This is one of my favorite, simple Italian meals. I love to make this dish, since it is not very time consuming and the results are absolutely decadent. This recipe was originally published in Gourmet magazine in 2003, and I found it in my beloved copy of The Gourmet Cookbook. We make this recipe quite a bit, since the ingredients list is short and it is stuff that I always have on hand. Of course, I have to put my own twist on everything, so I added some notes in italics to the recipe itself. The biggest difference is my use of bacon instead of pancetta or guanciale (an unsmoked cured hog jowl). Bacon is recognized in The Gourmet Cookbook notes as an acceptable substitute. I have occasionally found pancetta at a specialty shop, but I have never found guanciale. Here in AZ, pancetta is not cheap, and I am sure, neither is guanciale (if you could, in deed, find it). My dream is to some day find and cultivate a relationship with an Italian grocery/deli/specialty cheese and gourmet foods shop...but, in the meantime, I will have to stick with bacon.
I also want to stress the absolute, vital importance of using real Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese in this recipe. You can find small wedges of Parm-Reg in the normal grocery store's international cheese case for about $8-$10 bucks. You are probably thinking that is crazy talk. However, I really need to impart that there is a world of difference between real Parm-Reg and that grated, green-canned stuff. It is worth the extra money, and since it is more flavorful, you will use less of it overall. Buy the wedge and grate it yourself. It is totally worth it. As I said before, there are not that many ingredients in this recipe, but the ingredients you do use need to be top quality or the flavor will suffer. We are already substituting bacon...so we cannot compromise the cheese. I will beg if I have to...please, please, please do not skimp on the cheese!
One other cheese related note: the real Parm-Reg has a Italian government stamp on the rind, and that is how you tell it is the real deal. The stamp looks like letters made of perforated pin marks. If there is no stamp then it is a different kind of Parmesean..and not as good. I promise you can find real Parm-Reg at the normal grocery store or in larger, pricier, wedges at Costco.
Back to Carbonara. The directions do indicate the use of raw eggs mixed in with the cheese. I know, I know, it sounds iffy...but trust me it is not. In fact, it is fabulous! Seriously, Italians know food and this is a staple in a lot of Italian homes. You cannot taste the raw eggs, per se. The eggs and cheese combo form a thick sauce, and combined with the cooked noodles, onion mixture and (my addition) of a little pasta water it turns into a rich sauce. Not eggy...just delicious. The eggs don't 'cook' with the hot ingredients, so if you are pregnant or have other health concerns this may not be a dish for you. I do want to say that I am comfortable feeding this meal to my family, including my son, who goes crazy for it. If you are a pasta/cheese/bacon lover this is a good recipe to try.
Okay, enough chit-chat...let's get down to business.
Spaghetti alla Carbonara
5 oz guanciale (unsmoked cured hog jowl) or pancetta OR BACON
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1/4 cup dry white wine OR DRY VERMOUTH
1 lb spaghetti
3 large eggs
1 1/2 oz Parmigiano-Reggiano, finely grated (3/4 cup)
3/4 oz Pecorino Romano, finely grated (1/3 cup)
1 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon salt
Cut guanciale/ pancetta OR BACON into 1/3-inch dice, then cook in a deep 12-inch heavy skillet over moderate heat, stirring, until fat begins to render, 1 to 2 minutes. Add onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until onion is golden, about 10 minutes. Add wine OR VERMOUTH and boil until reduced by half, 1 to 2 minutes.
Cook spaghetti in a 6- to 8-quart pot of boiling salted water until al dente.
While pasta is cooking, whisk together eggs, Parmigiano-Reggiano , Pecorino Romano (1/3 cup), 1 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper, and 1/4 teaspoon salt in a small bowl.
Drain spaghetti in a colander and add to onion mixture, then toss with tongs over moderate heat until coated.
Remove from heat and add egg mixture, tossing to combine. ***Add pasta water in 1/2 ladles until sauce reaches desired consistency.****
Cooks' Note: The eggs in this recipe will not be fully cooked, which may be of concern if there is a problem with salmonella in your area.
I stick with using one type of cheese, since I do not often have Pecorino Romano on hand. I add the total cheese measurement together ( i.e. 3/4 cup + 1/3 cup...or you could add up the ounces) and use that total quantity of Parm-Reg only. If you happen to have Pecorino Romano too, then certainly use both types of cheese.
You can add frozen peas, mushrooms, broccoli, yellow squash and zucchini with the onion mixture and sauté for a few minutes. This will add nutrition and color. Although, the recipe is good enough to stand alone, as-is. I feel guilty if I don't serve some sort of vegetable somewhere. As always, I add minced garlic…what can I say, I love garlic!