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!!!
Braised Lamb Shanks
2 Lamb Shanks
flour for coating meat
¼ cup olive oil
1 cup diced yellow onion
½ cup diced carrot
½ cup diced celery
8 whole garlic cloves
¼ cup chopped Italian parsley
3 Tablespoons chopped fresh oregano
1 Tablespoon Kosher salt
2 teaspoons coarse black pepper
4 oz tomato paste
1 cup red wine
Water or stock
For this dish use a heavy pan that will easily go from the stove top to the oven. A small dutch oven or deep sauté pan works well. Heat the pan to medium high heat with the olive oil. Coat the shanks lightly with flour and brown well on all sides. Remove the shanks from the pan and sauté the onion, carrot, celery and garlic cloves until they begin to brown. Add the parsley, oregano, salt and pepper. Sauté briefly to release the flavors of the herbs. Stir in the tomato paste and then the red wine. Return the shanks to the pan and add enough water or stock to bring the liquid level half way up the side of the shanks. Place the pan in a 325° oven. Braise the shanks until they are almost falling off the bone, about 2 hours. During the braising process turn the shanks over every 15 minutes to ensure even cooking. Serve with a little of the braising juice and vegetables over soft polenta or mashed potatoes.
Paella originates from the province of Valencia Spain. Originally a dish made by shepherds over an open fire, it is now popular all over the world. You can find Paella being made in restaurants, homes and still among the fields as a simple and humble picnic food. The only really necessary ingredients are olive oil, rice, saffron and peas. Beyond that is the dish of your own imagination. Early shepherds most often used snails and/or a rabbit snared in the field. The recipe I have provided here is just a basic combination of sausage, chicken and seafood. But I truly encourage you to branch out and try adding a variety of proteins. Some of my favorite additions are: Pork belly, lobster, prawns, scallops and little lamb meatballs. Try adding green beans or favas…even red bell peppers! Most importantly remember to let the imagination of your palate lead you and HAVE FUN!
½ cup olive oil
2 Tbl Kosher salt
1 large spanish yellow onion diced
12 cloves garlic
6 large roma tomatoes diced
1 cup chopped Italian parsley
3 cups paella rice (california pearl rice is a good substitute easily found locally)
6 cups chicken broth
Saffron or Azafran*
12 oz linguica sausage (or substitute chorizo)
1 ½ lbs chicken breast cut into large cubes
1 ½ lbs fish, cubed
18 mussels in the shell
18 clams in the shell
For this recipe you will need a deep (minimum 4”) large saute pan with a tight fitting lid.
*due to the cost of Saffron being very high now and it being somewhat hard to find, Azafran (safflower) is an excellent and much more affordable substitute
In a large deep saute pan heat the olive on medium-high heat and begin caramelizing the diced onion with the Kosher salt.
When the onion is about halfway to being soft add the sausage and garlic. Continue to saute on medium-high heat until the onions are soft and the sausage is browned.
Add the tomato and parsley. Saute until the tomato is very soft. Lower the heat slightly if the mixture begins to over brown.
Stir in the rice and a pich of Saffron or ¼ oz Azafran. Mix until it is well coated.
Add the chicken, fish and shellfish. Mix to coat and add the chicken broth.
Cover with a tight fitting lid and place into a 400° preheated oven. Bake approximately 30 minutes.