From time to time I can dream about Spaghetti alla Carbonara. And then I will try to make it somewhere during the next days. It’s soooo tasty! Carbonara is an Italian pasta dish from Rome, created for the first time in the middle of the 20th century. It was often eaten for lunch by the charcoal burner workers, and therefore the name is ‘Pasta alla Carbonara’ (Carbonaro is the Italian word for a charcoal burner). You’ll see Carbonara mostly with spaghetti, but you can use all sorts of pasta for it.
You can also know that this pasta dish is typical Italian because less is more! With only 3 main ingredients you can make it: Pork, eggs and Parmesan cheese. Of course you also need pasta, a good amount of black pepper and some olive oil. But the main ingredients for the specific taste are only three. Regarding the pork: guanciale -cheek fat- is original for this dish and therefore used most of the times, but Pancetta -belly fat- or even bacon can do as well. Back in the days, for the Italian charcoal men, it had to be a filling but affordable lunch, and when you live in Italy this is a real cheap dish. The ingredients are all inexpensive over there. In South African Parmesan cheese is not exactly inexpensive, but the rest is. So it’s still quite budget to make!
Cream or no cream? No. Cream. Never! If you have an Italian boyfriend he won’t ask you to marry him any more after serving him Carbonara with cream. A real classical Italian won’t eat Pasta Carbonara with cream. The eggs together with the Pecorino/Parmesan cheese are enough for the creamy effect of the sauce! However there are many countries (and even inside Italy there are some regions) where they use a dash of cream. Or add some mozzarella, garlic, onion or greens like peas, broccoli or other vegetables to it.
In my recipe I didn’t use one droplet of cream (no way!), but I did add half a red onion, garlic and some garden peas.
Spaghetti alla Carbonara is easy to make, as long as you keep in mind to take the pan off the fire when you add the egg mixture. You don’t want to end up with scrambled eggs, do you?
Ingredients (for four)
300 gram good quality guanciale or pancetta, one piece preferred, cut into cubes*
120 gram Parmesan or Pecorino cheese, divided
5 free range eggs, room temperature
400 gram spaghetti
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
freshly ground black pepper
optional: clove of garlic, half a red onion (thinly sliced) and some garden peas (pre-cooked al dente)
* if you can’t find one piece of guanciale or pancetta, you can also use pre-sliced
Grate 3/4 of the Parmesan cheese very finely, if necessary use a kitchen blender. The other 1/4 you can grate a big more roughly, this is for serving. Mix in a bowl the eggs together with 3/4 of the Parmesan cheese, and add a generous amount of black pepper. Set aside.
Put a pan with enough water on the fire and wait until the water is boiling. Add a dash of salt and cook the pasta al dente, as described on the packaging.
Place a frying pan over medium heat with some olive oil. Sauté the thinly sliced onion rings and place a clove of slightly crushed garlic in on a fork and rub into the bottom of the pan, then remove. If you have some cut-off pancetta or guanciale skin, do the same with it as with the garlic.
Add the cubes of pork and fry for about 5 minutes, until it starts to crisp a bit. Then, reserving some cooking water, drain and add the spaghetti to the pan (if you use some vegetables, add them now also, pre-cooked). Toss the spaghetti well so it soaks up all the flavours and mixes well with the pork. Then remove the pan from the heat, add a splash of saved cooking water, toss well and season with (a generous amount of) black pepper and a pinch of salt.
Now add the egg mixture and stir and toss. Because the pasta is hot the eggs mixture will be cooked gently in a few minutes. Make sure the pan is not too hot, and for sure off the fire, while adding the eggs, to avoid scrambling. You will end up with a beautiful creamy sauce, because of the eggs. Add more of the saved pasta-water if you want to a bit more glossy effect to your pasta. Serve with extra Parmesan/Pecorino, black pepper and a glass of full bodied white wine… Imagine yourself in Italian foodie heaven!