Pasta alla Carbonara

Pasta Carbonara is another very simple but amazing Italian dish, only requiring:

 

  • eggs (1 egg plus an additional egg for each person ie 3 people=4 eggs)
  • pancetta or guanciale if possible (about .2-.3 oz for 3-5 people- I ask for a 1/2 inch slice)
  • cheese (preferably Pecorino Romano but can use Parmigiano Reggiano as well)
  • black pepper and salt
  • extra virgin olive oil
  • pasta (spaghetti or rigatoni are most classic) (100-200 grams per person)

 

It is a very typical Roman dish found throughout Lazio. My favorite restaurant in Rome for this has got to be Cicca Bomba. The name, Pasta alla Carbonara, roughly translates as Coal Miner’s pasta. It got that name most likely because of the ease of storage and the availability of ingredients.  When making charcoal the ‘Carbonaro’ needs to supervise the coal for long periods of time so they needed food they could bring with them that would stand up well over time.

Pasta alla Carbonara is a relatively new addition to the Roman menu, appearing immediately after the liberation of Rome in 1944. It was most likely influenced by the bacon brought by the Anglo-American troops. During the Second World War, the American soldiers that were stationed in Italy most likely combined the most familiar ingredients they could find, eggs, bacon and spaghetti, while making meals. This gave the Italian cooks the idea to take these ingredients and develop (and perfect) the recipe as we would find in the local Trattorias today.

Whenever you have such a small ingredient list, you want to be absolutely sure you are using the best ingredients possible, each will need to shine. The pasta is traditionally spaghetti, but you can also use other types of long pasta like linguine but also short pastas like rigatoni or penne. Pasta has different shapes for a reason, not all pasta will work well with all sauces. Pay attention to this when experimenting.

When you are buying pasta at the store remember the brand also matters. De Cecco (Day Chayk-ko) in the blue and yellow box is one of the best, but can be hard to find and is on the expensive side. We also eat Barilla and Garafolo- which I stock up on at Costco. The eggs will not cook that much, so you want fresh good eggs. For a richer sauce, substitute some of the whole eggs for just yolks. As far as pancetta, the recipe is better suited for guanciale (pig cheek) than actual pancetta, but it can be very hard to find and pancetta makes a nice substitute.  If neither pancetta or guanciale are available you can use bacon.

This is a very quick recipe. Start the pasta water then cut the pancetta. Once you have the pancetta in little strips, fry it up in some olive oil. Turn the pan off when pancetta is ready.

 

 

 

 

 

Once your pasta water is boiling add a small palm full of salt to the water, a palm full is somewhere in between a pinch and a handful. Just like you would add sugar to both frosting and cake, you want to make sure your pasta is salted. The pancetta and pecorino will add the salt to the sauce. Add your pasta to the salted pot of water. While your pasta is cooking, mix together the eggs, fresh ground pepper and pecorino cheese. The amount of cheese is somewhat personal, I use a full hand cheese grater worth.

When your pasta is just short of being ready, turn the olive oil and pancetta pan back on to medium high. Add a small amount of the water the pasta was cooking in to the egg and cheese mixture and stir (this will help so you don’t make scrambled eggs and bacon pasta, that is not the desired outcome). Drain the pasta then toss it in the pan with the oil and pancetta. Once they are well mixed (about 30 seconds) turn the heat off and add the egg, pepper and pecorino mixture while stirring. This is the critical and intense part of the dish (see below), you do not want to overcook the egg but you also do not want raw egg. This should take about 1-2 minutes to add and mix all the ingredients together.

Add some pecorino and fresh pepper on top and serve.

This is always a crowd-pleaser in my house. Like all recipes, there are some variations, but in my opinion this is the true Roman Recipe. Kevin likes to add garlic to the olive oil and pancetta and I have also seen zucchini and saffron added at that point, but called Pasta alla Carbonara di Primavera (di Primavera=Springtime). I have seen restaurants in the United States add cream or peas as well, but I do not feel these add anything beneficial to the taste or integrity of the dish.

My mom was visiting me when I lived in Rome and she asked an Italian friend of mine to teach her how to make this. When it came down to the part too add the egg mixture to the pasta he told her to add it ‘faster than you can‘ which was a bad translation on his part from ‘più veloce che puoi‘  which caused her to pause, wondering how it was possible to pour it in faster than she could. A more appropriate translation would be, ‘as fast as you can‘. But it just is a good reminder that we are not making a pasta omelet, the egg mixture will become the sauce and needs to coat the pasta not firm up.

Buon Appetito!

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