Bacon and eggs for dinner? Yes please, but hold the toast and bring on the three P’s – pasta, pecorino, and pepper. For an unctuous, addictive meal that takes less than 15 minutes to prepare, try spaghetti alla carbonara.
The dish is widely credited as originating in Rome, and any Roman worth her weight in bucatini knows that guanciale, (pork cheek) is used in this recipe, not American-style bacon. But finding guanciale in Princeton is almost as hard as finding a Roman who obeys traffic signals, so pancetta (unsmoked bacon really) is a good – no, delicious substitute. Actually, I’ve even used American bacon in a pinch and there were no complaints. But try it with pancetta and you’ll have them eating from your hands.
(This painting - “Pasta Eater – Allegory of Taste” by Luca Giordano, is owned by the Princeton University Art Museum. Unfortunately, for some reason, it’s not currently on display.)
The recipe is included in this book sent to me several months ago. I’m finally getting around to writing about the book and I have to say, I was predisposed not to like it – no photos, just black and white drawings of pasta shapes. But the drawings started to grow on me – I love the graphic, stylish look of them.
Even though the book’s pages are structured in encyclopedic fashion, with entries from A (agnolotti) to Z (ziti), it’s not an exhaustive treatise on all the types of pasta in the world (it doesn’t include the anolini from my mother’s region of Emilia-Romagna for example, nor the spiral-y girelle I just found at a local Italian specialty shop). But it does contain recipes for hundreds of different shapes of pasta and sauces that best complement them, including one for bucatini carbonara.
I prefer spaghetti rather than the bucatini, and (heresy) parmigiano to the pecorino. While this dish tastes and has the feel of something decadently bad for you, it really isn’t if you take it in moderation. For two people, I used only two ounces of pancetta and two eggs, plus 1/2 cup parmigiano and cracked black pepper. That’s it. No olive oil, no butter, no cream – they’re not authentic and not necessary since this will be luscious and lovely without them.
Start by cutting up the pancetta into small bits. Some people like to buy the pancetta or guanciale sliced thickly, and then make little lardons, but I prefer a thinner slice. I roll all the slices into a log and then cut them into small bits.
Get the pasta boiling while you fry the pancetta bits. You don’t need to use oil to fry the pancetta since it will start to exude its own oil after a few minutes. Take a serving bowl and warm it either over a pot of simmering water or in the oven for a few minutes – just long enough to take the chill off. Beat the eggs in the bowl (you don’t want the bowl to be too hot or you’ll scramble the eggs) and add the parmigiano, whisking again.
Drain the pasta, swirl it around in the pan with the pancetta, then add the pasta to the bowl with the eggs and parmigiano, mixing well. Season generously with freshly cracked black pepper. Legend has it that the dish is named after the dish traditionally eaten by Italy’s carbonari – or “charcoalmen,” a secret society involved in the unification of Italy.
Top with more freshly grated parmigiano and serve.
Spaghetti Alla Carbonara
2 ounces pancetta or guanciale (or American bacon in a pinch)
2 eggs, beaten
1/2 cup pecorino or parmigiano, plus more for sprinkling on top
freshly cracked black pepper
1/4 to 1/3 pound spaghetti
Cut the pancetta into small bits and fry in a sauté pan. You don’t need to use oil to fry the pancetta since it will start to exude its own oil after a few minutes. Start the pasta boiling while you fry the pancetta bits. Take a serving bowl and warm it either over a pot of simmering water or in the oven or microwave for a few minutes – just long enough to take the chill off. Beat the eggs in the bowl (you don’t want the bowl to be too hot or you’ll scramble the eggs) and add the pecorino or parmigiano, whisking again.
Drain the pasta, swirl it around in the pan with the pancetta, then add the pasta and pancetta bits to the bowl with the eggs and cheese, mixing well. Season generously with freshly cracked black pepper, and serve with additional grated cheese.