Sunday, May 29, 2005

Spaghetti alla Carbonara

I think I first had a real Spaghetti alla Carbonara at the rooftop restaurant at the Hotel Forum in Rome. It was about a zillion degrees by lunchtime, and we had been plodding around the Forum for a couple of hours and were starving. I was hooked, and had several different versions around Rome--it's a great late-night meal.

When I say "real" I mean "no cream, no peas". I used to make Fred Plotkin's version, which had eggs, pancetta, parsley, pepper, parmesano, and olive oil. He has you cube the pancetta and cook it slowly in olive oil, so that it's pink and not crispy. I've recently been using Ruth Reichl's version from Garlic and Sapphires, which omits parsley, and uses only bacon fat and eggs for the sauce. The idea is to cook the eggs slightly with the hot pasta, and then add parmesan cheese and let it melt into the egg goo. The trick is to let the pasta drain long enough (like 10 seconds) so that it's not so hot that the eggs turn solid. Ruth Reichl's version is very minimalist, and very good. I've been using the trim piece pack (around 1/2 price) of Hempler's bacon, which is a local product. I used to use pancetta, but the pancetta I can get here is pre-sliced too thin. One of these days I'll go to Salumi and get a hunk of pancetta.

Set a pot of spaghetti going, around 1lb. Use only thick spaghetti. I sometimes use bucatini from Rustichella D'Abruzzo. Meanwhile, cook 1/2lb bacon or pancetta until starts to render some fat. Add a slightly smashed clove of garlic, and continue to cook until it's a little dry around the edges, but not crispy--you still want it to be pink, not brown. Put two eggs (freshly laid by your chickens and never refrigerated is best, because refrigeration affects the texture of the eggs) into your serving dish.
Whisk the eggs (not too much!) with a generous amount of black pepper:
Eggs and Pepper, Blended
Drain the spaghetti, let it release a bit of heat, then dump it on the egg mixture and toss so that the spaghetti is evenly coated and the eggs are slightly cooked. If the spaghetti is too hot, the eggs will get dry. Next, toss with the bacon (discard the garlic) and the rendered bacon fat, sprinkle about 1/2c parmesan on top, and toss together until the cheese is melted into the sauce.
Adding the Cheese
Serve with pepper and grated parmesan at the table.