Why is it then whenever the chips are down, the tough reach for the pasta? That is at least how it is in my household, where rice reigns supreme and pasta is its chief consort. Last week I found myself in a position desirous of something new and yet comfy and homey enough to be able to assuage my ravaged work soul.
With that, I reached for my trusty Essentials of Italian Cooking and found myself something to make…spaghetti carbonara. For some reason, I have a feeling of having had this dish before somewhere during my culinary travels, but after reading the preparation, I realized that I had not even had anything remotely close. Excited and eager, I set to work!
Carbonara sauce can be served with any number of different pastas (fettuccinie, bucatini, or linguine) but it is most traditionally paired with spaghetti. Like meatloaf, every household has their own variation of how to prepare the best carbonara, but at its simplest, it is a sauce consisting of cheese, whole eggs (or just the yolks), cured fatty pork, and black pepper. The eggs are added raw into the sauce and cook up by the residual heat of the pasta itself.
In Rome, salted pork jowl is normally used, however, more readily accessible bacon or pancetta can easily be substituted in its place for a more rounded and mellow flavor. I opted to use pancetta because, well, I’m still in love with it and I haven’t quite yet outgrown my obsession with it.
The dish comes together fairly quickly….in as much time as it takes you to boil water, cook your pasta, and saute your pancetta. The dish itself was as satisfyingly comforting as I had hoped it would be. Very reminiscent of the cheese and black pepper fettuccini that I had made before, the carbonara adds an extra depth of flavor by way of the salty sweet pancetta and a smooth creaminess from the eggs. Paired with the spaghetti, it made for a very nice alternative to the traditional red sauce. It was certainly a quick hit in the Tran household and will definitely be made again…and again!
Adapted from Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking by Marchella Hazan
1/2 pound pancetta, cut as a single 1/2 inch thick slice, or its equivalent in good slab bacon
4 garlic cloves
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup dry white wine
2 large eggs (yolks only may be used)
1/4 cup freshly ground romano cheese
1/2 cup freshly grated parmigiano reggiano cheese
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
1 1/4 lbs pasta (I used spaghetti)
Boil and prepare pasta according to package directions for al dente. While pasta is boiling, begin sauce below.
Cut the pancetta or slab bacon into strips not quite 1/4 inch wide and then into 1/4 inche cubes. The original recipe called for strips, but after preparing it, I found I liked it better after I went back and cubed it.
Lightly mash the garlic with the flat of a wide knife, remove and discard garlic skins. Heat oil over medium high heat in a large pan, place garlic and saute until the garlic becomes a deep gold color. Remove and discard garlic.
Place cubes of pancetta into seasoned oil and cook until it just begins to crisp around the edges, about 1-2 minutes. Add wine and let simmer about 1 to 2 minutes. Turn off and remove from heat.
Break 2 eggs into large serving bowl where you will be tossing your pasta. Beat eggs lightly with a fork and add the 2 cheeses, liberal grinding of pepper, and chopped parsley. Mix thoroughly.
Drain cooked pasta, do not rinse, and quickly add to bowl with egg and cheese mixture. Toss rapidly, coating strands well. Briefly reheat pancetta over high heat, and then turn out entire contents of pan into spaghetti bowl. Toss thoroughly again and serve immediately.