There are tons of dishes I have learned to make well over the years. I’ll never ever win a Masterchef competition, but I am pretty good at following a recipe and producing a desirable outcome. When at first I don’t succeed, I try and try til I get it right. Remember those rum babas by Clotilde Dusoulier we featured on this column? It took me seven tries to produce what you saw in the images. Andi Kovel’s Puffer Cake? Four tries. Kate Flaim’s absorption pasta? Three tries. I really like to test the recipes we publish to make sure that we can help you troubleshoot if you have questions, and to make sure that an average-skilled home cook (like me) can obtain great results. And here we are this week with another recipe. One that I was taught to make when I was in graduate school, and it seemed so easy… Yet, it is something I’ve never perfected: spaghetti alla carbonara. I do not believe there is a definitive recipe for this classic Roman pasta dish, however there are definitive ingredients…almost. I think we can all agree on eggs (but how many whole eggs, how many yolks?), freshly ground black pepper, and pasta (but what shape?)… And then it goes either hog jowl or pancetta, and either all Pecorino Romano cheese or a mix of Parmesan and Pecorino (but Parmesan isn’t Roman, so if we are to make an educated guess about the historical origin of the dish…we have to opt for all Pecorino Romano) No onion, no cream, no peas, and even if a Roman once told me to put garlic in there… please, no garlic. Well… you see where this is going.
This week, I had my husband stick his nose into the kitchen and tell me what he thought of the consistency of what I’d made. Sometimes you get a carbonara in a restaurant and it’s very chunky and cheesy, sometimes it’s quite sleek… We opted for the sleek for our Easter lunch, with a bottle of Barbera d’Asti from the Bloody Gary cocktail on Behind the Bar today. But Instead of featuring a recipe by one person, I’m throwing the doors open to everyone who has a carbonara recipe to let us know, starting first and foremost with your foolproof technique, because I know for sure that mine is neither classic nor perfect! Do you use only yolks? Do you allow pancetta? Of course there are options using zucchine, and other vegetables or meats in place of the pancetta/jowl, but today let’s just talk about the classic recipe– and what proportions and technique you use to make the best version ever! Or tell us where the best one was you ever ate. –Kristina
Tell us how you like your carbonara after the jump!
Kristina’s Fifth Attempt at Spaghetti Alla Carbonara
Serves 4 people
- 3 thick slices of pancetta or hog jowl, cut in cubes or strips, as you prefer
- 2 whole eggs, 1 yolk
- 1+1/4 cup of grated Pecorino Romano cheese
- Fresh black pepper, to taste
- 350g (3/4 pound) spaghetti
While the pasta cooks, fry the pancetta to desired crispness and set aside. ( I prefer larger chewy cubes but hubs prefers smaller crispy cubes. ) Grate the cheese into a large bowl. Crack your eggs, separating the yolk from the third egg and pour them into the bowl with the grated cheese and whisk together until it forms a paste. (This is the biggest chance for a pitfall– risk of adding too much liquid!)
When the pasta is done, drain it quickly and put it, using tongs or a fork, into the bowl where you have the egg and cheese paste. Toss thoroughly until all the pasta is coated well. Toss some more, adding the pancetta, and black pepper. Serve with a bit more cheese grated over the top.
Sometimes I get it right, sometimes I don’t! This time, it worked out for me!
Why I love this recipe
I eat spaghetti alla carbonara once a year, when I want to splurge. It is Rome on a plate to me, more than any other dish. The version in the picture doesn’t seem to be very eggy or cheesy, but it was just right for us, and did not leave too much egg on the plate.