A Mother’s Day Special – Spaghetti Carbonara

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.







Ruminations on Barolo

In an earlier blog on the Wine Spectator’s Grand Tour wine tasting, I had noted that at that tasting there had been an extraordinary opportunity to taste eight different wineries’ Barolos.  Barolo is at home in Piedmont in northwestern Italy, and its sole or occasionally primary grape is considered by some to be Italy’s most impressive: Nebbiolo.  The origins of Nebbiolo are unclear, but there are those who think it goes back as far as Roman antiquity.  Whatever its past, what one either learned or re-learned from the WS tasting is that Nebbiolo, and Barolo in particular require considerable age before the wines are ready to drink.  The tasting, for the most part, was a reminder of that fact owing to the relative youth of the wines offered … wines that promised great things but were yet too young to have yet met that promise.  Still, one label in particular – a 2009 Damilano – was already a lovely quaff, despite its expected array of tannins.

2009 Damilano Barolo

2009 Damilano Barolo

What does that prove?  When it comes to the aging of wines, you never really know.   One more point, Barolo can be and usually is pretty expensive … and yet … there are Piemonte wines made from Nebbiolo that can be drunk younger than Barolo and thoroughly enjoyed.  Next time you’re buying, try a Babaresco or a Gattinara or a Spanna.

I guess none of these was quite prestigious enough for the WS array, but don’t forget them; they’re delicious.


The Brick Market and Deli – Pomona, California

By way of introduction, one must take note of what is really a dismal food scene in the Pomona Valley:  there are no genuine French bistros or Italian trattorias, just as there are no really first-class Chinese restaurants, also serving a wide array of dim sum on the weekends.  Want a real Kosher deli where you can get, say, a genuine pastrami on rye … you know … the kind of thing that really prospers at the likes of Langer’s in L.A. or the 2nd Avenue Deli in New York?  Not a chance.  Years back, there was a place in Pomona called Green’s Deli, with another location in Claremont … both long gone, alas.  They weren’t Langer’s-great, but they always had the right idea.  So … when one hears that a new deli has opened in this gustatorily destitute region, the hope that has been so often dashed over the years continues to spring eternal, but warily.

A friend had alerted me to the arrival of something called The Brick Market and Deli in Pomona, more or less on the northeast corner of Arrow Highway and Garey Ave.  My wife and I dropped in this noon to hope, to see, and to taste.  This is, first of all, a tiny operation whose brick front face accounts for its distinctive name.  The “market” part is similarly small, and definitely not the kind of place you’d drop into on your way home to pick up some standard item you’d somehow forgotten for dinner.

The Brick Deli is Open

The Brick Deli is Open

The dominant theme is organic, with a veneer of the southern and eastern Mediterranean to be met on several shelves.  Bottles and jars of marinated and pickled things from the rarefied eastern European label of Zer Güt are well-represented, as are labels on cereals and grains that offer gluten-free and organic virtues, along with the futuristic promise of cereals that have been made with “renewable wind energy.”  Sounds like one of my old college lectures.  To find mayonnaise from “The Ojai Cook” alongside the pedestrian dressings of Girard seems a tad confusing. Given the very modest size of the place, everything I have mentioned, whatever ii might be, is in short supply, so a trip to the market side of the Brick Market is more an act of curiosity than a deliberate and informed visit.

As for the deli section, it has some interesting offerings like a “Greek Cucumber and Feta Salad,” which is what the Greeks call a Choriatiki Salata, a national summertime dish with some of the crucial elements missing.  Nonetheless, for the Pomona Valley, it’s a welcome sight.  There is a rather short menu featuring freshly made soups, sandwiches and salads.  My wife and I ordered, respectively, an Italian sub and a pastrami and Havarti sandwich on a two-toned “marble rye.”  The meats are drawn from a small selection of Boar’s Head products, and the sandwiches are generously provisioned at very reasonable prices.  The Italian sub was pretty much standard stuff, except that it was partially dressed with mayonnaise.  How non-Italic can you get?  Still, it was tasty enough, but those in the market for the real thing would be well-advised to go to Claro’s in Upland.  My pastrami was sliced thin and warmed and arrayed thickly, and it too was pleasant to eat.  But it was by no means Langer’s.  You can eat your choices right there in the The Brick on some pleasant outdoor tables in the rear of the store, or take them home, if you prefer.

Still, in short and with yet another disappointed sigh, I have to conclude that the Brick Market and Deli, while I’m pleased with its unusual location, is yet just another food purveyor in a long line of local shrugs…and no replacement for the authentic Jewish or Italian variety.


Every Town Has One – an Old-School Italian Place

Growing up in the small college town of Claremont, California, much of my childhood was spent at cheap family eating places that had been around since my parents attended Pomona College in the 1950s. As my parents began to study food and wine, many of those ‘cheap eats’ places went away as our family ‘upgraded’ our food experience. But in the late 1980s, when I started having my own children, those ‘family style’ places came back into the fold – because with kids it’s all about easy, big and cheap!

Vinces Spaghetti on Foothill Blvd. in Upland, CA

Vinces Spaghetti on Foothill Blvd. in Upland, CA

Enter Vince’s Spaghetti – an Inland Empire landmark since 1945! My parents went to the Ontario, CA location in the 1950s, and we raised our children on the Rancho Cucamonga location in the 1980s and 90s. Back then, a spaghetti with meat sauce plate, soup, salad and cheese bread dinner was about $5.50 a person! Needless to say, on a Friday or Saturday night, the line is out the door and down the street!

I’ve lived in Burbank, CA for about 15 years now – and yes, even Burbank has their version of the cheap Italian family restaurant. Monte Carlo Deli and Pinocchio Restaurant on Magnolia Blvd. in Burbank is another one of those historic places that’s been family owned and operated for years. No secret to Burbank folks – check their hundreds and hundreds of ‘likes’ and ‘yelps’ – it’s a simple cafeteria line with all of the traditional pasta favorites. And again, on Friday and Saturday nights, the lines are out the door. Pizza and gelato are also part of their draw.

The Pinocchio Cafeteria line.

The Pinocchio Cafeteria line.

My wife and I do Friday nights – we share a Lasagna with meat sauce, a large Italian salad and garlic bread. That, along with a diet coke, and we’re in for $16.88. And yes, there are A LOT of families and kids there! We skip the wine – as it’s mostly San Antonio Winery jugs – but maybe someday we’ll walk in with our own bottle of Sangiovese and see if they have corkage.

My mom used to call Vince’s ‘depression food’. These days, when we go to Pinocchio on Friday nights, I rarely feel depressed. Does your town have an Italian joint like this? Tell us about it!