Thursday, October 7, 2010

Pasta alla carbonara

You may recall a few posts back that I suffered a little cringe during the movie Eat, Pray, Love when the voice-over was speaking about pasta alla carbonara, and the image showed noodles in a tomato sauce. I said at the time that we'd deal with that in another post. Well, here we are!

By the way, this is a perfect opportuntiy to offer my profound thanks to Charles, the proprietor of Canvas restaurant in Ottawa. The other day, I booked in a date with my youngest daughter for a birthday lunch (I had to be out of town on the real birthday, so this was a please-forgive-me meal.) Charles pulled out all the stops: he had the yellow chair reserved for us and even put spaghetti alla carbonara on as the pasta special for the day (my little angel happens to love carbonara, and the cooks did a bang-up job). So cheers, Charles!

This recipe is from the impeccable issue of Saveur that features classic roman food. If you don't have a copy of this, you should really try and find one. It's one of the best editions of a cooking magazine EVER! Mine looks like crap from all the water marks and splatters, so if you find one be sure to snag an extra for me too. I'm good for it, honest! (If I don't have money, I'll cook you something.)

This recipe is very similar to cacio e pepe, except that it has extra ingredients (viz: bacon, AND eggs). This tells you that it can only be better than cacio e pepe (if you happen to have bacon and eggs on hand). If you don't, then I am reminded of a song on my Bing Crosby Christmas CD that goes:

Christmas is a coming, the cider's in the keg.

If I had a mug of cider I wouldn't have to beg.
If you haven't got a mug of cider, half a mug will do.
If you haven't got half a mug, may God bless you!

So, if you don't have eggs and bacon, may God bless you! (But cacio e pepe is wonderful if you don't.)

ANYWAY, this recipe calls for Reggiano Parmesan (1 3/4 cups, finely grated), 4 oz. of guanciale (or bacon), 1 egg and three egg yolks, some salt, pepper, and (of course) some noodles. Don't skimp on the noodles. Get nice ones -- these are from rustichella d'abruzzo and are worth every penny of the 5 bucks each package costs.

The first step WAIT! The first step is to pour yourself a glass of something awesome. Then...

slice your bacon into chunks. I buy my bacon from Piggy Market in Ottawa, and get it by the slab rather than sliced. This lets me slice it if I want (for brekkie with oatmeal cooked with a wee splash of Scotch), or I can cut it into chunks if I'm making something that calls for lardons like a Flamm. Guanciale is made from a different part of the hog, but it seems close enough to bacon that if you don't have any you should feel free to substitute (Carol may disagree with me here, and she's welcome to weigh in, but this recipe came out aces as far as I'm concerned!)

So. Chop your bacon and add it to a pan with a splash of olive oil over medium heat.

Cooking bacon in olive oil strikes me as genius beyond compare. It also strikes me as deadly, so be sure to wear your apron (unless you don't care about the shirt you have on).

While the bacon is browning, grate your Parmesan. Use the small holes on your grater. (I normally go for the coarse side of the grater, but you need to make the cheese fine enough so that it dissolves into a nice creamy sauce.) I find a circular motion works best (as opposed to up and down grating).

I like box graters because you always have to stop before you grind your knuckles off. This leads to another case of "cook's treats" which happen to go just fine with that nice wine you poured earlier.

Once the bacon is close to done, hit it with several grinds (vigorous ones if you like) of black pepper. Remember that like disolves like, and that the flavour in peppercorns is an oil -- so getting it into some oil helps the flavour blend into your dish.

Stir that around for another minute or two, then remove the bacon (and all the oil and fat) to a bowl to cool for awhile. (This blog isn't likely to make it onto the Heart and Stroke Foundation website anytime soon, but it may make it onto the "My Soul is Kick-Ass Happy" website if anyone decides to make one -- hint, hint.)

Now, start heating the water to boil your pasta. Starting this now ensures that the oil and bacon can cool before you need them for the sauce. This is important because you need to add eggs to this stuff. If it's too hot, the eggs will cook and curdle too early leaving you with a lumpy carbonara instead of a nice, smooth, creamy one. This is also why you mix all this stuff in a bowl, rather than in a skillet -- it too will cook the eggs before they combine properly.

Once your noodles are cooked, scoop out about a cup of pasta water. You may need only a little, but snagging it now makes sure you have as much as you need later.

Mix your cheese and eggs into the bacon and oil that you had set aside and let cool.

Then pop your cooked pasta in there and start stirring. The pasta will cook the eggs, so work fast. I use tongs since they let you pick up and mix as required. Be gentle, but be quick. Add splashes of pasta water if you think it's too gunky in there. The goal is to make a creamy sauce that coats the noodles to perfection!

And you did it! Top-up your wine if you need to, and Mangia!!

1 comment:

  1. Good call on wearing an apron. My late husband used to compare pancetta frying in olive oil to napalm.