Carbonara is the closest thing to eggs and bacon as Italians get. The basics of pasta alla carbonara are pasta, cured fatty pork, grated cheese, eggs, and black pepper. Just like my lovely Italian roommate, carbonara is straight forward and beautiful, but can be temperamental if not treated correctly. Michela worked at a restaurant in Bologna for years while putting herself through university and told me that the name refers to the carbon black color from fresh cracked black pepper. The black pepper has to be visible in order for it to be a carbonara according to her. Though the recipe sounds simple, I cannot emphasis how important mise en place is for making it well. That means having everything ready to rock and roll. Otherwise, you would risk as my Italian friend would say, “Disastro!” This dish comes together very quickly with high reward.
- 2 thick slices of pancetta, guanciale, or 4 slices of thick bacon, small diced
- 1 clove garlic, gently cracked (optional)
- 250 grams (1 package) Italian corn pasta (spaghetti or fettuccini) such as Le Veneziane
- 3 eggs at room temperature
- 4 ounces finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano and/or Pecorino Romano cheese, plus more as needed
- ½ teaspoon fresh ground black pepper, plus more for garnish if desired
- Finely chopped parsley, for garnish (optional)
Place a large pot of salted water over the heat, bringing to a boil. Cut your choice of cured pork product into small dice, about 1/4 inch. In a large fry pan, brown the pork over medium heat with the garlic clove (with skin on) and cook until browned about 6-8 minutes.
During this time, add in the pasta all at once. Stir occasionally to ensure the starch does not build up, making the pasta stick to each other.
Meanwhile, in a bowl, whisk the eggs with the grated cheese (in portions) and black pepper. This egg mixture should be a thick slurry. Add more cheese to thicken if needed. Depending on the grate of the cheese, the amount can vary.
Once pasta is al dente, return pork in large fry pan to medium heat (remove the garlic and any excessive fat), and transfer the pasta to the fry pan. If you use a colander to strain the pasta, make sure to reserve at least one cup of the starchy water. There should be enough water in the fry pan with the pasta so it is wet, but not runny. Stir, toss over heat to deglaze the fry pan.
Turn off the heat and immediately add in the egg-cheese slurry and stir constantly. The residual heat should cook the eggs just enough to transform it into a thick sauce. Serve immediately. Garnish as desired with cheese, pepper, and parsley.
Makes 4 servings
Total time: 25 minutes.
If you cannot find or use corn pasta, try another alternative such as brown rice pasta. As far as what cured pork product to use, it depends on your personal preference and what is best where you live. I personally prefer thick-cut smoked bacon. That is due to the fact I live in Cincinnati (a.k.a. "Porkopolis") with great butchers that specialize in pork, and we have little-to-no Italian grocery products here. I also prefer the thick-cut bacon since it is smoked and able to get crispier than pancetta with my experience. The cheese is a huge determining factor of the flavor here, so do not skimp.
The Sensitive Epicure