Roman Delight: Spaghetti alla Carbonara
Eggs are in plentiful supply on my family’s farm, where our flock of Rhode Island Reds and Ameraucanas feast in the pasture. But I’d never incorporated them into pasta until one frosty night last year, when a close friend introduced me to the Roman specialty Spaghetti alla Carbonara.
Whether or not in Rome, eat like the Romans do: it’s astonishingly delicious. Here are the basic steps to prepare the pasta I’ve fallen in love with.
(serves 4 – 6)
One box spaghetti
½ pound pancetta, cubed
3 cloves garlic, diced
½ pound Parmigiano-Reggiano, grated
Chili flakes to taste
Step 1: Cook the pasta
Heat a large pot of water. When it comes to a rolling boil, add 2-3 tablespoons of salt, and then the pasta. Cook for 11 – 13 minutes, or until al dente.
Step 2: Prepare the pancetta & garlic
Cube the raw pancetta, although thick bacon works in a pinch. Crisp it in a skillet over medium heat, either cast iron or stainless steel, stirring occasionally. There’s no need to add any oil, pork cooks best in its own fat! Once the pancetta is deep red and crispy, turn off the heat and add the diced garlic. The garlic cooks much faster than the meat, and burnt garlic tastes rancid! Let it crisp alongside the remaining hot fat and pork as it cools.
Step 3: Prepare the egg & cheese
Separate three egg yolks in to a new bowl. Whisk the yolks and one whole egg together, then stir in the grated Parmigiano. As the pasta finishes cooking, begin to spoon out tablespoons of pasta water, cool it slightly, and whisk into the egg mixture. This process gradually heats up the eggs without scrambling the mixture, and adds starchy pasta water for flavor complexity. Add about 8 – 10 spoonfuls.
Step 4: Marry the pasta, pancetta and egg
When the pasta is al dente, remove from heat and drain. Stir in the entire pancetta-garlic mixture, whisking quickly. As it releases steam and begins to cool slightly, whisk in the cheese and egg mixture, stirring rapidly until the pasta is silky and thoroughly mixed.
Step 5: Finishing touch
A sprinkle of chili flakes help to cut through the richness of the dish. I’ve never been so tempted to have a second serving!
Photos by Charlie Andersen