Classic Spaghetti Carbonara

Have you ever watched those shows about the mob and observed how many wiseguys and goodfellas tend to be a tad hefty in the waist? Today’s dish is a big part of the reason for that. Any true son of Italy has grown up on this incredibly simple but intensely flavorful pasta recipe. It’s a staple dish of every Italian grandma, and comes together faster than you can say “Bada bing.” Okay, maybe not quite that fast, but you get the idea. The only downside is that from a fat and cholesterol perspective it’s kind of a heart attack on a plate, so it’s not something that you want to eat every day.

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Here are your ingredients for 3-4 servings:

  • 1 lb. spaghetti (linguine also works well)
  • ½ lb. thick cut bacon
  • 3 eggs, well beaten
  • Cracked black pepper to taste
  • ¼ cup heavy cream (optional)
  • 1 cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano
  • Fresh chopped basil for garnish

Traditionally a carbonara sauce is made with guanciale rather than bacon, but that can be hard to find in most American markets. Pancetta is also a good option, but I find that regular old bacon lends a very nice smoky, salty flavor to the dish.

Cut the bacon into half-inch pieces and, in a very large deep skillet, cook it over medium heat to render the fat and brown the bacon to a nice crisp texture. While the bacon is frying, get your pasta boiling in some well salted water. While those are doing their thing, whisk the eggs thoroughly to ensure any curds are broken up, then crack LOTS of fresh black pepper into the eggs. Don’t be shy about it. The pepper is the backbone of this recipe’s flavor profile. The name carbonara translates roughly as “coal-burner” style, and comes from the way the pepper creates the appearance of little bits of soot throughout the sauce. So, just when you think you’ve given it enough pepper, guess again. Be bold. Give it a bit more, and maybe a bit more after that.

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When you’re done with the pepper, whisk the cream into the eggs. Most Italians would blanch at the thought of incorporating cream into a carbonara – the sauce is supposed to be made just from the eggs and cheese. However, this sauce is all about technique, and without the cream there is a very narrow margin between a creamy sauce and something resembling finely scrambled eggs on your pasta. The cream makes the latter much less likely to happen, and also adds a beautiful richness to the finished product.

 So, when the pasta and bacon are both done cooking, it’s time to put the sauce together. If you’re concerned about eating too much bacon fat, you can remove some of it from the skillet at this point, but don’t drain it entirely. Instead, you’ll want to keep most or all of the drippings in the skillet. Reduce the heat to medium-low, transfer the pasta directly from the cooking water, and stir it thoroughly to coat it with the fat and mix in the pieces of cooked bacon. Next, pour in the egg-pepper mixture and stir vigorously to cover the pasta. At this point you should see a creamy sauce forming. Next stir in the grated cheese along with about ¼ cup of the pasta water, again mixing vigorously to coat the pasta evenly.

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And with that you’re done. Plate it up, garnish with a little more cheese, pepper and some fresh basil and munch it down like a true goodfella. It will put a big happy grin on your face and an extra inch on your waistline. Until next time: Mangia, mangia, my friends!

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