There are cookbooks on cooking for one, but two is the neglected number. Yet cooking for two is just as difficult as cooking for one. There's not enough room for two of you to lean over the sink with a bowl of cereal.
I've been getting a taste of the two-ful myself this year and it is a dilemma. You still need to cook a meal, but even a recipe sized for four can get out of hand with leftovers. So I was ready for it when a new America's Test Kitchen book landed on my desk: "Cooking for Two 2012: The Year's Best Recipes Cut Down to Size."
I can't vouch for that "year's best recipes" part -- I don't recall getting a ballot for that one. But the book certainly has handy touches. My favorite is a list of the recipes broken down by the amount of the main ingredient. When you get stuck with half an avocado or part of a can of diced tomatoes, you can pick a way to use them.
For the most part, the recipes are simple but not too plain, like trimmed-down Pad Thai and easy grilled suppers. With a bunch of ham leftover from last week's Easter story, this one was just what I needed and easy enough to whip together on a weeknight.
Skillet Spaghetti Carbonara
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
6 ounces ham, sliced thin and cut into 1/2-inch pieces (about 1 1/4 cups)
2 cloves garlic, minced
Salt and pepper
1/3 cup dry white wine
2 cups water (see note)
1 1/2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
6 ounces spaghetti, broken in half
1/4 cup heavy cream (or half-and-half)
1 large egg
1/3 cup grated Pecorino Romano cheese (or Parmesan)
2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley or basil (optional)
Melt butter in a 12-inch nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add the ham and cook, stirring occasionally, until lightly brown, about 10 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer ham to paper towel-lined plate; set aside.
Add garlic and 1/4 teaspoon ground pepper to now-empty skillet and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Stir in wine and simmer until nearly evaporated, 2 to 4 minutes.
Stir in water, broth and pasta; increase heat to high and cook at a vigorous simmer, stirring often, until pasta is tender and liquid has almost disappeared, 12 to 15 minutes. (It will look like an impossible amount of liquid, but it will cook away. Adjust heat as necessary so that the pasta cooks through before the liquid cooks away.)
Whisk the cream, egg and cheese together in a small bowl. Remove the skillet from the heat, pour the egg mixture over it and toss to combine. Stir in the ham and season with salt and pepper to taste. Sprinkle with parsley or basil if using. Serve immediately.
NOTE: When I made this, I simplified it by using 3 1/2 cups broth rather than broth and water. And I used half-and-half instead of heavy cream. Both changes worked fine.