Editor's note: Philadelphia food writers Joy Manning and Tara Mataraza Desmond drop by each week with Meat Lite, which celebrates meat in moderation. Meat Lite was inspired by their book, Almost Meatless.
Last month, Serious Eats readers piped up to tell us about their favorite dishes that are light on meat. Spaghetti carbonara was one of the most frequently mentioned, no doubt because of its bacony flecks (or traditionally, pancetta). But plenty of pasta dishes call on bacon and never achieve the same ballyhoo from the masses.
Carbonara's crux, I think, is the sauce, which could be employed much more often with a few tweaks for personal renditions of the classic. When prepared just right, eggs and hot pasta create a custardy liaison that's rich and delicious, with or without crispy pork. This recipe borrows the sauce to coat narrow rolls of pasta tossed with asparagus, onions, and a half-pound of salmon for an entrée portion for 4 to 6.
Asparagus season is practically upon us, and thin, young shoots will be abundantly available soon. Unfortunately, wild Pacific salmon season, which typically corresponds with the kick-off of spring, is being squelched by a dwindling population, threatened by contaminants and pollution. Ask the fishmonger about the source before selecting your catch. For an alternative to salmon, try arctic char, which is similar in texture, color, and flavor, if a bit milder.
Since the secret really is in the sauce, skipping meat altogether won't make this recipe any less appetizing.
About the author: Tara Mataraza Desmond writes about, cooks, and eats food for a living. Her blog, Crumbs on My Keyboard, is dedicated to delicious things in Philadelphia and lots of other places.
- Yield:4 to 6
- 1/2 pound cooked salmon or arctic char (poached, roasted, grilled, pan-seared, smoked--your choice)
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 small yellow onion, thinly sliced
- 1 small bunch thin asparagus, cut into 1-inch pieces
- 5 eggs, beaten
- 2 tablespoons milk or cream
- 1/4 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
- 1 pound casarecce pasta
- Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
Flake the fish with a fork or your fingers and set aside. Bring a large pot of salted water to a rolling boil.
Heat the olive oil in a sauté pan over medium heat. Add the onions and sweat them for about 2 minutes, until they begin to soften. Add the asparagus and sauté for 3 to 5 minutes, until the asparagus is just tender.
Whisk the eggs, milk and cheese together in a large mixing bowl. Set the bowl next to the sink to access immediately after draining the pasta.
Drop the pasta in the boiling water and cook to al dente. Drain, shake firmly 2 or 3 times to eliminate excess water, and immediately transfer to the mixing bowl with the egg mixture. Toss constantly for 30 seconds or so, coating all of the pasta with the sauce as it thickens. Add the asparagus and onions and toss to combine. Gently fold in the flakes of fish.
Season with salt and pepper to taste and serve with additional Parmigiano-Reggiano, if you like.