Wednesday, February 9, 2011

True Spaghetti alla Carbonara

February 9: Dinner

Most of my life, I’ve had pasta carbonara from restaurants - chain restaurants (gulp). I never tried to cook it myself because white sauces terrify me. But when I went to Italy in 2008, I ordered spaghetti alla carbonara from a restaurant, and I was shocked. Not only did I get pasta that wasn’t absolutely smothered in white sauce, but it came with an egg yolk on top. Errr, huh? I ordered it at several restaurants during those two weeks in Italy, and it was all made the same. And it was excellent.

Come to find out, according to Mario Batali, the Italians were right. Tonight, I used his cookbook, Molto Gusto, and the recipe can also be found on his website, to try it myself.

I made several changes. The recipe in the book calls for a 6-serving recipe, but I really only wanted it for one, with no leftovers. So, I winged it with the amounts of the ingredients and tried to eye it. Believe me, that is not an easy task for a beginner cook! I also did the unthinkable - I substituted regular thick-cut bacon for pancetta, because I didn’t feel like traveling all the way to the Italian market for one small piece of pancetta. (Don’t tell Mario.)

Basics: Cooked 1 slab bacon, cut into small pieces, in olive oil until browned, then added ground black pepper. Boiled a serving of spaghetti to al dente, drained, but kept less than 1/3 cup of pasta water. Brought bacon, oil, and pasta water to a simmer, stirred in egg white and whisked quickly for about 1 minute. Added pasta, tossed, stirred in freshly grated Parmigiano cheese. Plated and topped with egg yolk.

I did it! I made carbonara like the Italians! Well, I’m ¼ Italian, so I guess I cooked it like my Italian familia. It was exactly like the pasta I tasted in Italy. Sure, there is a distinct egg taste, but meshing the yolk into the pasta and forgetting that it could have been an omelet is part of the magic. It really did need to be whisked very quickly in the pan to make sure the white didn’t fry up like an egg, but it only took a minute to keep that from happening. This was true carbonara, it only took about 10 minutes, and it was delicious.

I sliced a few pieces of bread to go with it as well. What's an authentic Italian meal without bread?


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