A recent commenter to the blog asked for a really easy meal to make on a weeknight with her kids, so when I reached for this dish myself last week, on a cool and rainy spring night, I decided that this would be a perfect recipe to pass along. This is hands-down my favorite pasta recipe, and is fast becoming that of my kids’ as well. It requires only a handful of ingredients, and can literally be tossed together in minutes. In fact, when we made this meal last week, we were rushing to get to a movie, and were able to prep, cook, eat, and clean-up after dinner in about 45 minutes (and that even included time to shoot the photos for this post).
Spaghetti Carbonara, loosely translated from Italian means “Coal Miner’s Pasta.” As legend has it, it was a favored dish of said Italian miners because they could easily carry the few ingredients required underground and cook them simply on a camp stove. I’ve even read that the liberal sprinkling of fresh ground black pepper to finish the dish is meant to evoke the coal dust that inevitably settled on each plate of the miners’ meal. The dish is rumored to have been imported to the states by GIs returning home from duty in WWII. It is said to have been a favorite meal prepared for our soldiers by recently liberated, and very grateful Italian families, who cooked with ingredients that they knew the GIs were homesick for, bacon and eggs.
Arthus, my WWII aficionado son, finally got drafted into kitchen slavery for this meal, and was so taken with my explanation of the history of the dish, that he promptly fell into character as a dutiful US serviceman for the duration.
“PRIVATE FIRST CLASS ARTHUS PADFOOT REPORTING FOR MESS DUTY, SIR!
“Ok…you with the weird name, I need you to prep our mise for the evening meal, are you game, soldier?
I’M PREPARED TO DO ANYTHING ASKED OF ME FOR GOD AND MY COUNTRY SIR!
Excellent Padfoot, I need you to dice the pancetta, grate the cheese, whisk the eggs, and chop the garlic and parsley, pronto.”
WHAT, NO GRENADE TO THROW MYSELF ON SIR, YOU’RE KIDDING RIGHT? I WAS HOPING FOR A MISSION THAT WAS A LITTLE MORE HEROIC AND MANLY, YOU KNOW SOME REAL ACTION, SIR, NOT JUST THIS DICING AND GRATING SILLY STUFF!
We’ll if you really want to come face to face with the mayhem and carnage of war, then you COULD go clean your room, I mean, the place looks like central London after the blitzkrieg.
HA….VERY FUNNY SIR, YOU HAVE SUCH A GIFTED COMIC MIND!
AHHH…SO, LET’S SEE, THE BACON, EGGS, CHEESE, GARLIC AND GREEN STUFF….SIR, YES SIR! I’M HAPPY TO DO IT SIR!
Thank you PFC, carry-on.
As there are so few elements to this dish, and the flavor that each contributes is so important, I strongly recommend that you use the very best you can find. That means, locally produced cage-free eggs, real imported pecorino romano and parmegiano reggiano cheeses, and real pancetta if you can find some (a good thick sliced smoked bacon will work here if you can’t find pancetta). You will find many other recipes that claim to be carbonara, yet include things like cream, peas, and various other cheeses. While many of these dishes are delicious, they aren’t authentic carbonara. This recipe is the real deal, I hope you and your soldiers enjoy it.
By: Steven Dunn
1 lb. spaghetti
1/2 lb. pancetta (sliced 1/4 “ thick at the deli, and cut into lardons)
4 lg. eggs (locally raised and cage-free if possible)
1 Tbs. garlic, finely chopped
1 cup Pecorino Romano cheese, freshly grated
2 Tbs. extra virgin olive oil
2 Tbs. finely minced fresh parsley
freshly ground black pepper
Freshly grated parmesan reggiano to pass at the table
Put salted water on the boil for the pasta.
Meanwhile, in a very large skillet, saute the pancetta lardons in the olive oil over medium heat until the bacon has rendered much of its fat. You don’t want to cook the pancetta to the point of being crisp, it is better with a little fatty “chew” still left in it. Just before the pancetta is done, add the minced garlic to the pan and allow to cook until the garlic is golden brown. Set the pan aside to cool. (Allowing the pan to cool some at this point is important, because if the pan is too hot when you add the eggs later, they will immediately scramble, and not gently cook into the creamy sauce that is your ultimate goal. The dish will still taste fine if this happens, but it will look like someone gacked in your pan, so be careful.)
Grate the romano cheese and set aside.
Finely mince the fresh parsley and reserve.
Break the eggs into a medium sized bowl and whisk them till smooth. Add the grated cheese to the eggs and keep handy.
Cook the pasta to the maker’s instructions for “al dente”, and as soon as it is done, quickly strain it and toss it into the skillet with the pancetta, reserving a cup of the pasta cooking water to thin your sauce later if needed. Add the cheese and egg mixture to the pasta along with the parsley, and toss to coat. The heat from the pasta will gently cook the eggs, and melt the cheese into a luxuriously rich and smooth sauce. If the sauce is too thick for your liking, add some of the reserved pasta cooking water to loosen it. Check the sauce for seasoning before plating.
To serve, place the pasta into warmed bowls, top liberally with freshly ground black pepper, and sprinkle with some freshly grated parmesan.