Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Spaghetti alla Carbonara

February 2011 245

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.

pasta eater

(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.)

Geometry of pasta

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.

February 2011 183 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.

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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.

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Top with more freshly grated parmigiano and serve.

February 2011 243

 

Spaghetti Alla Carbonara

Printable Recipe here

(serves two)

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.

17 comments:

Rosa's Yummy Yums said...

That is a dish I love. Your spaghetti alla carbonara look scrumptious.

Cheers,

Rosa

doggybloggy said...

I happen to have some guanicale, some pecorino and some eggs so thanks to you this dinner might just be my breakfast and if not my breakfast it will certainly be my lunch - and it isnt because you said unctuous either.

Frank said...

A lovely presentation of a classic dish! After living in Rome for so many years, it is also one of my favorites...

By the way, you must have heard the story about how carbonara was invented--by Romans using their bacon and egg rations given to them by GIs after the liberation in 1944--so using American-style bacon is not just an acceptable substitution, it may be *the* orginal version even if, as you say, guanciale has become the norm today.

And spaghetti, yes, definitely. Lived in Rome for ten years and spaghetti is by far the most common pasta for carbonara, although I also had served to me with short pasta (rigatoni is particularly nice) and even--once--with fettuccine. Unusual but it was darn good!

roz said...

spahetti alla carbonara is pure heaven! one of my all-time favorites. Love your blog and now following so I don't miss a recipe or photo! Now I'm off to read more! Ciao ciao, Roz from la bella vita

Peter M said...

It's my "go-to" dish when hungry and I can't figure out anything to make on the fly from what's in the fridge.

That book sounds like a good buy...important knowing which shapes of pasta go with what sauces.

Proud Italian Cook said...

Why is heavy cream added to this dish so often? No wonder they call it a heart attack on a plate, the true version is so much better! Unctuous, scrumptious, I'm in! Your photos and that golden yellow pasta reminds me of spring!

Mister Meatball said...

I am a horrible, disgusting, tiresome, hateful, just plain awful snob when it comes to Carbonara.

Yours, madame, looks beautiful!

Claudia said...

I, too remain a Carbonara snob. This is divine and I just may scrap my dinner plans and make this instead. I also prefer parmigiano over pecorino and amazed that I can get guanicale in MN and you cannot in Princeton.

The Food Hunter said...

can't really find guanciale in Phoenix either. But pancetta is a great substitute

Anne in Oxfordshire said...

Just the way we make it .. yummy .!!

Pat @ Mille Fiori Favoriti said...

I'm visiting a foreign country and have been pasta-less all week. Now I'm salivating and so happy to have a reminder to make this delicious dish when I get home!

Linda said...

Girlfriend...I love this so much.
The is one of my guilty pleasures when I am eating alone!
Yours looks so golden and beautiful...*sigh*
This may be dinner tonight...I always have some Pancetta in the freezer for Carbonara emergencies!
I can not get Guanciale here either, even at several Italian butchers or delis.

Mary said...

Linda, this is a wonderful recipe for one of my favorite pasta. Your presentation is spot on. I hope you have a great weekend. Blessings...Mary

Tammy said...

Stunning photos! This post was lovely and the spaghetti looks delicious!
Have a beautiful weekend!

xx,
Tammy

sueskitchen said...

Oh you temptress! My daughter was on leave from college last week, and she is such a big bacon fan...I actually made this dish for her. She was grinning from ear to ear...it is really one of those soul satisfying dishes.

Lori Lynn said...

Hi Linda- looks positively perfect!
Love your sunny tablecloth too.
LL

zenchef said...

One of my all-time favorite pasta and your version is scrumptious looking. I wish i could just dig in right now. It's getting close to dinner time and i'm gonna go look in my refrigerator if i have the ingredients.