For my wife’s birthday and on Mother’s Day, I always make her favorite pasta:
Spaghetti Carbonara. I worked on this recipe for many years before arriving at what I think is the final and most delicious version. Note that it calls either for pancetta or guanciale, Italian salt-cured (but not smoked) bacon. You can make it with American bacon, I suppose, but that has an entirely different taste … pretty good, perhaps, but it’s not at all a Carbonara. Note too, that the Italian original calls for guanciale, but that’s much more difficult to find in this country than pancetta, unless you have a really first-class Italian deli in your neighborhood.
What you’ll need is the following:
½ lb. of pancetta or guanciale., cut into smallish pieces about 1/3 inch square
4 medium cloves of garlic, finely chopped
4-5 Tbs. extra-virgin olive oil … just the standard stuff
¼ cup dry white wine
3 extra-large eggs at room temperature
¾ cup or so of freshly grated cheese, made up of ½ Parmegiano Reggiano and ½ Pecorino Romano. If you can’t find the latter, using all of the former won’t hurt.
2 Tbs. chopped flat-leaf parsley
Lots of freshly ground pepper.
1 lb of spaghetti … you can use linguine in a pinch.
Break the eggs into a small bowl, and beat them together with ca. 1/3 cup of the combined cheeses, the parsley, and several generous grinds of fresh pepper. Set the bowl aside.
In a medium frying pan, simmer the pancetta in the olive oil until the pancetta just begins to brown a little at the edges. Add the garlic and simmer for another couple of minutes. Then, add the wine and simmer for another minute or so. Remove the pan from the heat and set aside.
Make sure you have a large pasta bowl heating in the oven, along with individual serving bowls. Meanwhile, heat the water for the spaghetti and salt the water well before immersing the spaghetti. Cook the pasta about seven minutes or until the spaghetti is properly al dente, but certainly no more.
As the al dente goal approaches, return the olive oil pan to the burner to reheat briefly and remove the large heated pasta bowl and individual serving bowls from the oven. Drain the finished spaghetti, dump it into the heated pasta bowl and toss with the contents of the olive oil pan. Then, briefly beat the eggs once again before adding to the hot pasta. Toss the pasta thoroughly so that every strand is covered with the eggs, which the heat of the pasta will gently cook.
Serve immediately in the individual heated bowls, adding more cheese and ground pepper.
One variation: If you like your pasta spicy, you can always add some red pepper flakes to the pancetta as it cooks. That’s not at all authentic, but, if you like it that way, why not?
All in all, this dish takes a lot less time to do than to describe, but the results are spectacular and deliciously unctuous. In fact, it’s so good you may want to make it often; the American Heart Association suggests that you don’t.