Saturday, June 12, 2010

Spaghetti Alla Carbonara

I just attended a Mario Batali cooking demonstration which was very informative about how to THINK about Italian cooking. His methods and techniques that he shared were invaluable. I will definitely think differently when cooking an Italian meal. His words of wisdom were to always use the freshest ingredients you can find (which can be difficult in my small town), be a minimalist and keep it simple, that more is only more not better especially when it comes to the cheese and most importantly, a recipe is simply a guide that is meant to be adjusted to your own personal taste.

Included in the cooking event was the opportunity to taste each of the dishes he had prepared in one of his restaurants. Sad to say, some were good and some were not so good and none were excellent. The Spaghetti Alla Carbonara was one of the big disappointments. The pasta was cooked perfectly but the sauce was flat and extremely salty. I took a mental note about this dish and realized that salting this dish should be optional because there are so many salty ingredients in this dish. Such as salted pasta water (which is an important step), salty pancetta or bacon and salty parmesan.

His recipe for Spaghetti Alla Carbonara called for 6 eggs to a pound of spaghetti which I found to be a bit much for my taste. I surfed the internet and found literally hundreds of recipes for carbonara and everyone seems to have their own personal style. The variations range from 2 – 8 eggs and some recipes add cream which I think is more of an alfredo sauce rather than a carbonara.

I decided to take on the Spaghetti Alla Carbonara recipe because it’s one of my daughter’s favorite dishes. I could not find pancetta at my local grocer so I settled on peppered bacon that I blanched in hopes of removing some of the smoke flavor. It worked well. I’m sure some would scoff at my decision but I don’t mind a little smoky flavor in the background of my carbonara. I will also be adding garlic which is not an ingredient that Mario’s recipe called for. The end product was fool proof delicious carbonara that was so simple to make which magically disappeared.

No, I am not claiming to know more than a great Italian Iron Chef. All I am saying is that I know what I like and what flavors please my family and friends. The experience I had at Carne Vino was I’m sure not what Mario intended me to have.

1# spaghetti
½ cup pasta water (if needed)
2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
½ pound pancettat or bacon, sliced into small strips
4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
3 large eggs
1 cup fresh grated parmesan cheese
1 tsp. black pepper

1. Bring a large pot of salted (about 2 Tbsp. kosher salt) water to a boil. Cook spaghetti according to the package, usually about 8 – 10 minutes.
2. In a large mixing bowl add the cheese, eggs and black pepper. Mix well till you get a smooth mixture. Set aside.
3. While the pasta is cooking make the sauce.
4. Add the olive oil to a large skillet and brown pancetta or bacon on med heat until crispy and the fat is rendered.
5. Add the garlic and cook for only about 1 minute to release the flavor.
6. Add the cooked pasta using tongs to the sauté pan allowing the pasta water to drip off the pasta before adding it to the sauté pan.
7. Toss pasta in the bacon fat to coat evenly.
8. Immediately add hot pasta to the mixing bowl with the eggs and keep tossing until the pasta absorbs most of the sauce. The heat from the pasta will cook the eggs. Add more pasta water if needed. Taste and salt if needed.

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