Spaghetti alla Carbonara
Region: Italy, Lazio
Category: Pasta with Cheese
Difficulty: Medium Difficulty
This famous preparation is famously destroyed by many an overenthusiastic cook. Keep all the proportions sensible so that the final plate will be a nicely flavored and attractive dish of delicately twirled pasta melded with eggs, cheese, and bacon and not a thick creamy mass of globbed-together spaghetti. Traditionally, spaghetti alla carbonara is not made with bacon but with salted and cured pig’s jowl, called guanciale, which tastes a bit stronger and saltier than the more commonly found and used pancetta. One could use salted pork or blanched bacon, too, but guanciale can be ordered via Zingerman’s, La Quercia, or Salumeria Italiana and is occasionally seen at some Whole Foods markets. See here for more on the history of spaghetti carbonara.
The method used in this recipe to incorporate the eggs I learned from my son Ali who lived in Bologna for a year and who learned it from his Italian roommate who was Roman. One of his roommates separated all the eggs first, beating the whites until frothy and then adding the whites into the pasta, beating furiously, and then the yolks. Ali says, “beating in the eggs is crucial and make sure you don’t drain the pasta too much. Also we used to add a little red chile flakes even though it’s not customary.” The rule of thumb for the eggs is one per person.
Yield: Makes 4 servings
Preparation Time: 20 minutes
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
4 1/2 ounces guanciale or pancetta, cut into thin, 1/2-inch long strips
2 large garlic cloves, crushed
4 large eggs
2 ounces (about 3/4 cup) freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
2 ounces (about 3/4 cup) freshly grated pecorino cheese
Salt to taste
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 pound spaghetti
1. In a heavy, flameproof casserole, heat the oil with the guanciale and garlic over medium-low heat, then cook, stirring almost constantly so nothing sticks, until the guanciale is almost crispy but not quite and has rendered much of its fat, 8 to 10 minutes. Remove the casserole from the heat, leave the guanciale in the casserole, but remove and discard the garlic cloves.
2. Separate 2 of the eggs into two bowls, beating the whites until frothy but not stiff. Break the yolks into another small bowl. Add half the cheese to egg whites.
3. Meanwhile, for every pound of pasta, bring 6 quarts of water to a rolling boil over high heat, salt abundantly with up to 1/2 cup of salt, then add the pasta in handfuls. Cook over high heat, stirring occasionally so the pasta doesn’t stick together, until al dente. Drain without rinsing saving the pasta water, and transfer to the casserole.
4. Toss the guanciale and spaghetti over low heat. Stir in the egg whites while beating furiously to mix well. Add the egg yolks and do the same. Now stir in the 2 remaining eggs, stirring vigorously. Add 2 or 3 ladlefuls, about 1 cup, of the pasta cooking water to make it thinner. Toss in half of the remaining cheese. Serve in individual servings bowls with the remaining cheese.