Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Spaghetti alla Carbonara

Last night's dinner was borne out of an intense craving. I think I have only had carbonara once, so it was kind of a strange thing to be obsessed with, but whatever, I had all of the ingredients (oh, bless the stocked pantry!), so it was a go.

I was using David Leite's (of Leite's Culinaria fame), and it looked simple and delicious, which is really how a classic carbonara should be. No frills, just eggs, some sort of cured meat (ideally pancetta, but I made do with thick cut market bacon), cheese, and pepper, over some good pasta of course. I really prefer De Cecchio pasta, but I wasn't about to drive across town to get it, so I was happy to use Barilla Spaghetti Rigate instead--it has little ridges that really cling to sauce, I love it.

The recipe itself was missing...something. It was tasty, in a comforting, kind of bland way, but it could have benefitted from something else--maybe a drizzle of cream--to keep it from getting too dry. Leite's recommendation to add reserved pasta water is a good one; if you don't you will be left with the dryest concoction this side of a desert.

To counter the richness of the dish, I served this with a pile of very tender escarole, drizzled with good olive oil, a squeeze of lemon, and some cracked pepper. Mr. Canada found it a little too sour (he is really a fan of more creamy dressings), but I found it to be the perfect foil against the eggy, bacony, cheesy pasta. A glass of wine (Hardy's Merlot, I believe), and we had a pretty delicious, incredibly easy, meal on our hands.

Spaghetti alla Carbonara
by David Leite
Serves 4

Alla carbonara means "in the manner of the coal miner" (or the coal miner's wife). According to legend, the dish was popular with miners because the few ingredients could easily be carried or, in the case of eggs, pocketed from henhouses on the way to work. When appetites knocked, a simple campfire in the woods was all that was needed to make an elegant meal. The liberal use of pepper is considered a modern-day metaphor for the specks of coal that would inevitably drop from the miners' clothing onto the plates of pasta.

1 tablespoon olive oil
6 ounces thickly sliced pancetta, diced into 1/4-inch pieces
2 tablespoons 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

1. In a large skillet, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the pancetta and cook, stirring often, until it's crisp. Set the pan aside.

2. Bring 6 quarts of water to a boil. Add the salt and the spaghetti and cook until al dente. Drain, reserving the 3/4 cup of pasta water, and return the pasta while it's very hot to the pan, set over very low heat. Immediately add the eggs, half the cheese, the reserved pancetta and any rendered fat, and toss well. Add just enough of the pasta water* to make the mixture creamy. Sprinkle liberally with pepper and serve at once. Pass the remaining cheese at the table.

*I recommend keeping some of the pasta water on hand to drizzle over leftovers as well, then you won't have disappointingly dry pasta the next day.


Mrs. C.


David Leite said...

Sorry to hear the dish wasn't as good as you had hoped. Next time try the pancetta. It adds a distinctive taste, much better, I think, than American bacon. Also, we're you using large eggs? Dumb question, I know, but it makes a difference. Cream isn't a classic ingredient, but many people use it. If you want to go that route, stir in a tablespoon or two of mascarpone cheese. That will certainly give it some extra silkiness.

Marianne said...

David, what an honor to hear from you! I have since made your recipe again, with pancetta, and it made all the difference. I think this may be the ultimate in comfort food, thank you so much!