Monday, June 8, 2009

Spaghetti alla Carbonara

This is one of the ultimate (and easiest) pasta dishes of all time.  I have to prepare emotionally to eat this dish because it can make me cry like a little girl it's so good.  This is also one of the worst dishes to order in a restaurant.  Most of the times I've ordered this dish at an "Italian" restaurant I've always been very disappointed.  If the word "cream" appears in the menu description, or your server says it, do not order this dish.  Most mediocre Italian themed restaurant make this dish by putting bacon together with their house Alfredo sauce and call it Carbonara.  This is evil, and the chef should be beaten with those very noodles he's trying to pass of as the greatest of Italian dishes.  Carbonara is the ultimate in Italian comfort food, and my wife is nuts for it.  This recipe is the real deal, and once you have it prepared this way, you'll probably never order it in a restaurant again.

Carbonara is a derivative of the Italian word for charcoal.  As legend has it, it was created as a hearty meal for coal miners.  Also as a tribute to the "Carbonari" a secret society partially responsible for the unification of Italy.  

1 Lb dry high quality semolina spaghetti
4 Tbsp Extra virgin olive oil
4 cloves crushed and minced garlic
4 ounces Guanciale or Pancetta (Guanciale is hard to find unless you have a local Italian store.  It is a mildly cured bacon made from pig cheeks.  Pancetta is made from the belly just like normal bacon, but is cured, not smoked.)  If you like a smokey flavor you can use American bacon, but it won't be as good.  Pancetta can be found in the deli case in most mega marts.  Have them slice it 1/4 inch thick.
3 whole eggs
1 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese (preferably Reggiano)
1/2 cup reserved starchy pasta water
generous amount of coarsely ground black pepper

In a large pot full of salted boiling water, add your pasta and cook till al dente (which means to the teeth, or still slightly chewy.)  If you don't know how much salt to use in your pasta water, the Italians say "come del mar" or "like the sea."  

While the pasta is cooking, make the sauce so it is ready as soon as the pasta is done.  You want the spaghetti hot so it actually cooks the eggs.  In a large skillet, add your olive oil and Pancetta cut into matchstick like strips called lardons.  While it is browning whisk together the eggs and parmesan.   When the pancetta is lightly browned, add the garlic, and 30 seconds later, add the cooked spaghetti.  Toss with the pancetta for about a minute or two or until every strand of that pasta is shiny with the oil and bacon fat.  (This is not a dish you want to make every day unless you have a crush on your cardiologist.)  Remove from the heat.  Immediately add the egg mixture right over the spaghetti stirring constantly or the eggs will scramble.  If you keep the pasta moving you will basically make a custard and not scrambled eggs.  Add the reserved pasta water to thin the sauce out, (it will resemble Alfredo in consistency but will be oh so much better!)  Garnish with a liberal amount of fresh cracked black pepper and parsley.  You can pass around more cheese for the top.  Don't add salt, remember the pasta water has salt, and so does the parmesan.

The French are the first to add cream to this dish.  They also have been known to add peas or broccoli for color.  I kind of like the peas, but the broccoli has to go.  The peas are not authentic.  If you want to be strictly authentic, stick with the original recipe.  ENJOY!!!

1 comment:

  1. My Dad read pig cheeks in this recipe and walked away. I replied, knowing what a fan of sausage (especially salami) he is by reminding him that in salami you will find the meat from the pig head, ears, eyes, scrotum, feet, penis, testicals, and the muscle directly around the anus. Every part of Porky Pig is good, let's not leave anything to waste, even his jowels!