freshly ground black pepper
6 medium courgettes, mix of green and yellow if available
500 g penne
4 large free-range egg yolks
100 ml single cream
1 small handful Parmesan cheese, freshly grated
6 slices higher-welfare back bacon, cut into chunky lardons
1 small bunch fresh thyme, leaves picked and chopped, flowers reserved (if you can get hold of flowering thyme)
a few courgette flowers, optional
Carbonara is a classic pasta sauce made with cream, bacon and Parmesan and is absolutely delicious. Try to buy the best ingredients you can, as that's what really helps to make this dish amazing. I'm using a flowering variety of thyme but normal thyme is fine to use. When it comes to the type of pasta, you can serve carbonara with spaghetti or linguine, but I've been told by Italian mammas (who I don't argue with!) that penne is the original, so that's what I'm using in this recipe. Before you start cooking, it's important to get yourself a very large pan, or use a high-sided roasting tray so you can give the pasta a good toss.
Put a large pan of salted water on to boil. Halve and then quarter any larger courgettes lengthways. Cut out and discard any fluffy middle bits, and slice the courgettes at an angle into pieces roughly the same size and shape as the penne. Smaller courgettes can simply be sliced finely. Your water will now be boiling, so add the penne to the pan and cook according to the packet instructions.
To make your creamy carbonara sauce, put the egg yolks into a bowl, add the cream and half the Parmesan, and mix together with a fork. Season lightly and put to one side.
Heat a very large frying pan (a 35cm one is a good start – every house should have one!), add a good splash of olive oil and fry the pancetta or bacon until dark brown and crisp. Add the courgette slices and 2 big pinches of black pepper, not just to season but to give it a bit of a kick. Sprinkle in the thyme leaves, give everything a stir, so the courgettes become coated with all the lovely bacon-flavoured oil, and fry until they start to turn lightly golden and have softened slightly.
It's very important to get this next bit right or your carbonara could end up ruined. You need to work quickly. When the pasta is cooked, drain it, reserving a little of the cooking water. Immediately, toss the pasta in the pan with the courgettes, bacon and lovely flavours, then remove from the heat and add a ladleful of the reserved cooking water and your creamy sauce. Stir together quickly. (No more cooking now, otherwise you'll scramble the eggs.)
Get everyone around the table, ready to eat straight away. While you're tossing the pasta and sauce, sprinkle in the rest of the Parmesan and a little more of the cooking water if needed, to give you a silky and shiny sauce. Taste quickly for seasoning. If you've managed to get any courgette flowers, tear them over the top, then serve and eat immediately, as the sauce can become thick and stodgy if left too long.
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