To date, this is the most mediocre dish I have cooked. Ever. Not horrible, not spectacular. Just good. Different. In my research, I learned that spaghetti carbonara was named for Italian ‘charcoal makers’ or coal miners, perhaps for the way it was cooked in the mines or how the ingredients were readily available in most household pantries. I have read several versions but the stories are pretty similar.
While watching Anthony Bourdain in Rome the other night, his buddy emphasized that the key to Italian cooking is in the ingredients. They should always be as fresh as possible and the fresher and higher quality the ingredients are, the fewer of them you will need. This brings me to the pancetta. We had all of the other ingredients but found ourselves at the local grocer’s to gather that one key component, rather than the local butcher shop. What we purchased was a vacuum-sealed package of the stuff that had to air out for a few minutes, once opened, for me to be able to even get near it. Vacuum-packed food is often like that, but it still smelled ‘off’ to me. Not having cooked with pancetta very often, I couldn’t tell if it was just the way it was or if we didn’t get the best stuff available. The proof was in the puddin’.
The spaghetti tasted good and even Mr. Cheese said, it kind of ‘grows on you’. He found himself seeking out the crunchy bits of pancetta, though I was not a fan. The meat had an almost gamey taste to it and I’m sure pancetta isn’t supposed to taste like that. I did clear my plate but this is part of the italian Clean Your Plate Syndrome, whether you like what’s on it or not. Cooking this left me feeling a bit uninspired and was a good reminder to me to stick with the freshest ingredients available, or don’t bother.
I literally read through two ginormous italian cookbooks for some inspiration (both of which spoke of the origins of italian cooking and neither of which mention carbonara) and read through numerous websites and bloggies before choosing a recipe to experiment with, try on for size and tweak, twist or trash altogether. Fellow blogger Bellalimento’s recipe was helpful, as was Antonio Carluccio’s and italianchef’s. Thank you, Team!
- ½ lb. spaghetti
- 1 Tablespoon butter
- 2 Tablespoons olive oil
- 1/3 lb. pancetta, chopped
- 1/3 cup onion, fine dice
- 2 Tablespoons garlic, minced
- ¼ cup sherry or white cooking wine
- 3 eggs
- 2 oz. pecorino romano cheese, grated
- 1 Tablespoon fresh chopped parsley
- Salt & pepper to taste
How to Make It!
Fill a large sauce pot about halfway with water, add salt and a touch of olive oil and heat over medium high until boiling. Once boiling, add the spaghetti and cook for about 10 minutes or until al dente.
While the spaghetti is cooking, add butter and oil to a large frying pan and heat over medium high heat, to melt. Add the onion and pancetta and let cook for about 5-10 minutes until the onion is slightly translucent and the pancetta is almost crispy. Add the garlic and let cook another couple of minutes, then add the wine. Lower the heat to medium and let cook until the wine reduces by about half, stirring on occasion, then remove from heat and set aside.
In a small bowl, mix together the eggs, cheese, parsley, salt and pepper and set aside. When the spaghetti is done, set aside a cup of the cooking water, then drain the pasta. Put the pancetta back on medium high heat and let warm up. Once warmed, add the pasta to the pan a bit at a time with tongs, turning to coat with the oil and butter. Stir in the egg and cheese mixture but be careful not to let the eggs cook or scramble. To avoid the pasta from becoming dry, you can add a bit of the reserved cooking water. (yeah, so mine scrambled a tiny bit….ack!!) Once the spaghetti is well coated with the egg and cheese mixture and heated through, you are ready to plate. Sprinkle with extra cheese, if desired. Serves 4.