About Me
I'm a Melbourne boy, hailing from St Kilda with one ex, one current wife and four kids. Love the outdoors and making new discoveries. I cook a lot at home (cheers from wife) and do some preserving, mostly jams, pickles and fruit liqueurs. This is the diary of a cooking journey.

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Thursday, May 08, 2008
Pasta alla Carbonara
Just what the world needs, another recipe for pasta alla carbonara, an all-time favourite.

It is a dish full of myth and intrigue over its origins, though the version I like best is the one about the American servicemen during the Second World War, supplying local Italians with eggs and bacon, who then gave birth to this dish.

However it came about, pasta alla carbonara is one of those dishes whose sum is greater than its parts. Cured pork, eggs and cheese, seasoned and cooked in the residual heat of steaming hot pasta, usually spaghetti.

In Italy, the choice of pork is guanciale, pork jowl or cheek, rubbed with seasoning then cured for a few weeks, but not smoked. Everywhere else pancetta is used, or even bacon and while the smokiness of bacon is not disagreeable, the delicacy of unsmoked pork gives the superior result.

Pecorino Romano is the cheese preferred if chasing authenticity, but by no means discount Parmigiano Reggiano or its close cousin Grana Padana, both of which make worthy substitutes, in fact Grana is the cheese I use most often to make this dish.

Funnily, considering that two salty products, pork and cheese, are used, the beaten eggs can take up quite a bit more salt than you would think - of course, a good grinding of black pepper is essential.

But perhaps the real secret of a creamy, coating sauce, is to hold back a little of the pasta cooking water. When the pasta is first mixed with the sauce and the eggs start to cook, the whole dish looks claggy and sticky, a little water soon loosens it into irresistible unctuousness. Some use cream for the same effect, but that is gilding the lily.

Pasta alla Carbonara
(serves 4)

5oog dried spaghetti or other pasta
200g guanciale, pancetta, or bacon, cut into thin lardons*
knob of butter
5 eggs
60g grated Pecorino Romano, parmesan or grana cheese
salt & fresh ground pepper

In a large pot of boiling salted water cook the spaghetti. Meanwhile, melt a knob of butter in a fry pan and gently cook the guanciale, pancetta or bacon for one or two minutes - the meat must remain tender and juicy, in no way crisped or browned. Beat the eggs in a large bowl and put in the slightly cooled meat, the cheese and season to taste with salt and pepper. When the spaghetti is cooked to your liking, take out a cup of the cooking water, drain the pasta, place in the bowl with the egg mixture and immediately mix it with the sauce. Check for consistency and if at all sticky looking, mix in a splash or two of water, until everything looks creamy. Serve with extra cheese for grating.

*have your butcher slice the meat thin, thin lardons adhere better to the pasta than thick ones.
  posted at 1:52 pm

At 8:22 pm, Blogger Lydia (The Perfect Pantry) said...

Pasta cooking water is magical stuff -- I use it in most of my pasta sauces. The extra little bit of starch really helps pull things together, without the use of cream.

At 11:10 pm, Anonymous ntsc The Art of The Pig said...

Rhulman and Polcyn in their book Charcuterie give instructions on a cured but not smoked bacon. Which is very good. They offer both a maple sugar and savory varient (either of which you can also smoke if you wish).

At 12:26 am, Blogger Kalyn said...

Such a wonderful tasting combo!

At 6:15 am, Blogger gigi said...

Yes ~ this is just what the world needs! There can never be too many pasta recipes, as far as I'm concerned. I always save the pasta water when cooking, and even use it in reheating the leftovers.

At 1:20 pm, Blogger MyKitchenInHalfCups said...

I know this is just what I need. We could have a little red wine with it, yes?

At 2:58 pm, Blogger neil said...

Hi lydia, dead right, it was the other lidia who taught me that.

Hi ntsc, do you cure yourself? I've done nothing harder than salmon, which gives a delicious result.

Hi kalyn, isn't it amazing that so few ingredients can pack in so much flavour.

Hi gigi, no shame in thriftyness, the world in fact needs more of it. How are those rabbits going? Can you spare a coat?

Hi tanna, a glass of wine indeed, I believe we had a Cote-du-Rhone.

At 3:53 am, Blogger Laurie said...

How nice! You posted a fabulous recipe for my favorite pasta just for me on Mother's Day. How'd you know?


At 11:18 am, Blogger neil said...

Hi laurie, find me a cheap fare and I'll come cook for you. Happy Mother's Day!

At 5:21 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm a huge carbonara fan. The recipe I'm currently using adopts the 'no cream just eggs' philosophy, but is lighter-on than your five eggs. It's closer to 2 eggs plus an extra yoke.

Any views on just using yokes, no whites?



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