We are going back to Rome today. I am having an overwhelming feeling that it is time to tell you my carbonara story.
I am a wicked (New England heritage poking out) carbonara snob. It is really the most simplistic of dishes, but so many tend to screw it up. I suppose it is because it is so simple that everyone wants to put their own spin on it. I get the whole creative thing. I do. It is definitely fun to play around in the kitchen. But seriously, don’t mess with my carbonara.
I am only going to say this once. Please do not add cream to (my) carbonara.
Rome made me this way. It actually happened a couple of visits ago. My dad took me to one of his favorite restaurants. He recommended the carbonara on the basis that he had eaten it on several recent (in a row) return visits. Of course, I got annoyed with him for never trying anything new. But, I give it a go. Rather have something recommended than be disappointed. I have a serious issue with paying for bad food. Story for another day.
The carbonara was quite simply the best thing I ever had. Whoa. That’s serious. I don’t know if it was because I was in Rome and it was a gorgeous fall night and we were sitting outside beneath the stars, surrounded by candlelight, flowing fountains and clinking glasses. Actually as I write this, I will acknowledge that the atmosphere was pretty awesome and I’m sure it helped shape my memory.
Perfect al dente noodles and a light glaze of eggy cheesy subtle yumminess. Emphasis on subtle. Coated with a very generous dusting of black pepper. Heaven.
Deeply imbedded in my memory, I decided that I would learn to make carbonara at home. Can’t be hard. Well, it is hard. To get it right. Not even just right, perfect. So I gave up and decided I wouldn’t have it again until I returned to Rome. How silly of me. At the time, I had no idea I’d be returning to Italy for a proposal from my boyfriend and then an extended personal “enrichment” stay. But something in my intuition told me I’d be back.
Flash forward two years. John brings me on a surprise trip to Rome. I bring him to my little carbonara slice of heaven on night one. John proposes. Hmmmmm…. A connection? I’ll share the details of the proposal at a later time when it won’t derail my story.
I return to Rome one month later. Proceed to eat carbonara at every single place I go to. Well, except for the ones that only had pizza. Some of it was good. Some of it was very (very) bad. Nothing was perfect. I acknowledge that I must learn to make it again and challenge myself to another attempt. When in Rome…
I decide to follow in the footsteps of my mother and buy myself a real Italian cookbook. In English, but from Italy. When we traveled together, she always reminded me, especially when I was being particularly cheap, that it is really nice when you buy something on your travels and then return home and incorporate it into your daily life. Then, every time you use ‘it’ you are reminded of your trip. A cookbook is a perfect way to do this.
I half attempted a couple of recipes based on ingredients I had on hand at the time. Everything was good, but all looked the same. I figured that carbonara, in its simple whiteness would help break that pattern. It was time.
Here’s the recipe I made. Honestly, it still wasn’t perfection and the addition of white wine and butter made it less authentic than I wanted. But it was in the cookbook. And that simply meant that I had no choice. I was going to make the carbonara, imperfect recipe and all. And it was way better than many of the versions I had out in Rome if that helps. Take my viewpoint on the recipe with a grain of salt. I am not definitely not an expert on the topic, merely an obsessed consumer.
Without further adieu, carbonara. The actual recipe plus my color commentary.
Oh one other piece of advice, please don’t use bacon. Do try and find pancetta or even guanciale. It makes all the difference.
From “Pasta, every way for every day” by Eric Treuille & Anna Del Conte
Carbonara, Serves 4
3 egg yolks
8 tbsp freshly grated parmesan
2 tbsp oil
2 garlic cloves, peeled and halved
7 oz unsmoked pancetta
4 tbsp white wine
1 lb dried pasta
½ oz butter
salt, black pepper
additional freshly grated parmesan to serve
Mix egg yolks and parmesan in a bowl until combined. (Yes, it will look a little strange. And italian egg yolks are way yellow-er than those we have at home. Makes for a very yellow mixture.)
Heat oil in a large frying pan. Add garlic and cook over medium high heat until golden, 2 minutes. Remove garlic and discard. (Note - I skipped this last step. I like garlic.)
Add pancetta and cook, stirring occasionally, until crisp, 5 minutes. Add wine and simmer until just evaporated, 2 minutes. Remove from heat.
Meanwhile, cook pasta in a large pot of boiling, salted water, until firm to the bite.
Drain, reserving ½ cup pasta water. (I was drinking wine while cooking and totally missed this step. I didn't actually need it, but if I did, I do know the pasta water is important as it is starchy. I guess the moral of this story is, pay attention and don't drink too much wine.)
Add drained pasta to the hot pancetta and toss well to coat. (I tossed so well that I had some pancetta escapees as noted in the picture below.)
Remove from the heat. Add egg mixture and butter and toss again to coat, adding reserved water as needed. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Serve immediately with additional parmesan. (See top picture above! That was my dinner. Seriously, it was pretty good. Just not perfect!)
You may be asking yourself at this point, "How on earth does carbonara relate to winking?" Swing by later for Part Two…