Pasta alla Carbonara (which comes from carbone or coal/charcoal) is one of those dishes that is in my 10 ten list of favorite comfort foods. Because what's not to love about breakfast for dinner, which essentially this "bacon and egg" pasta is? It is high on my family's list of favorite dishes as well, and makes a perfect last-night snack—especially after (shhh!) drinking too much.
If you google or flip through Italian cookbooks you will find that there are many variations on this theme, but the recipe I am sharing is how I grew up eating and then helping to make this pasta. And it is of my Italian-side-of-the-family's opinion that Pasta alla Carbonara should never contain cream. It's the cheese along with the eggs that gives this pasta sauce its creamy texture. My Italian aunt also doesn't put garlic in hers, but I like it with mine.
In Italy you would use guanciale (cured, unsmoked bacon made from the pig's jowls) to make this, but as that is difficult to find in the states unless you have a good Italian deli near you (or you make it yourself). You can use pancetta or Italian cured but unsmoked bacon (which is available at most large grocery stores or Trader Joe's already pre-diced) or, heck, even regular ole bacon as long as it is not hickory smoked and not maple-flavored.
I now present, some of your ingredients:
3-4 good handfuls or at least 2 cups of grated pecorino romano (my pref) or parmiggiano reggiano cheese, fresh ground pepper (the black "charcoal") and really excellent imported spaghetti. (Not pictured: the pancetta.)
First things first, put a large pot of salted water on to boil. Be generous with the salt—you are seasoning the pasta.
Add the cheese to the eggs along with a generous grinding of pepper:
Yeah go ahead and add more fresh ground pepper:
Better yet, have a little helper do it:
Set the egg and cheese and pepper mixture aside, and cook the pancetta. In a small saucepan, glug in about 2 tablespoons of olive oil (oh, don't be shy, most Americans use too little olive oil in their pasta sauces by Italian standards). Then add the pancetta and (if you like) 2 smashed cloves of garlic. Heat over medium-hi heat until it looks like this:
The pancetta will start to get crisp and brown in about 5-7 minutes. Once that happens, turn heat to low and let it hang out. Stir every so often so it doesn't burn. If it does, turn off the pan.
By now your pasta water should be boiling. Dump in the pasta and cook for 2 minutes LESS than what the package indicates. Set a timer if you have to. When timer goes off, check it. If it's still too hard, check at 30 second intervals until al dente.
Now you are ready to rock and you need to make sure you work quickly at
this point. Have a colander ready in the sink so you can drain the
pasta and immediately dump the drained pasta into the eggs (never rinse the pasta or add cold water to it):
The hot pasta is what will cook the eggs so now toss! toss! toss! quickly, and be sure to scoop down to the bottom of the bowl. Keep the pasta constantly moving for at least 30 seconds so the eggs don't turn into scrambled eggs. (Use tossers, not a whisk.)
Add the hot pancetta and oil and toss again:
If sauce seems too "dry" next time when you make this, add a spoon full of pasta cooking water to the pasta when you first toss it with the egg mixture. It's a good idea to always reserve a spoon or two no matter what kind of pasta you're making.
The final dish ready to serve. (Serves 4 with leftovers or 6 as a starter course.) Oh yeah, baby.:
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