Tag Archives: Spaghetti

The best Spaghetti Carbonara

5 Jun

Tell the truth. Have you eaten more very good Spaghetti alla Carbonara in your lifetime, or more so-so?

That’s what I figured. If ever a dish proved that simple recipes are the most difficult to prepare, this one is it.

Carbonara is one of my top go-to meals, and so I figure it’s about time I shared it here. The recipe is from David Downie’s “Cooking the Roman Way.” It’s a reliable, honest, authentic Roman preparation, and I’ve been using it for several years now.

Best of all it isn’t at all so-so. Give it a shot, you’ll see.

You start out with a nice piece of pancetta (this is my homemade stuff), guanciale or even bacon if you prefer.

Dice it all up so’s to fry it in olive oil.

Mix together some grated Pecorino Romano cheese, a good hit of freshly ground pepper, three eggs, and an egg yolk.

Here’s the part that is most important (the full recipe is below). The egg and cheese mixture is added to the cooked pancetta, but only after the pan has been allowed to cool for three minutes.

You can see that the pan isn’t hot enough to cook the eggs, but it does allow for just enough of a head start on the cooking.

As soon as the pasta is cooked it’s added to the warm pan with all the other ingredients.

This is when the combination of the hot pasta and the already-warmed ingredients allows things to actually become cooked. (If it remains uncooked after stirring, turn on the heat and keep stirring, but only briefly; otherwise the eggs will scramble.)

Here’s how a proper Carbonara should look, as far as I’m concerned anyway.

And I’m concerned an awful lot.

Spaghetti alla Carbonara
Adapted from “Cooking the Roman Way” by David Downie

4 ounces pancetta, guanciale or bacon (I use a little more)
2 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
4 large eggs, at room temperature
2 Tbsp freshly grated Pecorino Romano (I use twice that amount)
Freshly ground black pepper
Kosher salt or coarse sea salt (I use regular salt)
1 lb. spaghetti
1 cup freshly grated cheese, half Parmigiano-Reggiano, half Pecorino Romano

Bring at least 5 quarts of water to a boil in a large pot.
Roughly chop the pancetta, guanciale or bacon. You should have about 3/4 of a cup. (I use about a cup.)
Heat the oil in a very large, high-sided frying pan over medium. Add the pork and stir, sautéing until crisp. Turn off the heat under the frying pan and let it cool for 3 minutes.
Separate one of the eggs. Put the yolk in a small mixing bowl and save the white for other uses. Crack the remaining 3 eggs into the mixing bowl and beat thoroughly, incorporating 2 heaping tablespoons of Pecorino Romano and an extremely generous pinch of black pepper. Pour the mixture into the warm frying pan and stir.
Add a pinch of salt to the boiling water (I use lots of salt to cook pasta, not just a pinch). Drop the pasta, stir and cover the pot. When the water returns to a boil remove the lid and cook, uncovered, until the pasta is barely al dente.
Drain the pasta and transfer it immediately to the frying pan with the egg mixture. Stir vigorously until thoroughly coated. Cover the frying pan and let stand for 1 minute.
Serve with a peppermill and a bowl of Parmigiano-Reggiano and Pecorino Romano on the side.

Leftovers: Tomato pesto sauce

27 Jul
I came across a quart of frozen tomato sauce in the freezer yesterday. (This shocks you, I know.) I had made the sauce (with sausage meat, said the masking tape label on its container) some time ago, and so it seemed a good idea to defrost the stuff and have at it.
But a funny thing happened on the way to the Spaghetti and Red Sauce dinner. I ran into a bit of leftover pesto in the fridge and, well…
Next time I shall have to plan this meal in advance. 
I strongly urge you to do same.

Roe, roe, roe

14 May

Last time I was in Roma a disreputable traveling companion persuaded me to smuggle around five hundred dollars’ worth of bottarga back home in an empty… on second thought, you and the Customs people don’t really need to know about that.
Point is, I did it.
And I did it because I love the stuff.
Though that haul was long ago consumed, regular trips back home to New York ensure a steady (legal) supply. As long as I’m feeling flush, that is. This stuff ain’t cheap; the package above, purchased at Buon Italia at the Chelsea Market, weighs in at 0.310 lbs. So, at $79 a pound, the pack cost $24.49.
They don’t call it the poor man’s caviar for nothing.
If you’re not familiar, bottarga is salted and cured grey mullet roe (bottarga di muggine, to be precise). The roe from tuna and other fish are also used to make bottarga, but mullet roe is the most commonly employed. There is fierce debate over which is better, tuna or mullet, but we will not be engaging in that conflict here.
I use the stuff for one thing, basically: for spaghetti alla bottarga, one of my absolute favorite dishes. And it’s so simple to make. All it is really is an Aglio y Olio (garlic and oil) sauce that you add grated bottarga to.
That’s it.

How much bottarga you use in a recipe, to my mind anyway, depends on the bottarga you have. This particular package was on the mild-tasting side, and so I wound up using one side of the egg sack for a pound of pasta. (For saltier bottarga I have used much less than this.)

For starters, get the grater out and have at it.

Like so.

Then chop some (okay, more than just some) garlic, and a little hot pepper (from the garden last year, dried hanging in the kitchen all winter).

Saute in extra virgin olive oil, you know the drill.
Locate your favorite spaghetti. (This is mine, but it’s a bitch to find, so if anybody’s listening, I am now accepting gifts from perfect — and even not so perfect — strangers.)
Why must such a mundane photo appear? Two reasons. One, you must set aside some pasta water before draining; it is a crucial element to finishing the dish. Two, stare into the water and repeat after me: I will use plenty of salt in the pasta water. I will use plenty of salt in the pasta water. I will use plenty of salt in the pasta water.
No great mystery from here on in. Toss the pasta in the pan with the garlic and oil, sprinkle several pinches of bottarga on top, add some of the water and stir it all up.

Then plate it, and top each helping with some more of the bottarga.
Probably the most tasty simple dish you ever ate.