This video by Chef Gino D'Acampo, demonstrates what I consider to be an authentic Italian spaghetti alla carbonara. The dish comes from the latium region in Italy, more specifically to Rome. Pasta alla carbonara means "pasta made in the style of the carbonari, or charcoal (carbon) workers' style." It is essentially a quick-to-make peasant dish that is made from cheap, available ingredients. While there are many variations of this dish, the essential ingredients are simple: bacon, pancetta, or guanciale (pork jowls), eggs (the yolks, whole eggs or a combination of the two), Pecorino Romano (a gamey, sheep's milk cheese similar to Parmegiano Reggiano) and lots of fresh ground black pepper. This is an excellent late night supper or quick lunch. It might just be the perfect comfort food.
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According to wikipedia..."Pasta alla Carbonara was included in Elizabeth David's Italian Food, an English-language cookbook published in Great Britain in 1954. However, the dish is not present in Ada Boni's 1927 classic La Cucina Romana and is unrecorded before the Second World War. It was first described after the war as a Roman dish, when many Italians were eating eggs and bacon supplied by troops from the United States." Leave it to the Romans to craft such a creamy, comforting concoction from simple bacon and eggs.
The carbonara recipe is pretty simple but requires some finesse. The challenge with this dish is to keep the eggs from turning into scrambled eggs once the pasta is added to the hot oil and the eggs are blended in. If you remove the pan from the heat just before combining, you may have better luck. You can always put it back on low to warm through once the sauce is incorporated.
Here are the basics: While your pasta water is heating, brown the diced pancetta, (or guanciale or bacon) in a little bit of olive oil in a large saucepan. Start with a cold pan to render the fat and keep the pancetta from sticking to the pan. When the meat is crispy and dark brown, turn the heat to low but keep the pan hot. Wisk the eggs, half of the grated cheese and the parsley in a small bowl until fully combined. (No salt is needed as the bacon is quite salty as is the cheese) Add a couple grinds of fresh ground black pepper to the egg mixture and set aside.
Here's the tricky part...Once the pasta is done, reserve a half cup or so of the starchy water and set aside. Drain the pasta (DON'T RINSE!!) and add it to the bacon in sauce pan, tossing quickly to completely coat the pasta with the hot oil. Add in the egg mixture and continue to toss and mix quickly. The heat from the oil and the hot pasta will cook the eggs and form a nice creamy sauce. However, if the pan is too hot, you could end up with scrambled eggs. They'll taste fine but the texture isn't what you want. Best solution? More practice and keeping an eye on the heat under the pan during the final step. Add a bit of the reserved starchy pasta water to smooth it out as needed. Garnish with the remainder of the cheese.
TIP: Take the eggs from the fridge early and allow them to come to room temperature before mixing with the cheese.
TIP: Grate the Pecorino Romano or Parmesan cheese using the small setting so the cheese is light and fluffy. This will help it incorporate with the eggs and produce a smoother, creamier sauce.
TIP: Make sure you use a sauce pan that will be large enough to hold and mix all the cooked pasta.
ALT METHOD: I drain my pasta and return the hot pasta to the hot cooking pot, off the heat. I then add the hot bacon and oil to the pasta, using a plastic spatula to scrape up all the delicious bits. I stir to coat the pasta with the oil, then add the egg mixture.
TIP: If you are using bacon, you may want to drain some of the grease from the pan (1 tbs. or so) so the dish isn't too greasy. For a slightly lighter, somewhat heathier version, drain the bacon fat completely and replace it with good quality olive oil. Scrape up the bits on the bottom of the pan and allow the bacon pieces to flavor the oil over low heat. Make sure the oil is nice and hot before adding the pasta.
TIP: Use some of the starchy reserved pasta water to smooth out your dish.
TIP: The pasta will continue to absorb the sauce even after being plated so it's OK if it seems a tiny bit runny when first served. If it seems too dry, add in a bit of the pasta water and mix gently to smooth it out.