The big chill

Cryostasis. According to the Oxford dictionary, it’s “A frozen state of a person…induced in order to preserve it for long periods; cryosuspension.”

Well, it’s not just for deep space travel and Walt Disney anymore.

The Kid and I adore avocados.  It wasn’t always this way.  We developed our love for them through their most famous gateway drug; guacamole.  But we now love them on toast, sliced and salted; just about any way.

Avocados can be a giant pain in the keester, though.  If you’re buying and eating on the same day, good luck.  Stores get them in as hard as a baseball; they ripen on the grocer’s shelf as they wait to be picked to go to a new home.

So choose them according to when you need them.  4 or 5 days out?  Buy rocks.  For a couple days from preparation, pick ones that give just a little to gentle pressure.

At Costco there’s plenty of choices.  Take your time, and pick out a bag of boulders.

I buy a bag of six from Costco, and try to get the hardest ones they’ve got.  This gives me a few days grace to get my ducks in row, and be prepared for when they’re ripe.

But what to do when the avocado is ready and you’re not?  Because everybody knows that when a good avocado goes bad, it joins a gang, gets a face tattoo, and starts bullying onions and tomatillos for their lunch money.  And they only possess perfect, delicious ripeness for twenty minutes or so.

This is where the cryostasis comes in.  If you have a mess of fully ripened avocados (they’ll give to the light pressure and be slightly softened all over,) lying around the kitchen, set them, unwrapped, in the fridge.

I refrigerated ripe ones with the idea of using them in a few days.  But I figured what would happen is that I’d cut into one and discover something so bruised it would be as appetizing as a cigarette put out in a piece of birthday cake.  Last Tuesday, 2 days after stashing them in the chill chest, I took out a perfect avocado; no strings, no bumps, no bruises.

And then I made my new favorite avocado dish.

Avocado and spinach pesto

avocado pest ingredients

12 ounces short pasta

3 ½ cups raw baby spinach

2 avocados

½ cup grated Parmesan cheese

Juice of 2 lemons (bout ¼ cup)

¼ cup olive oil

¼ cup chives or scallions

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1/2 teaspoon fresh cracked pepper

1 cup reserved pasta cooking water

Cook pasta according to directions in heavily salted water.  Microwave spinach for about 1 minute 45 seconds or completely wilted.  Place into food processor.

When the pasta has five more minutes, make sauce. 

Add the avocado meat, cheese, lemon juice, olive oil, salt and pepper.  Process, adding enough hot pasta water until it’s sauce consistency.

Drain pasta and return to pot.  Pour sauce over and gently stir to coat.  Garnish with chives.

Serves 2-4.

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The pesto would also make a good dressing or dipping sauce. 

This stasis trick is even more amazing.  Last Tuesday, 2 full weeks after entering stasis, The Kid cut into a refrigerated avocado.  It was perfect and delicious.  I think we’ve cracked the code.  No more waste.  With all the scary avocados I’ve tossed in my life, I could probably finance a week’s vacation to Kill Devil Hills, and bring along Petey, The Kid, and the dog too.

Best of all, avocado’s pernicious stranglehold over me has been broken.  They’ll be eaten and used at my pleasure.  I will never again be a slave to botany.

Thanks for your time.

Apostate Pasta

So a couple weeks ago a French website posted a recipe for carbonara and all of Italy lost their collective mind.

France, why do you want to piss this guy off?

The procedure called for the whole thing to be boiled altogether in one pot.  And while I’m a fan of the odd one-pot pasta, carbonara should not be trifled with in such a manner.

Boiled pancetta?  Really?

The classic recipe is extremely simple with just four ingredients: spaghetti, pancetta, eggs, and Parmesan cheese.

But simple, especially in the case of carbonara, absolutely does not mean easy.  It’s far easier to botch it and end up with a greasy congealed tangle of noodles that look more like a punishment than dinner.

As appetizing as a letter from the IRS.

What can go wrong: Over, or undercook the spaghetti.  You can burn, or conversely fail to render the pancetta and have limp, fatty pork.  And the most problematic of all are the eggs.  If the heat is too high, or you don’t stir briskly enough, you get scrambled eggs.  And if you do stir with enough vigor it’s possible to not have the now broken pasta hot enough to cook the eggs.

It is a dance that’s potentially dangerous enough to strike fear in the heart of the very finest dancing “celebrity”.

But done right?  Done right it’s a song sung by Freddy Mercury or Billie Holiday.  It’s a landscape by Ansel Adams, a shoe by Louboutin, a dress by Coco Chanel all rolled up into one creamy, unctuous, heart-breakingly delicious bowl of pasta.

See how that sauce clings like a bad boyfriend?  That’s what I’m talking about.

My advice from the trenches is to have every bit of your prep done before you turn on burner one.  If you’re not ready every step of the way, the whole thing will get away from you, and that way lies madness and scrambled disappointment.  Take your time—be the master of your culinary domain, and don’t let the food dictate your actions and state of mind.  You have to commit; you’re cooking something that’s a little advanced; don’t be tentative.

Attitude is half the battle.

My recipe has a healthy serving of attitude.  I had some beautiful fresh angel hair pasta and decided that it really needed to be used for carbonara.  But I had bacon, and not pancetta.  I was also very low on Parmesan, but had a nice big piece of aged Manchego, which is very hard and dry like Parm.

So I made an executive decision.  But purists might take issue with it.

Blasphemous Carbonara

carbonara

9 ounces long pasta

4 or 5 slices bacon, cut into 1/4-inch strips

3 extra large eggs or 3 large + 1 large yolk

1/4 cup Manchego cheese, grated fine, plus more for garnishing

Salt and pepper to taste

1 cup pasta water, reserved

Place eggs and cheese into bowl, season, and whisk until well-mixed.

In a large pot, cook pasta until al dente in heavily salted water.

In a separate large pan, render bacon.  Remove and set aside.  Pour off bacon fat until 2 tablespoons are left.  Turn pan down to low.

Remove cooked pasta from pot with tongs, reserving water. Place directly into pot with bacon fat.  Toss until well-coated.

Take pot off heat and slowly pour in egg mixture while constantly, vigorously, stirring pasta.  When it’s all added, continue stirring until egg mixture is heated and emulsified.  Briefly place pot back over a low burner if more heat is needed to thicken (sauce should be the consistency of heavy cream).  If it just looks like raw beaten eggs, it needs more gentle heat.  If it seems a little tight, add in abit of pasta water.

Place into two bowls and garnish with the bacon and more cheese.

Serves 2.

If the idea of this pasta dish appeals to you, I really hope you try making it.

And it’s entirely possible that you’ll screw it up the first time.  It’s probably wise to have a dinner backup plan that night, just in case.

But I’m telling you, getting this right has a huge payoff.

Not only do you get to enjoy what is arguably one of Italy’s finest gifts to mankind (even taking into account Ancient Rome and the Renaissance), you’ll have the thrill of being the kitchen swashbuckler who had the chops to put this ambrosia on the table.  You are fierce.

 

Fierce, I tells ya.

Thanks for your time.