It's Thursday night. I've just returned from an 11-mile run, it's too late to go to the grocery store, and I'm too broke to order out. I'm forced to improvise. I glance in the pantry and peer in the refrigerator. Not a lot to work with. Let's see...my roommate is a baker and purveyor of alcohol-infused cupcakes, so we'll definitely have eggs. What else....fresh mushrooms....smoked hog's jowl...smoked hog's jowl?? Like a saltier, fattier bacon...And suddenly it hits me: mushroom carbonara! I rummage around the fridge some more, and discover a bunch of kale that's hung around a little longer than it should have, but is still mostly viable. There's also that tangled mass of garlic scapes I bought in Eastern Market a weekend or two back, a few green onions, and a lonely little fresno chile. It's getting late, I'm starving, and season 3 of The Wire is calling my name. Hit it. —Chris Hagan
Bring broth or water to a low boil in a saucepan. Blanch the smoked jowl for 15-20 minutes, then remove from broth and set aside. Reserve the broth. When jowl is cool enough to handle, cut into lardons.
Melt bacon fat or butter in a large skillet over med/med-high heat. When foaming subsides, add jowl lardons and fry until crispy. Remove with a slotted spoon and set on a paper towel-lined plate to drain. Lower heat to med/med-low and add the garlic and pepper flakes. Saute until fragrant and beginning to soften. Add mushrooms and thyme, and toss to combine. Saute until mushrooms give up their liquid and start to brown. Add kale and saute until it starts to wilt, then add some of the broth, bring to a boil, lower the heat, and simmer, partially covered, until kale is tender, adding more broth if necessary.
Meanwhile, bring a large pot of well-salted water to a boil and add the spaghetti. While the spaghetti is cooking, lightly beat the eggs with the cream and herbs, if using. Mix in the cheese(es). When pasta is just al dente, add it to the kale mixture along with the reserved jowl lardons and a few splashes of the pasta cooking water and toss until well-combined. Remove the pan from heat.
OK, now here's the part where you have to be careful: Adding the egg mixture. What you DON'T want is scrambled eggs; what you DO want is a nice creamy coating for the pasta. So off-heat, pour in the egg-cheese mixture, and quickly (QUICKLY) work it into the pasta. Ideally, you'll have someone else (spouse/child/friend/houseguest/etc.) to pour the mix while you simultaneously do some two-handed (-forked?) tossing. If you're like me, however, it's 11:30 pm on a work night and you're home alone, so you pour carefully with one hand while furiously working the tongs with another. As long as you're quick about it, you'll have creamy carbonara without the scramble.
Season to taste with salt and lots of freshly-ground black pepper, sprinkle with a little extra cheese, and serve.