I was first introduced to carbonara on a trip to Florence, Italy nearly ten years ago. It was a warm summer afternoon in June, it was my first trip to Europe, and I was hungry for some ‘authentic’ Italian pasta. So I found this small restaurant off some alley near the Duomo to grab a bite. The menu was mostly in Italian, but had some English descriptions so all I knew was that I was getting cheese, pancetta in a creamy egg sauce.
“OKAY,” I thought, “simple enough. Hope it’s not too weird.”
When it arrived in front of me it was a heaping pile of spaghetti in this wonderfully slightly runny but creamy sauce, yet it was not cream. It had bits of fried pancetta, or simply bacon, and a touch of salt, pepper and freshly ground parmesan cheese. Later I discovered that my sauce was essentially made of raw eggs “cooked” only by the heat of the pasta that gave it its creamy appearance and texture. I was intrigued, and I was hooked.
Years later, this is still one of my favorite dishes to make when I want something quick and comforting either for lunch or dinner, and I also learned it is a favorite of chefs to make after hours just for those reasons.
I sometimes refer to it as my “breakfast pasta,” because of the main ingredients (other than pasta) being the eggs, bacon and cheese. Then to try and make it healthy, I add some large peas for taste, texture and color.
Word of the wise though, make sure you have really fresh eggs AND you do not overcook them to point of nearly having them scrambled. The trick is to whisk your eggs, cheese, black pepper and pinch of salt really good and then add it at the very last moment your pasta is ready. Overcook, and yes, you will get rubbery scrambled eggs. Yuck (at least in this dish)!
So are you ready to try it? Here you go:
4 large eggs
1 cup grated parmeasan cheese
1 tbsp ground black pepper
4-5 strips of pancetta lardons or thick bacon, cut into cubes
1 cup of large peas (optional)
1. Place your lardons or bacon bits into a large cold sauté pan. Then turn the heat on to medium-high to slowly render the fat and crisp up your bacon.
2. While your bacon is cooking, bring a very large pot of water to boil. When it reaches boil, through in a few tablespoons full of salt to season and then add your spaghetti. Cook for about 8 minutes, or as directed on your pasta package, stirring occasionally.
3. Drain your pasta. When your bacon is done drain some of the bacon grease, but not all, from the pan. Then add your hot pasta to the bacon and toss so that the pasta is coated nicely with the remaining grease.
4. Now the fun part! REMOVE the pan off the heat and pour your egg, cheese and pepper sauce into the pan. Toss so that all the spaghetti is mixed and the sauce cooks slightly. You know when it is done when you have a nice shiny and slightly creamy looking glaze over your pasta. If you start to see curdled egg, you’ve cooked it too long!
5. Add some peas that you cooked ahead of time to round out the dish.
And there you have it, an awesome taste of Italy with the joys of some breakfast food ingredients! Mangiare!
Egg, cheese and pepper “sauce.” Mix really well together.
Don’t forget the bacon! Render off some of that porky goodness.
This is what overcooked carbonara looks like. Curdled or scrambled eggs is NOT good!