Table for One

A Dish As Comforting to Cook As It Is to Eat

Table for One columnist Eric Kim on the solace of risotto stirring and comfort cooking.

by:
March  6, 2020
Photo by Ty Mecham. Food Stylist: Anna Billingskog. Prop Stylist: Brooke Deonarine.

Table for One is a column by Senior Editor Eric Kim, who loves cooking for himself—and only himself—and seeks to celebrate the beauty of solitude in its many forms.


“Carbonara must be eaten hot,” Italian cookery writer, Anna Del Conte, writes in her memoir, Risotto With Nettles.

I love food like this, the kind you have to serve the minute it comes off the heat. It means you basically have the permission to eat it straight out of the pan (which I often do, as I live alone and there’s no one around to judge me but my dog).

I love the story of carbonara, too. As Del Conte says in her compendious Gastronomy of Italy, the dish “gained international fame through the soldiers of the Allied armies, who brought it back from Rome to their native countries after the end of the Second World War. They found in the sauce the familiar foods of their homeland, eggs and bacon, successfully combined with their new love, spaghetti.”

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“Risotto is a nice idea for comfort food. My usual go-to fancy-ish comfort food is cheesy polenta with white beans and bitter greens (in one form or another.) Certainly this would make a good alternative”
— Pete M.
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At the end of the day, pasta alla carbonara—which an Italian chef once told me must be made with Pecorino Romano, eggs (mostly yolks), guanciale (cured pork jowl or cheek), and absolutely no cream—is comfort cooking as well as comfort food. You fry up the pork, toss al dente spaghetti into it, and, off the heat, stir in the eggs, cheese, a little starchy pasta water, and lots of freshly ground black pepper.

Photo by Ty Mecham. Food Stylist: Anna Billingskog. Prop Stylist: Brooke Deonarine.

There’s something comforting, too, about interpreting the starch in carbonara as rice instead of pasta. Because what makes the Roman dish so magical is the way in which the starchiness from the pasta water, thickened up by egg yolks and cheese, is all you need to coat the noodles. Similarly, a thick short-grain rice like Arborio, or even a medium variety like Carnaroli, has that natural starchiness which lends itself amazingly to carbonara.

Don’t get me wrong—I adore spaghetti alla carbonara. But until you’ve folded guanciale fat and egg yolk into a soft-set risotto all’onda (“wavy”), you haven’t lived.

They found in the sauce the familiar foods of their homeland, eggs and bacon, successfully combined with their new love, spaghetti.
Anna Del Conte

It makes sense that the classic combo of creamy eggs and smoky guanciale would work well in a risotto. Like with carbonara, the egg yolk here doesn’t get cooked directly, but rather vigorously stirred in—off the heat—so it just sets and lends that iconic velvety texture to the rice. But unlike carbonara, a couple other players join the party: a little butter, shallot, and wine (I use vermouth, but a dry white works too) to get the rice started; chicken broth to cook the grains; and cream.

Carbonara purists may chastise me for adding a blush of heavy cream at the end to loosen the risotto so it has that traditional “wave”—but hey, I’ve already strayed from the classic by replacing the pasta, right? The cream, anyway, helps you achieve that texture that makes risotto so luxurious to eat, especially on an ordinary weeknight at home.

But the one thing I will agree on with the purists: Carbonara must be eaten hot.

Is there anything you'd like to see Eric write about in this column? Send your Table for One tips to [email protected], or tell him yourself on Twitter.
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Eric Kim is a senior editor at Food52, where his solo dining column, Table for One, runs Friday mornings. Formerly the managing editor at Food Network and a PhD candidate in literature at Columbia University, he writes about food, travel, and culture and lives in a tiny shoebox in Manhattan with his dog, Quentin "Q" Compson. His favorite writers are William Faulkner, John Steinbeck, and Ernest Hemingway, but his hero is Nigella Lawson. You can follow him on Twitter @ericjoonho.

10 Comments

Arrxx March 20, 2020
What a great column! Julia Child's editor, Judith Jones, wrote a cook book called The Pleasures of Cooking For One. Your column is a great modern take! Keep up the great work for us singletons. Lots of inspiration.
www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/88458/the-pleasures-of-cooking-for-one-by-judith-jones/
 
Pete M. March 14, 2020
Risotto is a nice idea for comfort food. My usual go-to fancy-ish comfort food is cheesy polenta with white beans and bitter greens (in one form or another.) Certainly this would make a good alternative
 
Reid M. March 10, 2020
Despite the usage of the word "bowl" a delicious and satisfying recipe. Bulletproof techniques and ingredients.
 
Lynn D. March 8, 2020
This was delicious and now I am thinking polenta alla carbonara and potatoes alla carbonara.
 
sf-dre March 7, 2020
Adds Arborio to shopping list...
 
sandra March 7, 2020
Once I got past the picture and read the recipe, it sounded like a must-try. However, at first glance I thought the main photograph was of a snake in a pan (the S-shaped path through the risotto). Glad to realize it wasn't as adventurous a recipe as I initially feared!
 
Phil B. March 6, 2020
I don't know why you don't write a cookbook of recipes for one. Every recipe I have tried and loved. I would certainly buy such a cookbook. It would be a bestseller!
 
Julie March 10, 2020
Yes! Please write a cookbook for single’s. I am teaching my young adult children to cook while they are away in college. They have the basics down but every recipe I send them always results in the same answer - it’s too much and I don’t like leftovers for 3 days and I don’t want to keep feeding my roommates for free I try and scale down but salt, spices, etc. are harder to adjust over the phone. Add in the cookbook how to cut & freeze the extra protein parts (buy a whole chicken, cut up and store in 4 different bags (breast x2 / thighs / legs) then give them recipes for each parts. 1/2 pork tenderloin. I would buy!! Not every students wants Raman or pressure-pot meals
 
Hafsa S. March 10, 2020
I would 100% buy this! I use your receipes for my kids (3 & 1) and it is the perfect amount :) Please consider it as I would pre-order!
 
Patrisa March 27, 2020
I notice that many readers who are encouraging you to write a cookbook for One are younger and I cheer them on. But, consider
the person like me who learned to cook from one French grandmother and one Italian grandmother, Julia Child and Jacque
Pepin,...someone who cooked family meals for 60 years. Now, it is just my husband and I and I never learned to cook small amounts. We get tired of eating the same thing everyday; and, we don't want to waste food. Until the coronavirus hit, we ate dinner out several times a week. Now, that is not practical. We really need
recipes for one. I did learn how to double a recipe.