Spaghetti with Creamy Egg, Prosciutto, and Spicy Arugula

Spaghetti with Creamy Egg, Prosciutto, and Spicy Arugula
Excerpted from On Top of Spaghetti: Macaroni, Linguine, Penne, and Pasta of Every Kind. Copyright 2006 by Johanne Killeen and George Germon. Used by permission of William Morrow, An Imprint of HarperCollins Publishers.

Serves 3 to 4 as a first course

Arugula is a peppery green that adds spice to salads, soups, pasta, and risotto. Here it adds pizzazz to this pasta sauce rich with eggs, prosciutto, and cheese.

Arugula becomes more assertive as it matures. If baby leaves are unavailable, use a smaller amount of large leaves. Cut the big ones up into a fine chiffonade by stacking the leaves on top of one another, rolling them up lengthwise, and slicing the roll crosswise to make fine, thin strips so they wilt quickly into the sauce.

If your prosciutto is particularly salt, you may need no additional salt in the recipe.

2 large eggs, at room temperature
Pinch of sea salt (optional)
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
1/4 cup freshly grated Pecorino Romano
1/3 cup finely chopped prosciutto
1 1/2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh hot pepper
1 plump garlic clove, peeled and finely minced
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
3 cups loosely packed baby arugula leaves
8 ounces dried spaghetti
1 tablespoon unsalted butter

1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil for the pasta.

2. Mix together the eggs, optional salt, Parmigiano-Reggiano, and Pecorino Romano in a small mixing bowl. Set aside.

3. Heat the prosciutto, hot pepper, garlic, and olive oil in a large straight-sided sauté pan over moderate heat. Cook, stirring often, until the garlic is golden. Add the arugula and 1/3 cup boiling pasta water to the pan, taking care not to burn yourself as the oil may spatter. Toss together to wilt the arugula. Most of the water will evaporate. Set aside off the heat.

4. Generously salt the pasta water and drop in the spaghetti. Cook, stirring often, until al dente. Drain the pasta, reserving about 1/2 cup of the cooking water. Transfer the pasta to the sauté pan and toss over low heat. Add a few tablespoons of pasta water and the butter and toss again. Off the heat, quickly add the egg and cheese mixture and toss constantly until the strands of spaghetti are coated. The egg should remain creamy without curdling. Serve right away in warmed bowls.

LYNNE'S TIPS

Don't forget to set aside 1/2 cup of the pasta cooking water before draining the pasta. Its starch, along with the eggs, give the dish a wonderfully creamy finish.

"Generously" salted pasta cooking water means about 1/4 cup salt to 6 quarts of water (don't be shocked, not all of it is absorbed). Pasta must be seasoned by the salt as it cooks, not after. The reasoning in Italy has always been that pasta has a character all its own, which must be brought out by salt. A dish of pasta there is about pasta with sauce, not sauce with pasta.

The success of this dish depends on the cheese. Buy the real deal or make something else. There is no substitute for freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano and Pecorino Romano here.

Use a good quality imported dried spaghetti. Reliable brands found in most supermarkets are DeCecco and Delverde.
THOUGHTS FROM LYNNE

Don't throw away the rind on a wedge of Parmigiano-Reggiano. That rind is all cheese, not a coating. Because it is the driest and saltiest part of the Parmigiano-Reggiano wheel, grate to within an inch of it, but no more.

Aging and brining (the first step in making Parmigiano-Reggiano once it's formed and drained of whey) permeate the huge 80-pound wheels from the outside in. So the cheese gets sweeter towards its center, a good thing to remember when buying it already cut into pieces.

Wrap the rind tightly and freeze for the future. It is pure gold in soups, stews and simmering dried beans. This is because true Parmigiano-Reggiano is packed with umami, also knows as the "fifth taste," which boosts other flavors.

For a simple but richly flavored broth, slip some rind into a saucepan of good quality canned chicken or vegetable broth, along with a little garlic and onion. Simmer 15 minutes and that "canned" taste is gone. Use the broth in recipes calling for stock, or just sip it steaming hot from a mug to warm you on frosty days.