettuce, tomatoes, avocado, and cheese. I add chickpeas to roasted sweet potatoes and kale for a filling veggie bowl.

Canned Tuna or Salmon
Canned tuna is great for whipping up a quick tuna salad sandwich, but it can also be used to make salad with lettuce, tomatoes, onions, and a lemon and olive oil dressing. Canned salmon is a nice alternative that can be added to salad or paired with veggies and rice.

Quinoa 
Leftover quinoa can easily be paired with veggies, herbs, and spices for a yummy veggie bowl.

Nuts and Dried Fruit 
I often use nuts and dried fruit to make a fall inspired salad with apples, goat cheese, spinach, and a balsamic vinaigrette.

Veggie Pasta
I add this Trader Joe’s veggie pasta to leftovers such as chicken or sausage and veggies to make a quick pasta dish. I either add marinara sauce or a light dressing to make it more like a pasta salad. You could even use the canned tuna or salmon instead of leftovers.

Salad Dressing 

If you are going to really commit to packing your lunch, it’s essential that you bring condiments and salad dressing fixings into work. My go-to salad dressing is balsamic vinegar and olive oil. Instead of trying to pack this in my lunch box and making a mess, I keep these bottles at my desk.

Snacks
One of the ways I supplement my lunch to feel full all day is snacking throughout the day.  Here are just a few of the snacks I try to have hand:

  • Hard boiled eggs (also good in salads) 
  • Bars (These Peanuts Go on a Date Bars from Trader Joe’s)
  • Pretzels (can be paired with dips or cheeses)
  • Market Panty fruit and nut mix from Target 
  • Granola (a good topping for Greek yogurt and fruit)
  • Edamame 
  • Multigrain crackers (also can be paired with dips and cheeses)
  • Teriyaki turkey jerky (from Trader Joe’s)
  •  Peanut butter (a good dipper for apple or carrot slices; I like the Better’n Peanut Butter brand) 
  • Belvita biscuits (breakfast biscuits that keep you full for four hours)

Burrata, Tomato, Basil Pasta

The last few weekends have been pretty quiet for me, so I wanted to spend some time really indulging in the activities I enjoy when by myself. I’ve been painting, reading, crafting, watching movies — whatever I feel like in the moment. As part of that, I didn’t want to commit myself to too many duties — cleaning, cooking, doing laundry, etc. The to-do list could go on forever. Saturday night I wanted a dinner that felt just as indulgent as spending my free time however I pleased but didn’t require a lot of effort. That’s where this pasta dish really shines, and it all comes down to one ingredient that really steals the show: burrata cheese. 
Burrata is essentially a mozzarella cheese pouch filled with cream and curd. It’s as ridiculously good as it sounds. I first encountered this type of cheese at one of our favorite Pittsburgh restaurants, Il Pizzaiolo. It was served with basil, tomatoes, and a drizzle of olive oil and balsamic vinegar. The first time I had it, I felt like I never truly understood how good cheese could be. And I loved cheese before that, so this was a big deal. When I saw that Trader Joe’s carried it, I had to have it! The first time I prepared it, I copied the Il Pizzaiolo tomato salad recipe. For a homemade salad, it felt restaurant quality. When I saw this Camille Styles pasta recipe, I knew this would be the perfect easy yet indulgent Saturday night dinner. Trust me when I say, you have to try it!

Three Easy Healthyish Dinners

Dinner has become one of the daily rituals I look forward to the most. Cooking a meal allows me to get a little creative, have a little fun and unwind from a long day. My mind gets to let go and focus on a fairly conquerable challenge. And once at the dinner table, the beau and I get to share our days, sometimes over a glass of wine. But, planning and making time for dinner can sometimes be stressful. With all of our life commitments, making a fresh and healthy meal every night can be tricky. That’s why I’m slowly but surely developing a stable of tried and true healthy yet easy weeknight dinners that I can turn to when things get crazy. And I’m hoping you can enjoy them too!

Here are three that meals that I’ve been making lately:

Pork Tenderloin, Mashed Cauliflower, and Carrot Salad
  • Marinated Pork Tenderloin from Market District (Tuscan Herb); cook according to package instructions
  • Cheesy Mashed Cauliflower from Skinny Taste (Add 1/3 cup of cheese to make them cheesy)
  • Tangy Carrot Salad from Skinny Taste: peel 3 to 4 carrots into ribbons, add kosher salt, pepper, 4 teaspoons of olive oil and 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
Shrimp, Tomatoes, and Zoodles
  • Roast shrimp with olive oil, minced garlic, pepper, salt, and tomatoes at 400 degrees for about 10 minutes 
  • Use spiralizer to make zucchini noodles and saute for about 3 minutes

Tilapia, Quinoa Salad, and Brussels Sprouts 
  • Season tilapia with salt and pepper and coat with flour; saute for 3 to 4 minutes on each side 
  • Roast Brussels sprouts with olive oil, salt and pepper at 400 degrees for 20 to 25 minutes 
  • Cook quinoa using package directions; mix in 1 tablespoon of lemon juice, 1 tablespoon of olive oil, kosher salt, pepper, 12 cherry tomatoes and 3 tablespoons of chopped parsley