Sunday, December 2, 2012

Spaghetti alla Carbonara


Here in my household, Spaghetti alla Carbonara is frequently enjoyed -- it's basically a spaghetti dish topped with eggs and bacon. Although the origin of the recipe is unknown, many believe it was developed during WWII as a way to feed Allied troops who were wary of meatless pasta. This meal was a cheap and tasty way to fill their bellies before combat. 

Another well-believed origin of the dish is derived from the word carbonara, which means charcoal burner.  This reference has led people to believe the meal was possibly used as a way to feed weary coal miners in mid-20th century.

Regardless of the dish's roots, we have experimented with a few different recipes. Two versions of success can be found below.

Fancy Spaghetti alla Carbonara

3 tbsp Extra-Virgin Olive Oil

8 ounces Guanciale, Pancetta, or thick cut Bacon

1 pound spaghetti

1 1/4 cups freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano

4 large Eggs, yolks and whites separated

Freshly ground Black Pepper

1.     Bring 6 quarts of water to a boil in a large pot, and add 2 tablespoons salt.

2.     Meanwhile, combine the olive oil and bacon in a 12-to-14-inch sauté pan set over medium heat, and cook until the bacon has rendered its fat and is crispy and golden.  Remove from the heat and set aside (do not drain fat).

3.     Cook the spaghetti in the boiling water until just al dente.  Scoop 1/4 cup of the pasta cooking water and set aside (we use a measuring cup to scoop directly from the pot 1/4 cup).  Drain the pasta.

4.     Add the reserved pasta water to the pan with the bacon, then toss in the pasta and heat, shaking the pan, for 1 minute.  Remove from the heat, add 1 cup of the Parmigiano, the egg whites, and pepper to taste, and toss until thoroughly mixed.

5.     Divide the pasta among four warmed serving bowls.  Make a nest in the center of each one, and gently drop an egg yolk into each nest.  Season the egg yolks with more pepper and sprinkle the remaining 1/4 cup Parmigiano over the top.  Serve immediately.

Not-So-Fancy Spaghetti alla Carbonara

1 pound dry spaghetti

2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil

4 ounces pancetta or slab bacon, cubed or sliced into small strips

 4 garlic cloves, finely chopped

2 large eggs

1 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, plus more for serving

 Freshly ground black pepper

1 handful fresh flat-leaf parsley, chopped

1.     Prepare the sauce while the pasta is cooking to ensure that the spaghetti will be hot and ready when the sauce is finished; it is very important that the pasta is hot when adding the egg mixture, so that the heat of the pasta cooks the raw eggs in the sauce.

2.     Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil, add the pasta and cook for 8 to 10 minutes (till al dente.) Drain the pasta well, reserving 1/2 cup of the starchy cooking water to use in the sauce if you wish.

3.     Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a deep skillet over medium flame. Add the pancetta and saute for about 3 minutes, until the bacon is crisp and the fat is rendered. Toss the garlic into the fat and saute for less than 1 minute to soften.

4.     Add the hot, drained spaghetti to the pan and toss for 2 minutes to coat the strands in the bacon fat. Beat the eggs and Parmesan together in a mixing bowl, stirring well to prevent lumps. Remove the pan from the heat and pour the egg/cheese mixture into the pasta, whisking quickly until the eggs thicken, but do not scramble (this is done off the heat to ensure this does not happen.) Thin out the sauce with a bit of the reserved pasta water, until it reaches desired consistency. Season the carbonara with several turns of freshly ground black pepper and taste for salt. Mound the spaghetti carbonara into warm serving bowls and garnish with chopped parsley.

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