Saturday, March 13, 2010

Spaghetti alla Carbonara

I was hoping my first recipe for the club would be a smashing success, but as those great philosophers say, you can’t always get what you want. However, this was a failure in cooking, not in recipe, so you may fare better.

Spaghetti carbonara is what I would call restaurant-only fare. Something about the method of adding raw egg and cooking it with the hot spaghetti has always intimidated me. But every time I order it (often, at Maldini’s) I enjoy it so much, so I guess it’s no surprise that I’d eventually have to face my fears and try to make it myself. I shouldn’t have.

I found this recipe on Leite’s Culinaria ( along with this photo, which sealed the deal.

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
6 ounces thickly sliced pancetta, cut into 1/4-inch pieces
2 tablespoons kosher salt
1 pound spaghetti
3 large eggs plus 1 egg yolk, well beaten
3/4 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano combined with 1/4 cup grated Pecorino Romano
3/4 cup of boiling pasta water
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

A few notes on the ingredients before we start. I substituted bacon for the pancetta because we had it, and it’s cheaper. That made the olive oil unnecessary since bacon has built in oil. I also used a straight Parmesan and Romano mix. And finally—a pound of spaghetti is a lot of spaghetti, yo. Like way too much for one or two people. Don’t make that much.

You might want to start the water boiling right away if your water is practically unboilable as mine is. Then, heat the olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add the pancetta and cook, stirring often, until crisp. Set it aside. Once the water is boiling (finally) add the salt and spaghetti. I’m not going to tell you how to cook spaghetti here because I sure hope you can handle that on your own. Once that’s done, drain it but keep ¾ of a cup of pasta water.

Here’s where it all went wrong for me. I think it’s in the timing, so you need to add all these ingredients very quickly! Put the spaghetti in a skillet right away while it’s still hot. Put it over very low heat. Add half the cheese, the pancetta and the eggs and toss well (but quickly). You don’t want the eggs to actually cook before you add the pasta water to make it creamy. This is what happened to me. So, add enough of the pasta water to make it creamy, but do it with speed. If you succeed, add pepper, sprinkle cheese on top and enjoy. If you fail, you can buck up and eat it anyway like we did. It’s fine. Edible anyway.

(Click here for printable version)

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