The popular Roman dish Pasta alla Carbonara is certainly one of simplicity, whose success is based on quality of ingredients and a proper method of assembly. The history of Carbonara is a much debated subject, but most believe it was invented by the carbonai. This population made up of carbonaio - men who make charcoal – worked for centuries in the Apennine Mountains near the city of Rome. The carbonai camped outdoors for months at a time. Ingredients like olive oil, cured pork, cheese, dried pasta, salt and pepper were easily kept fresh without refrigeration. Local eggs were readily available from area farmers. All that was needed was a good hot fire, a pasta pot and a bowl.
The recipe provided here is the simplest and most classic preparation used by the charcoal makers of “the old days”. There are three options for pork products that can be used in this dish. Guanciale is the most classic, and to a Carbonara purest, THE choice. Guanciale is a salt and sugar cured “bacon” of sorts made from pork jowl. Some prefer to use pancetta, another Italian cured pork product made from the belly. If you can’t find either of these options then a good quality bacon will still produce a delicious dish. The cheese should be sharp and freshly grated. Pecorino Romano is preferred but a good quality Parmigiano-Reggiano is good too. Farm fresh eggs produce the best flavor results and they should be close to room temperature. I am not including any quantities for salt or pepper. Depending on your palate and your choice of pork product, the salt may not be needed, except for salting the water to cook the pasta in. Freshly ground black pepper should be added to suit your taste.
1 lb dried pasta, spaghetti or linguine work best
4 large eggs
8 oz Guanciale, Pancetta or bacon
1 cup finely grated Pecorino or Parmigiano
Fresh ground black pepper and Sea Salt
Bring about 6 quarts of water to the boil in a large pot. When cooking dried pasta the water should taste as briny as ocean water. While the pasta water is heating, saute whatever pork you have chosen in a large saute pan until it is crisp, golden and the fat has been rendered. Turn off the heat. In a bowl whisk the eggs and cheese together until smooth. When the pasta is al dente (about 8-10 minutes), reserve 1/2 cup of the water and drain. Return the saute pan to medium heat and add the reserved water and pasta. Toss the pasta over the heat until most of the water has been absorbed. Turn off the heat and wait for the bubbling to subside. This part is very important, because if you add the egg/cheese mixture when the pasta is too hot the eggs will scramble. When the pasta has cooled, but only slightly, add the egg/cheese mixture and toss until thickened. The result should be a silky but slightly sticky sauce that clings well to the pasta. Season with freshly ground black pepper. Add additional salt if desired and serve. Enjoy!
*A note on adding cream to Carbonara – DON’T!!!